Guest contribution from Dr. Thara Vayali
The five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste – are familiar to most of us. We often employ these senses to become more mindful of our environment. But did you know there are three other senses that are incredibly valuable to recognizing our stress triggers and responses?
Those folks who say “I can’t dance”, I believe you can! Though it seems that coordination is innate, proprioception – the ability to know where and how your body parts are held in space – is a skill learned with practice. Whether it is your elbow, your knee, your shoulder muscles or the top of your head, there are receptors in your muscles and joints that help you understand tension, relaxation and balance. Proprioception can temporarily falter when you are tired, distressed or experiencing pain.
Try the blindfolded balance
Stand on one leg for 30 seconds with your eyes closed. For the pros, try doing this on a blanket.
The capacity to connect a physical sensation to your needs is a practiced skill as well. Yawning, tummy discomfort, a full bladder, butterflies in the belly, sweating, goose bumps, a racing heart, and breathlessness are all physiological signals that move us to act. If you aren’t paying attention, your actions can be delayed, mindless or stress-inducing. The better you are at sensing your internal environment, the better you will be at decision-making during stress. Interoception helps you recognize your reactions, adapt and respond in a way that serves you best.
Do a breakfast body scan
On waking, you have likely not eaten for at least 8-12 hours. This is a great time to take a scan of your mood, your abdomen and your cognition. After eating a small amount of food, note what happens. What happens if you eat a large amount?
Beyond your “gut sense” of physiological sensations, you have a “spidey sense”. Neuroception is involuntary: subconsciously assessing people, situations and environments for danger and safety. Depending on your history, your patterns of behaviour and other factors, neural circuits can sometimes perceive danger inaccurately. In this case, safe situations can elicit fear, or risky situations can be entered without caution. The better your neuroception functions, the better we can take care of ourselves.
Practice Softening your Eyes
The muscles around the eyes tense when we feel fear. This muscular change influences our cognition and decision-making. On your daily commute (or another neutral situation), take 30 seconds to practice the following:
- What does it feel like to harden your eye muscles?
- Now try softening them.
- Notice your default.
- Then try changing it in a challenging situation.
Practice using all of your secret senses. These hidden senses are how your mind and body work together to signal and regulate your stress responses.
Dr. Thara Vayali is a Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher, UBC alum and popular guest contributor to our Healthy UBC newsletter who specializes in intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. For more information about Thara, visit www.tharavayali.ca
Photo Credit: Melissa Lafrance