Does Intention In Yoga Class Affect Interoception?

April 16, 2024
Does Intention In Yoga Class Affect Interoception?

Yoga may help you assess internal states

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

How does the emphasis in yoga class affect interoception?

Type of Study

Randomized control trial

Study Participants (Sample)

Total sample included 36 participants

  • Mean age was 28.6 ± 6.5
  • 83% Female; 17% Male
  • Participants had no health issues that would make yoga contraindicated

Methods

The research team compared the effects of an interoception-focused yoga class and a movement-focused yoga class on interoception (our sense of how we feel internally) and attention. They primarily used the Patient Health Questionnaire, the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness, and the Sustained Attention to Response Task test to assess aspects of interoception and attention.

Results

Accuracy in the responses to the Sustained Attention Response Task (SART) test increased after yoga for both groups. However, accuracy increased more in the interoception-focused yoga group than in the movement-focused yoga group.

Higher scores on the Multiple Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness scale significantly predicted greater accuracy on the SART test for the interoception-focused yoga group, but not the movement-focused yoga group. This suggests that there is a relationship between interoception and attention.

Conclusion

Yoga may help practitioners develop more focused attention, particularly when the specific yoga practices or classes emphasize mindfulness.

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Background

Contemporary yoga styles vary considerably. Styles may emphasize long holds in postures, dynamic transitions between postures, precise body placement, specific breathing techniques, and many other factors. The variety of styles offers a lot of different approaches for people with different interests, ages, personalities, and health experiences. It makes sense that emphasizing different things within a yoga practice would potentially have different results.

One quality that yoga may positively affect is interoception. Interoception is our sense of how we feel internally. We use our sense of interoception to register physical, mental, and emotional internal states. For example, if we notice that we’re hungry or cold, we’re using the sense of interoception to notice internal physical cues that tell us something about our experience. If we notice we feel happy or excited, then we’ve used internal cues that tell us about our mental and emotional experiences.

The research team that completed the study we summarize here was interested in how yoga practice affects levels of interoceptive awareness. In particular, the researchers were curious about whether specifically emphasizing interoception within a yoga practice would increase that kind of awareness. Their study addresses that question.

Research question

How does the emphasis in yoga class affect interoception?

Research methods

Total sample included 36 participants

  • Mean age was 28.6 ± 6.5
  • 83% Female; 17% Male
  • Participants had no health issues that would make yoga contraindicated

Results

Interoception may be related to attention

There was no significant difference in scores from the Multiple Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA) scale between the interoception-focused yoga group and the movement-focused yoga group. However, higher MAIA scores significantly predicted greater accuracy on a different test, the Sustained Attention Response Task (SART) test, for the interoception-focused yoga group, but not the movement-focused yoga group. This suggests that the focus on training interoception during yoga may have improved attention.

Yoga was related to decreased anxiety and depression

There was no difference in the change in levels of anxiety, depression, and other somatic symptoms reported on the Patient Health Questionnaire between the interoception-focused yoga group and the movement-focused yoga group. Both groups decreased with respect to these symptoms from before the yoga program to after it.

Yoga was correlated with sustained attention

Accuracy in the responses to the SART test increased after the yoga program compared to before yoga for both groups. However, the accuracy of responses to the test increased more in the interoception-focused yoga group than in the movement-focused yoga group. This suggests that yoga was correlated with an increase in sustained attention generally. Additionally, an intention to focus on the internal experience during yoga may positively affect practitioners’ ability to sustain attention on tasks outside of yoga.

There was no difference in the time it took for participants to select their responses in the SART test between the two yoga treatment groups. There was also no difference between the groups in the amount of time that passed after they selected an incorrect response. This indicates that levels of mindfulness and mind wandering were not significantly different when measured in this way. However, the interoception-focused group had a higher correlation between one particular statistical part of the response time measurement in the SART test (tau) and a particular type of error on the test (commission errors). This indicates that the interoception yoga group may have experienced less mind wandering than the movement-focused yoga group when measured differently.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

Yoga potentially affects our ability to pay attention. And one result of greater sustained attention on our internal experience is that we may notice more of that experience. Much of what we do during our regular day requires that we focus our attention outward. For example, we need to pay attention to what’s happening with other drivers if we’re driving a car to work. We need to pay attention to what someone else is saying or doing and what is happening around us during our work day. There aren’t many opportunities for most of us during the day to slow down and turn our attention inward. This means we can sometimes miss some of the internal cues that help us understand how we’re feeling. And if we don’t know what we’re feeling, then it’s hard to respond to our needs. Our yoga practice is one place where we have that opportunity to turn inward.

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Conclusion

Yoga classes may emphasize many different aspects of health and well-being. The study summarized here suggests that the emphasis in yoga classes can affect what we learn. In particular, an emphasis on interoception and mindful internal focus during class may increase the likelihood that yoga positively influences our ability to sustain our attention as well as our ability to assess our internal states (interoception).

Reference citation

Eusebio, J., B. Forbes, C. Sahyoun, D.R. Vago, S.W. Lazar, and N. Farb. 2022. Contemplating movement: A randomized control trial of yoga training for mental health. Mental Health and Physical Activity. 23:100483. 12pgs.