Wednesday musings, 5/18 and 5/25: interoception and stress, tightness and weakness

Wednesday musings, 5/18/16
Interoception, a word frequently thrown around in mind/body disciplines, is the ability to sense one’s inner physiology. It’s the gut feeling you get when something is wrong, or noticing your cheeks have become warm when you are embarrassed. It’s the ability to tell something is off internally, like when you are about to get sick or your heart rate is elevated unnecessarily. 

Interoception can be a valuable sense to hone. We frequently learn to ignore our internal physiological signals, leading to surprise when things suddenly seem to fall apart physically. When we don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us, it shouldn’t be a surprise when things “suddenly” aren’t going well. 

In addition to providing information regarding our physical state. recent research suggests high degrees of interoception are related to increased resiliency.* Interoception can be developed using focused attention practices and mindfulness, or checking in with yourself once in a while. Athletes do this naturally; in order to perform at a high level, it is necessary to accurately gauge how the body is feeling and what is capable of, both biomechanically and physiologically. Like all things, too much interoception might not be good either, but for many of us, developing a little more internal awareness might improve our physical and emotional well-being.

*This short article on interoception and stress is well worth the read:

Wednesday musings, 5/25/16
For approximately 20 months, my left hip felt “tight.” It didn’t prevent from doing my regular activities, and I didn’t really notice the lingering tightness much other than occasionally observing it while I was standing, or when I would lift my leg over my bike. I began to think the tightness was simply part of me, something I would live with. Stretching it would help temporarily, and every corrective exercise I tried seemed to make it worse, so I pushed it out of my mind.

One day, about 4 months ago, I noticed the tightness was gone. I reflected on what had changed in my exercise program and my life recently, and I realized I was doing a lot of deep squatting locomotion. This, of course, is the opposite of stretching; instead, I was loading my hips in a variety of ways.

Intellectually, I am fully aware that just because something feels “tight” doesn’t mean it actually is. Often the muscle is weak and the sensation of tightness is just that- sensation. Just like the sensation of pain doesn’t always mean there is damage being done to the tissue, tightness doesn’t always imply the muscle is actually taut like a rubber band. When you are experiencing it, however, your instinct is to stretch. This might help temporarily, but nothing replaces cultivating strength in multiple positions.