Kinaesthesia is a word that contains within it two abilities: proprioception and interoception. Proprioception is the body’s ability to feel where it is in space. Interoception is the body’s ability to feel what’s happening inside of it. The combination of the two is referred to as kineasthesia and the organ that governs kineasthesia is fascia. Fascia is a highly sensitive sensory system. In fact, it’s the most sensory rich organ in the body, filled with mechanoreceptors that respond to mechanical stimuli like touch or sound. Fascia has within it:
- Golgi tendon organ: a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ that senses changes in muscle tension and is stimulated through stretching and relaxation.
- Ruffini corpuscles: pressure-sensitive, whose job it is to detect tension deep in the skin and fascia.
- Pacinian corpuscles: which respond to tensional changes between two adjacent layers within the body.
- Interstitial free nerve endings: that respond to varied stimulus, including at a low threshold, such as movement, touch, glide and pressure. Interestingly, if they don’t pick up stimulus, they can start over-reacting to pain.
Essentially, whenever the body deforms in some way, our receptors respond. This response can be to tension, pressure, light touch, vibration, or shear in different directions. This is important. In fact, our ability to move depends on it. If we didn’t have some kind of kinesthetic awareness we would lose the ability to carry out the most basic movement functions.
Let’s break down the two components of kinaesthesia in more detail:
Interoception is our ability to sense what’s happening inside of us. It is how we sense internal movement and it includes our ability to feel the emotional effects of that movement on our body. This is how we pick up changes in temperature, weight, hunger, thirst, even our heart beat. It also includes our relationship with time, space (including peripersonal space i.e. the space immediately around us), decision making, emotion and even our sense of wholeness. A great example of interoception is this: a fist can be clenched in anger or it can be pumped in celebration. The muscles engaged in these two actions are the same although the intention behind them is very different. Our ability to tell the difference between the two is interoception. Sensations tell us what is happening in our body, emotions tell us how we feel about it.
Proprioception refers to our body’s ability to sense where it is in space. It includes how we co-ordinate movement, our sense of rhythm and the ability to feel our alignment. As teachers, when we ask students if they can feel the difference between the left and right sides of their body, students’ ability to do so grows out of their prioprioceptive awareness. We can help students to develop this capacity by using clear, specific instructions and cues that guide them in the direction of tactile awareness.
When can train proprioception by using clear, technical and tactile language and making a clear connection between our cues and what is happening in students’ bodies. We can train interoception by describing sensation, using imagery, focusing on tactile language and giving time for new sensations to be felt, integrated and understood.
Want to learn more about fascia? How about this article on how muscles support the work of fascia: muscle collaboration?