Yoga – Why Interoception Matters?

In the Western hemisphere many are familiar with only one limb of Yoga – Asana, or physical postures. However according to Patanjali (Ancient Indian Yoga Scholar and systematiser of the Yogic texts) there are eight limbs of yoga. They need not be practiced in any order – but for a real yoga practice – all eight limbs should be incorporated. 

Those deeper into yoga have also come across pranayama or breath control. I won’t explain all the limbs of yoga but jump to the fifth: pratyahara.  Many western translations will refer to pratyahara as withdrawal of the senses, but that’s not the complete picture. Pratyahara is really about changing your focus from the outside to within.Pratyahara is understood as the practice of withdrawing external sensory perception in order to increase inner awareness .  In neuroscience we have now defined and are beginning to understand this inner sense. We call it – interoception.

What is Interoception?

Interoception is the sense of our internal bodily states2. It underlies our ability to know what’s going on inside our body. Interoception which is also called “our extra sense”is unlike our other senses -hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste.  Theses well known senses develop almost spontaneously from birth in most people unless there is a physiological abnormality. And while interoception can occur spontaneously for some, for most it is an acquired skill that requires practice to master. This is because our brains default mode is externally directed3,4. Those who practice meditation acknowledge the challenge required in attending to a single object and maintaining focus without allowing the mind to wander. Meditation and meditative yoga encourage the practitioner to turn their attention towards the present moment, which traditionally includes the sensations arising in the body. Studies have found a relationship between the ability to be mindfully aware and the ability to use interoception5. This is because “being mindfully observant is connected with greater body awareness”5. Thus, mindfulness meditation and yoga can strengthen our interoceptive ability. However, because yoga engages both body and brain at the same time – it has the ability to more train interoception more effectively and more speedily.

A Brief History of Interoception

Interoception was first mentioned by Charles Sherrington, an American physiologist in 1906 in his book The Integrative Action of the Nervous System. However, even though he did not use the word interoception, Charles Darwin alluded to its significance in his lesser known book published in 1872, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Darwin theorized that the experience of an emotion is heightened when accompanied by bodily expressions (e.g., baring one’s teeth or smiling)7,8. William James, the father of American psychology expanded on this idea when he suggested that signals from the bodily inform the mind about its emotional state5. He endorsed the idea that “we do not shiver because we are scared of a lion, but we shiver, and we label this shiver as fear”9. He suggests that a bottom-up process – from the body to the brain – underlies all emotion.

However, this idea was relatively unexplored as the research community of the 1900’s – 1990’s favoured a top-down process, where the emphasis was placed on how the brain informs the body. 

Researcher’s side-lined this area of study due to the inability to find that neural pathways that enabled us to perceive internal sensations. They knew that a system was at work that processed internal signals and that this system kept us alive for it regulated the heart rate, breathing and almost all internal function. They proposed that these inner workings were controlled by the autonomic nervous system.  It was believed that these autonomic functions happened automatically and there was no way to be conscious of them, let alone control them.

It wasn’t until Antonio Damasio proposed his somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) in the 1990’s, which he describes in his book Descartes’ Error that the bottom up processes resurfaced. The somatic market hypothesis describes how sensations that arise in the body bias our decision-making10. Due to interest in this theory there was an emergence in research of how bodily sensations guide our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours11.

Interoception – The Science

Leading on from bottom-up processes, in 2002 Bud Craig, an American neuroatomist and neuroscientist brought interoception back into the research arena when he redefined interoception as the sense of the physiological status of all tissues of the body. And he proposed that interoception is what supported homeostasis – the process that enables the internal environment of the body to sustain life. From this point a small body of researchers decided to discover how information from all tissues of the body made its way back to the brain. They discovered that this information was transferred via a specific nerve pathway (the lamina-1-spinothalamic tract) found in the spinal cord. Via this area of the spinal cord, information from all body tissues pass to a very specific part of the brain called the insula where the body sensations are put together for form a sense of self. It was also discovered that poor interoception was linked to anxiety, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and depression. Hence it became important to discover how to train people to be more interoceptively aware. 

How to become more Interoceptive?

My research in this field considered how to teach one to become more interoceptively aware. I looked at top down and bottom-up techniques to discover if training mental attention or body awareness was the more efficient method for interoception training. An early research paper entitled Interoception: A Measurement of Embodiment or Attention explains the process1https://www.ibpj.org/issues/articles/Buldeo%20-%20Interoception%20A%20measure%20of%20Embodiment%20or%20Attention_.pdf

My studies in this area have enabled me to develop the Interoceptive I-Yoga technique to teach interoceptive awareness speedily and efficiently while improving posture and overall wellbeing. I-Yoga is a simple 4-Step pracitice to increased interoceptive awareness.

What was remarkable for me as a Yogi and scientist is that while it took centuries for the modern scientific research community to grasp how the body and mind work together to create our experiences, ancient Yogi’s described this process in detail. The Upanishads, written works dated from 1900BC which were based on an even older oral tradition discuss yoga and the process of inner awareness. The Yogatattwa Upanishad dated pre 150CEdescribes the practice of pratyahara in detail. It states that Pratyahara arises from the union of Prana (breath),Apana(hydration and oxygenation of body), Asana (physical alignment) and Jivatma(bio-physiological harmony or homeostasis). Pratyahara (inner awareness) leads to higher functioning and supernormal states of functioning. Modern research is suggesting that the same is true. Higher interoception (inner awareness) leads to superior human abilities.

This is why interoception matters. Interoception is the window into the body that informs the mind. And as we hone our interoceptive skills, we are able to utilise the influential power and wisdom of our body sensations.

Every cell in our body responds to the environment, our body is full of wisdom – by training interoception we discover how to utilise this wisdom. 

Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created  I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you

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References

  1. Buldeo, N. Interoception: A measure of embodiment or attention. International Body Psychotherapy Journal. 2015;14,1:65-79. https://www.ibpj.org/issues/articles/Buldeo%20-%20Interoception%20A%20measure%20of%20Embodiment%20or%20Attention_.pdf
  2. Garfinkel SN, Seth AK, Barrett AB, Suzuki K, Critchley HD. Knowing your own heart: Distinguishing interoceptive accuracy from interoceptive awareness. Biol Psychol. 2015;104:65-74. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.11.004.
  3. Farb NAS, Segal Z V, Anderson AK. Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013;8(1):15-26. doi:10.1093/scan/nss066.
  4. Farb NAS, Segal Z V, Mayberg H, et al. Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2007;2(4):313-322. doi:10.1093/scan/nsm030.
  5. Hanley AW, Mehling WE, Garland EL. Holding the body in mind: Interoceptive awareness, dispositional mindfulness and psychological well-being. J Psychosom Res. 2017;99:13-20. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2017.05.014.
  6. Hasenkamp W, Wilson-Mendenhall CD, Duncan E, Barsalou LW. Mind wandering and attention during focused meditation: A fine-grained temporal analysis of fluctuating cognitive states. Neuroimage. 2012;59(1):750-760. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.07.008.
  7. Darwin C. The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. London: John Murray; 1872.
  8. Strack F, Martin LL, Stepper S. Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988;54(5):768-777. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3379579. Accessed October 30, 2017.
  9. Fuchs T, Koch SC. Embodied affectivity: on moving and being moved. Front Psychol. 2014;5:508. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00508.
  10. Dunn BD, Dalgleish T, Lawrence AD. The somatic marker hypothesis: A critical evaluation. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(2):239-271. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.07.001.
  11. Werner NS, Schweitzer N, Meindl T, Duschek S, Kambeitz J, Schandry R. Interoceptive awareness moderates neural activity during decision-making. Biol Psychol. 2013;94(3):498-506. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.09.002.

Yogic Significance of the Equinox

On March 20-21, 2019 we experience an Equinox. On the days of the equinox – one in March and another in September – the sun is in perfect alignment with the equator. That means the sun’s influences upon the earth is in equilibrium. For living beings, this day is significant – for if we can align to this planetary equilibrium – it becomes easier to bring balance within our bodies.

Sun and Moon, light and dark, masculine and feminine are the dualities that pervade our thoughts – the equinox is a period most suitable for transcending this duality.

From an Indian psycho–spiritual tradition, the equinox is seen as the day when Shiva – the transformative energy of the universe – is personified as Ardhanari. Shiva is depicted as half woman and half man, because everything is in balance during an equinox.

Yoga and The Equinox

In the yogic tradition, the equinox is the period when one has the highest possibility of transcending limitations – both mental and physical.

This is the day when the two fundamental forces within each of us- the sympathetic and parasympathetic physiological functions are are able to achieve harmony – homeostasis. These forces are referred to in Yogic texts as – Ida and Pingala or Shiva and Shakti. Due to the electromagnetic currents on the earth during the equinox – our bodies are able to easily achieve harmony and strength if we are able to connect to the earth. Recent research reported by the Guardian shows that humans are able to perceive the magnetic north pole and almost intuitively navigate their way around the planet. Some are better able at using this skill than others. But it can be learned.

Yogic Practices to Achieve Balance During the Equinox

Practice 108 Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar sequences during the Equinox sunrise. This helps strengthen one mentally and physically, while the heat generated during this practice is thought to burn away limiting thoughts and beliefs. I shall be live streaming our 108 Sun Saluations on Thursday 21 March 2019. Please do join us on our live event between 6-7am, UK time on March 21, 2019.

A Detox Program or Spring Clean is also initiated on this day. This cleanse may last 7 – 21 days depending on your bodies needs. It is ideal to consult with an Ayurvedic Practitioner or suitably trained person to develop a diet plan most suitable for you.

For more information on Ayurveda Detox – click here.

Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created  I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.

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What is I-Yoga – Interoceptive Yoga?

Interoceptive-Yoga or I-Yoga was developed by Dr Nitasha Buldeo. It is a simple 4 step yoga practice designed to deepen your body awareness. It is based on a comprehensive understanding of classical Hatha Yoga and scientific research in the field of interoception.

Interoception is a scientific term that means inner awareness. By fusing scientific understanding with the ancient practices of yoga, Interoceptive Yoga has the ability to train body and brain awareness more speedily than traditional methods. 

How Interoceptive Yoga Works?

Interoceptive Yoga may be seen as a bio-hacking technique that enables you to peel back your superficial layers of awareness to free your Inner Genius. It comprises weekly yoga classes for 12 weeks. Over the 12 weeks, you will be guided through the I-Yoga 4 step process to improve your body function. This 4 step process is repeated 3 times – to help you understand the process and learn the tools required to maintain optimal functioning.

Step 1 – I-Yoga MyoRelease – works on tight muscles and tendons that give us poor posture. We use trigger point stimulation to release muscular tension and myofascial contracture. Poor posture prevents your body from functioning optimally. Muscular tension and contractures hinder the bio-electric flow through your body. By releasing these – nerve impulses can flow freely. I-Yoga MyoRelease also eliminates muscle fatigue, restores flexibility and enables deep relaxation.

Step 2 – I-Yoga ReAlign – once myofascial contractures are released – we begin to realign the body for optimal performance and enhanced bio-electric energy flow. You see immediate improvements in your posture and learn the posture of success. You will also start to understand how to use breath to control the Body. I-Yoga ReAlign improves posture and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to aide deep healing.

Step 3 – I-Yoga Stimulate – once your body is realigned and posture corrected we begin to strengthen your skeletal muscle to maintain this good postural alignment. Yoga flow sequences and strong holds are then used to stimulate the sympathethic nervous system and strengthen your body and mental resolve. You learn how to use posture, breath and mental focus to calm your mind and overcome challenges.

Step 4- I-Yoga MediTate – once your posture and breath are strong and controlled, you are taught mind and body techniques that enable your to access deeper states of awareness, creative insight, intuitive wisdom, mastery or peak experiences. Using repetitive flow, deep breathing and a variety of mind-training techniques, I-MediTate harmonises mind and body generating a deeply restful yet super-creative mental state. With regular practice, you learn how to access this superconscious state at will.

To summarise – in step 1, the primary focus is on the release of tightness and pain in the body. In step 2, we realign and correct posture to enable more efficient bio-electric energy flow in our body. In step 3, we direct the body, breath and bio-energy to strengthen the mind and diminish disruptive thoughts. And once this happens we are able to proceed to step 4, where we explore the learn how to access our creativity, intuition or inner wisdom.

Interoceptive-Yoga is The Most Direct Method to a Blissful State.

Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created  I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.

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How Quantum Entanglement and Samsara are Entangled

Entanglement – the action of entangling or being entangled. To entangle means to become twisted together or caught in process that is difficult to escape.

Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon which occurs when pairs or groups of quantum particles are generated, interact, or come together in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the other(s), even when the particles are separated by a large distance. To put it simply quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which two particles interact and form a bond that means that they will interact with each other even over large distances.

Measurements of physical properties such as position, momentum and spin of the entangled particles are used to test this theory. For example, if a pair of particles develop a bond in such a way that their total spin is known to be zero (they balance each other) then if one particle is found to have clockwise spin on a certain axis, the spin of the other particle, measured on the same axis, will be found to be counterclockwise. This is due to their entanglement.  

Quantum entanglement, although it was not called that at the time, was first discussed in modern scientific research papers by Albert Einstien, Erwin Shrödinger and colleagues in 1935. Einstein referred to this phenomena as “spooky action at a distance” for this phenomenon violated the view of the world held by scientists of his time.

However, ancient Indian philosophy seems to have described a similar concept at least 2000 years before Einstein and colleagues.

Saṃsāra is the concept of the “cyclicality of all particles of existence”. Over the ensuing centuries this concept has been adopted by many eastern religions and the original meaning has changed to refer to multiple related concepts such as transmigration, karmic cycle, reincarnation or the “cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence”.

While the concept of Saṃsāra has roots in the Veda’s, the full theory is not discussed there. It appears in developed form in the early Upanishads.  The full explanation of the Saṃsāra doctrine is found in the sramanic or ascetic philosophies of India such as Ajivikism, Buddhism and Jainism around the mid-1st millennium BCE.

In Hindusism, the Saṃsāra doctrine is tied to the Karma theory and the liberation from the cycle of Saṃsāra has been at the core of the spiritual quest. The liberation from the cycle of Saṃsāra is called Kaivalya, Moksha, Mukti or Nirvana.

However Saṃsāra in its earliest description means “wandering” or “cyclic change”. Saṃsāra is a fundamental concept that underlies “the cycle of successive existence” or the “cyclicality of the fundamental particle of existence”.

According to Monier-Williams, Saṃsāra is rooted in the term Saṃsṛ (संसृ), which means “to go round, revolve, pass through a succession of states, to move in a circuit”. A conceptual form from this root appears in ancient Indian texts as the word Saṃsaraṇa, which means “going around through a succession of states, without obstruction”.

In later texts the term shortens to Saṃsāra, referring to the same concept. The idea that samsara applies to the human body and not just the particles of existence comes only in later texts and forms the basis of the reincarnation theory. The concept is then contrasted with the concept of  moksha which refers to liberation from this cycle of aimless wandering.

The concept of Samsara is traceable to the Samhita layers of the Rigveda – sections 1.164, 4.55, 6.70 and 10.14. This idea fully develops in the early Upanishads: Katha, verse 1.3.7, Shvetashvatara, verse 6.16 and Maitryi verse 1.4 and 6.34.  

To reiterate, the original concept of Saṃsāra is closely related to our current understanding of quantum entanglement. However in more recent Indian history the term has come to be associated with the belief that a person continues to be born in various forms based on the actions and conditioning in the current life. The practice of yoga was designed to recondition the body and mind. Multiple levels by which to observe the body were described – these levels are called kosha’s. The practice of yoga was used to balance all levels of the body. This balance enables moksha or zero spin. Hence quantum entanglement and samsara collapse into the same idea.

Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created  I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.

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What is Epigenetics?

Simply put, Epigenetics is the study of how our lifestyle and environment changes our bodies. Its relates specifically to how our genes are expressed to create physical changes in our bodies.

Epigenetic refers to the heritable changes in the ways genes are expressed that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. This is a change in phenotype (observable characteristics) without a change in genotype (structure of our genes).  These changes occur because of how cells read the genes and not because the gene has changed. Epigenetic change is a regular and natural occurrence but can also be influenced by several factors including age, the environment, lifestyle and disease. 

A growing body of research in epigenetics has helped us understand how the environment and individual lifestyle can directly influence how a gene is expressed. These changes may occur throughout a person’s life and has an effect on future children. For example, human epidemiological studies have provided evidence that prenatal and early postnatal environmental factors influence the adult risk of developing a number of chronic diseases and behavioral disorders.

Studies have shown that children born during the period of the Dutch famine from 1944-1945 have increased rates of heart disease and obesity. This is due to the maternal exposure to famine during early pregnancy. Studies also suggest that adults who were prenatally exposed to famine conditions have a significantly higher incidence of schizophrenia.

Research has also shown that a mother’s exposure to pollution could impact her childs susceptibility to asthma. The fathers lifestyle also affects epigenetics as the childs’ mental strength was found to be influenced by the fathers diet.

How Lifestyle Affects Individual Epigenetics and Wellbeing

Although more stable during adulthood, epigenetic changes are dynamic and modifiable throughout life. Furthermore positive inherited epigenetic changes could be reversed due to poor lifestyle and environmental factors. There are numerous examples of epigenetics that show how different lifestyle choices and environmental exposures can alter gene expression and determine health.

The environment has a powerful influence on epigenetics. Scientists have found that air pollution increases one’s risk for neurodegenerative disease. Interestingly, B vitamin supplementation may protect against harmful environmental effects.  

While scientific data is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests that yoga and meditation practice has positive epigenetic effects.

Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created  I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.

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