Interoception is the perception of sensations in the body – our 8th sense, and ability to identify and process internal electrical patterns. It is the information processing on the ascending branch of the brain–body axis. It can include physical sensations such as heart beat, tingling sensations, buzzing, muscle contractions, pulsating, hunger cues; as well as autonomic nervous system activity related to emotionality
The vagus nerve, the main cranial nerve in the body that is central in relaying visceral signals to the brain (to the insula cortex)., is implicated in human interoception. The vagal nerves mediates our interoceptive pathway, and is involved in our emotional recognition. In addition to containing taste fibres, the vagal nerves contain sensory fibres that innervate (supply vital organs with nerves) the gut, lungs, aortic body, aortic sinus, and core vascular system. If you have high vagal tone and a regulated nervous system you will be able feel your electrical pathway in the body. I usually feel my body internally “dancing”. Low vagal tone, and prolonged dysregulation in the NS, can cause dissociative-freeze effects and complete lack of feeling bodily cues. On the other hand, someone who is stuck chronically in heightened stress response will be in a highly mobilised state (low vagal tone), so sensational cues will be out of whack – bodily stress symptoms will consistently arise as the NS is already switched on to danger-threat mode, the slightest external stimulus may be perceived and processed as pain-threat, which will mobilise the body to react ie constant episodes of anxiety, heart racing, fastening of breath etc
I experience this all the time with new clients, and it is amazing to experience them feeling the development of their interoceptive pathway over time through NS reset work. Interoception plays an important role in trauma healing. Tracking inner sensations moment by moment allows the unprocessed energies of trauma to begin to unwind. Interoception is the basis for emotional regulation as it allows you to be aware of the physical sensations associated with various emotions as they activate in the NS and arise in the body. For example, heat in the chest can be related to anger – the heart rate rises so does temperature, or racing heart beat associated with anxiety – due to high cortisol and adrenaline levels.
When we practice being aware of these bodily sensations as they occur, we are able to process and metabolise them more quickly and fully, which gives our body and NS space to come back into homeostasis so it can repair and recover