Interoception, Embodied Cognition, and Unifying Body and Mind
Episode #2 of the course Embodied mindfulness: Tools for tuning in to your health, creativity, and purpose by Mina Samuels
Glad you’re back!
Have you ever made a decision that feels wrong in your gut? I have. Whether it’s knots in your stomach from stress, the sudden onset of tennis elbow, or a new intolerance to food, our body can reject decisions that from the outside, look reasonable and prudent.
Why do we make decisions that our bodies don’t agree with?
We are a Cartesian society. Ever since René Descartes (17th-century French philosopher) wrote, “I think, therefore I am,” we’ve been hooked on his thinking. He thought our bodies were mere machines. Rationality became our supreme ideal. We subjugated the body to helpmate status. The body serves the brain. This is Cartesian dualism.
Our whole self knows that rationality is not the full story. Even so, we continue to favor a mechanistically separate view of our bodies and minds. Yet we know that how we think not only depends on our physical condition but is our physical condition. When we are in pain, we find it hard to think straight. The early stage of love can act on us just like any other addiction. Our mental states—our thoughts, our experiences, our attention, our memory, our judgment, our reasoning, our problem-solving abilities—are governed by mind and body.
Science is beginning to disentangle us from dualism. Embodied cognition, for example, shows us how the mind “arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences.” Interoception (a word so new that spell-check insists it is not a word) is a crossover between neuroscience and psychology, studying how we sense ourselves from within.
When we ignore our bodies’ knowledge, we deprive ourselves of useful information to guide our actions. No, we should not act on every emotional impulse. But nor can we pretend that our physical-emotional-psychological condition can be repressed. We have to listen to our body’s wisdom. Develop our intuition. Operate from a unified experience. Violence, cruelty, addiction, and many diseases are societal manifestations of how far we have erred.
If we deny the crucial cognitive functions of our bodies, then we deny ourselves access to profound self-knowledge. Self-awareness requires attunement to the complete spectrum of our intelligence. As we tune in, we align better with our true nature. Undistracted by all the noise of our habitually distorted selves, we act with purpose. When all our intelligences work together, we can access our intuitive and spiritual intelligence. This is our deepest knowing.
Where do we start? By noticing our body-minds. In Lesson 1, we practiced noticing. Now that we know our body and mind are one unified operating system, let’s notice our body-mind.
How to Do a Body-Scan Meditation
Begin in a seated position on a chair or meditation cushion. Make sure your spine is straight and easeful, your head stacked on top of your spine, your shoulder blades moving toward each other lightly, and shoulders relaxed.
Close your eyes. Take five deep breaths through your nose. Release each breath audibly through your mouth. Relax into your normal breathing. Begin by moving your mind to your right foot. Feel the toes, the ball, the arch, the heel and the ankle. Repeat with the left foot. Move through each part of your body in this methodical fashion. Pause to note new sensations. Finish the scan at the top of your head, allowing the energy of the meditation to release upward.
Take as much time as you want or as little as you have. Ideally, this meditation will be at least ten minutes. If you don’t have that much time, one minute is better than nothing. If you don’t make it through your whole body, that’s fine. You can do short body scans throughout the day. Or simply begin again when you can.
There are hundreds of guided body-scan meditations available on many meditation apps. I use Insight Timer, which has a wide range of guided meditations.
Tomorrow, we will explore embodied techniques, including sound, for connecting body and mind.
Notice the day!
A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain
The Interoceptive Turn: The Science of How We Sense Ourselves from within, Including Our Bodily States, Is Creating a Radical Picture of Selfhood
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