The sensory system is part of the nervous system responsible for processing sensory information.
We’ve all heard of the 5 senses:
The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us.
Until recently, I didn’t even realize there were actually eight senses that are part of the sensory system in the body. People also have other senses in addition to the basic five. Here are some of our lesser-known ones:
- Balance (Vestibular)
- Body Position in Space (Proprioceptive)
Among them, interoception is often known as the “hidden sense”. It is the sense that tells you what is happening inside your bodies. Being able to accurately perceive your internal state is quite important for regulating it. For instance, you know if your heart is beating fast or if you need to breathe more deeply. You know if you’re hungry, full, hot, cold, thirsty or need to use the bathroom.
Just like other sensory systems, the interoceptive system has special receptors located throughout the body. These receptors send information about the inside of your body to your brain. The brain organizes systems to respond to the changing internal conditions. This helps regulate our vital functions like body temperature, hunger, thirst, digestion and heart rate. In other words, this leads to better self-awareness and self-regulation.
On the other hand, reduced interoceptive awareness has negative effects on health, well-being and homeostasis. Kids who struggle with the interoceptive sense can have trouble feeling their emotions. For instance, a child may not feel fear because he doesn’t recognize that his muscles are tense, his breathing is shallow and his heart is racing.
Having trouble with this sense can also make self-regulation a challenge. When you’re able to tell that you’re thirsty, you know to take a drink. When you feel a sense of frustration, you know to explain what’s troubling you. Kids who struggle with these things may not be able to identify the real source of their discomfort.
The interoceptive system is the basis for our physical and emotional regulation and therefore, it affects self-regulation, social thinking, flexible thinking, problem-solving and the development of social skills.
In that sense, I would like to suggest you, parents and teachers a few mindfulness activity ideas that can help you improve your kids’ or students interoceptive awareness, allowing them to recognize important internal cues and the emotions they create.
1- Body Scan Meditation:
Body scanning visualizations bring awareness and attention to the different parts of the body and referring to the sensations of breath, heartbeat, gurgling stomach, the weight of limbs, etc. You can read this script for your child if you like. All you both need is a comfy, private place.
Please lie down comfortably in such a way that your body can really relax. With your legs stretched out in front of you, your arms relaxed by your sides… If you like, you can close your eyes. As you are lying here, slowly become aware of your body. Which part of your body does immediately attract your attention? What do you notice there? Perhaps you like to adjust your position. If so, you can do that. Surrender to gravity. Your head, neck and your back, your arms and your legs are lying here. Your whole body is lying here. When you are lying here like this, you may feel your gentle breath, in your chest and in your belly. Take your time to feel the movement of the breath in your body and stay with it for a while. You don’t have to do anything special, just give it your attention…
Then you can shift your attention from the breath to your feet, right foot and left foot, your toes, your ankles. You don’t have to move your feet to feel them. All you need to do is to take your attention to them. As you connect with your feet, you may also feel a cold or warm sensation. Or perhaps you don’t feel anything much at all. That’s fine, too. With your ankles, calves, and the rest of your lower legs, what strikes you about what you feel. How do your legs feel? Your knees, thighs… maybe some tension, or relief, fatigue, or ache… or maybe you are experiencing something completely different. You can simply accept everything you are experiencing. Observe it and accept it. It is possible that your mind is suddenly somewhere else on things you are planning to do. That is absolutely fine. It will happen often enough. But every time you do notice it, you can go back, back to where we are in the exercise. Just connect with your body without judging, expecting or demanding anything from your body. When you regularly connect with your body, you get to know, understand, appreciate it. Give your friendly, mindful attention to your body.
And now you may choose to shift your attention from your legs to your pelvis. And from your pelvis to your belly… what can you say about your belly? You belly may feel hard or soft. It may be crampy. What do you notice at the moment? It is possible that you may not feel anything in your belly. Just give mindful attention to everything that you notice here. You may also sense the gentle movement of your breath in your belly. Your belly moving up a little and down a little… can you feel that?
Now shift your attention from your belly onto your chest area where your heart and lungs are. What do you notice here in this moment? What does your heart tell you? Your heart is a sensitive organ. Sensitive to love and pain… a place where you can be vulnerable and strong, powerful and gentle. Stay here for a while with friendly attention.
When you are ready, you can shift your attention from the entire front of your body to the entire back. Feel your entire back calmly. From your tailbone up to your shoulders and neck… what does your back tell you? Maybe you are experiencing pain somewhere or something else. What do you notice? You just observe calmly.
And now from your back, you can move your attention to your shoulders and neck. What are your shoulders and neck telling you right now? And now start paying attention to your arms, hands and fingers. Maybe you are aware of some small sensations. Focus on your arms, hands and fingers calmly.
And now connect with your face. You may become aware of your mouth, lips, nose, and all other parts of your face. What do you notice? You may have opinions about your face. If so, just observe them. Let go off all the thoughts and opinions about how your face and body should be. Allow your body to be just as it is. From the top of your head down to your toes, take your time to connect with your body. Give your friendly and mindful attention. When you are ready, you can slowly bring this exercise to a close. You may move your fingers and toes, hug your knees into your chest. Roll over onto your side. We press ourselves up to sit, crossing our legs. We bring our hands together at our heart. Namaste!
2- Your Personal Weather Report:
This activity helps your child to understand his or her interior world and to acknowledge both good and bad feelings.
Sit your child down comfortably somewhere, tell him or her to close or half-close their eyes and take some time to determine how they are feeling right now. Ask: What is the weather like inside you? Do you feel relaxed and sunny inside? Or does it feel rainy and overcast? Is there a storm raging perhaps? What do you notice? Once your child has summoned the weather report that best describes his or her feelings, tell them to just let it be … there is no need to feel or do anything differently. Later the weather will be different again but right now this is how things are. Moods change. They blow over. There is no need to take any action. What a relief.
In this way, we allow children to get in touch with their internal world. We remind them of the greatness that exists inside.
3- Hoberman Sphere Breathing & Heart Rate Check:
With this activity, your child/student notices his/her heart rate and breathing rhythm.
Firstly, begin with a warm-up game or you can just dance/run with an active music. Then, as soon as the music stops, sit on the ground just to feel your heart rate and breathing. You can place your hands on your heart silently and close your eyes in order to feel much better if you like. In the meantime, feel free to ask how he/she is feeling at that moment. Is she/he hot, cold? Then, take a Hoberman sphere into your hands, and guide your child/student to take biiiig deep breaths through his/her nose. After a ten-breath work, put your hands on your hearts again to feel your newly calm breaths and heart rates. This time, you may ask him/her how he/she is feeling now. Is he/she tired, calm, relaxed, dizzy, etc.?
With mindful yoga activities like these, it is possible to improve your kids’ or students’ interoceptive awareness. All you need to do is to allow them to recognize important internal cues.