THE 6th SENSE: PROPRIOCEPTION
What is proprioception?
Proprioception is one of our 8 senses and refers to our body awareness. Our proprioceptive receptors are located in our muscles, joints, and tendons and are used to help us coordinate movements and understand where our body is positioned.
Why do I want proprioceptive input?
Activities that provide proprioceptive input create a relaxation response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s also a form of sensory grounding that can be used to decrease stress and increase mindfulness and body awareness. By being proactive about getting proprioceptive input, you can increase emotional regulation, decrease anxiety, and ameliorate sensory overload.
The proprioceptive system is unique because it is the only sensory system that can't be overloaded and leads to more dysregulation-you can have too much noise or too much flavor but you can’t have too much body awareness. Because of this, proprioceptive input can be used to regulate all forms of sensory overload and they are safe "go-to" activities when you're feeling overwhelmed.
Important note: Activities that provide proprioceptive input will also provide input to other sensory systems that can be overloaded. Be mindful of what feels comfortable to you and adjust accordingly.
How do I get proprioceptive input?
Proprioceptive input can be gained through deep pressure activities, where your body is getting pressure, and heavy work activities where you're engaging your muscles. This can be done by working with heavy objects or resistance, like a weighted blanket or stress ball.
Deep pressure activities: Massages, using a weighted blanket, tight hugs or squeezes etc.
Heavy work activities: Weight lifting, running, climbing, push ups etc.
What activities should I try?
Like most things in life, each person’s sensory needs are unique. Some people prefer heavy and/or frequent proprioceptive input, while others prefer less intense input. We also all have different reactions to movement and balance (vestibular input). If you are more sensitive to movement and balance activities (e.g. get dizzy easily, prefer having your feet on the ground, avoid inversions), start with exercises that involve less intense movement and/or balance. The tactile (touch) system is also very involved in deep pressure activities so pay attention to how the touch feels, if you don’t like it try something else. That could mean more or less pressure or using another material/texture.
Activities that provide proprioceptive input can be alerting or calming.
Calming activities make you feel more calm and relaxed.Use calming activities when you are feeling anxious, afraid, panicked, angry, or aggressive
Alerting activities are energizing and wake your body up.Use alerting activities when you are feeling depressed, tired, unmotivated, numb, or disconnected (hypoarousal).
Each person will find different activities more alerting or calming. In general, more intense movement activities (e.g. jumping) tend to be more alerting while passive activities that provide deep pressure (e.g. using a weighted blanket) tend to be more calming. Linear movement is also generally more calming than circular movement (e.g. swinging back and forth vs. spinning).