Vaginismus is a complicated beast to treat and recover from. It involves so many of our body’s systems- our biomechanical, neurological, psychological, and emotional systems. Being able to recognize and listen to the subtle signals these systems are using to communicate with each other and ourself is key to overcoming vaginismus. Interoception is a major way we can learn to tap into our body’s communication network.
Interoception is a vital component of our ability to recognize and interpret our body’s internal state. This includes sensations we experience from our muscles, organs, and emotions. When we have good interoception, we can respond appropriately to the signals that our body is sending us. However, when our interoception is decreased, we may have difficulty recognizing and interpreting these signals, which can lead to physical, psychological, and emotional regulation issues, as well as increased pain and anxiety.
Vaginismus is one condition that can impair interoception. It is a condition where involuntary muscle contractions in the vaginal area cause pain, anxiety, and fear- sometimes at a level we don’t even recognize. Women who experience vaginismus may not be aware of the physical, psychological, or emotional sensations they are experiencing, or they may be unable to interpret these sensations correctly. As a result, they may feel pain or discomfort during sex, which can lead to further fear, anxiety, and avoidance of physical and emotional connection.
Fortunately, there are ways to increase interoception, which can help us recognize and respond to our body’s signals. One way to do this is through mindfulness practices. Here are three strategies to help increase interoception:
- Body scans
Body scans involve bringing your attention to different parts of your body, one at a time. This can help you become more aware of your bodily sensations and how they change over time. To do a body scan, find a quiet place where you can lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your toes. Notice any sensations you feel in your toes, such as tingling or warmth. Then, slowly move your attention up to your feet, ankles, calves, knees, and so on, until you reach the top of your head.
- Mindful breathing
Mindful breathing involves paying attention to your breath and how it moves through your body. This can help you become more aware of your bodily sensations and regulate your responses to them. To practice mindful breathing, find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Notice how your breath feels as it moves in and out of your body. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and releasing different muscle groups in your body. This can help you become more aware of the sensations in your muscles and how they feel when they are tense or relaxed. To practice progressive muscle relaxation, find a quiet place where you can lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and tense the muscles in your feet for a few seconds, then release. Move up to your calves, thighs, and so on, until you reach the top of your head.
Interoception is essential for our overall health and wellbeing, and decreased interoception can lead to various physical, psychological, and emotional regulation issues. Mindfulness practices such as body scans, mindful breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help increase interoception and improve our ability to recognize and respond to our body’s signals. With practice, we can learn to better understand our body and its signals, leading to improved overall regulation in the long run.