Winning from Within: How the Olympics Can Mirror Our Interoception Journey

Winning from Within: How the Olympics Can Mirror Our Interoception Journey

Hey everyone, Kelly Mahler, occupational therapist. And in honor of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we are going to spend some time talking about the parallels between training for the Olympics and training for interoception in daily life. My family and I love the Olympic games, rooting on all the athletes, and learning about their stories. I’m personally not a very skilled athlete, but I still really get into it. So, we thought this topic could bring some information, but also a little bit of fun. Let’s talk about five ways that training for interoception in our daily life is very similar to what the athletes might be experiencing as they prepare for the games.

1. Diverse Bodies & Inner Experiences

Number one is all about how diverse each athlete is. These athletes come in all different types of bodies and have all different types of inner experiences. Some have faced such adversity and have had to overcome that adversity to be able to make it to the big stage.

Interoception, the sense that provides us with internal sensations, is very similar in that we all have very different bodies, including the way that they can feel. If you’re familiar with our work, this is something we talk about a lot. There is no wrong interoceptive experience, and we are embracing and really being very loud about how different each of our bodies are. We are all correct and valid in our unique interoceptive experiences. So, no matter what the inner experience might be, what inner diversity we might face, what challenges we might face, what celebrations we might face, we are all valid in that experience.

2. Hard Work

Number two is all about hard work to make it to the Olympics, to make it to that big stage. It requires hours and hours and hours of training on a daily basis. And each athlete’s body needs a different type of training in order to help them meet their goals.

The same is so true for interoception training; it can be really hard work. It’s a daily emphasis for me. Some days it’s easier, I feel safer in my body and world, it’s easier for me to connect, to notice my body signals, to really understand what my body is trying to tell me. Other days, it is really, really hard and it requires so much hard work to be able to figure out what’s happening on the inside of my body.

Each one of us, when it comes to interoception, might respond differently to different types of interoception training. Some of us might be more connected to traditional types of body mindfulness. That’s not a match for me. In my experience. I really struggle with traditional, westernized body mindfulness. And we’ve really worked hard to adapt that to make it more accessible and successful for people who might not be able to thrive with that more traditional, westernized body mindfulness. So, whatever works for you and your body, it’s important to try to find that and then really embrace that in our daily interoception training.

3. Rest Days & Recovery

An Olympic athlete likely works their body very hard because they’re training to reach their goals. So, they need time to rest and for their body to recover. The same is true for us. We really need to take time to listen to our bodies, to really start to understand when our body is sending a signal that we need to take time to rest, that we need to take time to recover.

That’s been a really hard interoception lesson for me, and I’m really exploring that within myself; learning to set interoception boundaries, learning to slow down when my body needs it, learning to say no when my body needs it, learning to pick up when my body needs it. It’s definitely a work in progress, but that rest and recovery is so crucial to every human body. Whether we’re an Olympic athlete or we’re someone training our interoceptive system in daily life, that rest and recovery is absolutely pivotal for our body to keep going.

4. Support Teams

Parallel number four is all about support teams. Most Olympic athletes are surrounded by support teams, whether that’s coaches, teammates, family members rooting them on, or friends rooting them on. They have a core group of people who are supporting them, and they rely on that support to help them get to that high level, to get to that big stage, to help them meet the goals, to go for the gold.

Interoception training is no different. Many of us can benefit from the support of a person, pet, or even a nature item, and really get that co-regulation that we talk a lot about. Co-regulation is so important. We can learn a lot about our interoceptive experience through that process of co-regulation where we have someone or something that’s trusted. It really helps us to have that back and forth relationship, to help our nervous system to regulate, to help our bodies feel safe. Many times when we’re at that regulated safe place, that’s when we can be the most connected and most aware of how our body is feeling.

5. Celebration of Success

Finally, parallel number five is all about celebration of success. Many athletes at the Olympic or the Paralympic games will be striving to meet their personal goals. Many times that goal might be getting on the medal stand, but many of those athletes will not be on the stand. So, maybe they’re going for their personal best time or their personal best accomplishment—whatever that goal is—and really celebrating the success of that accomplishment.

Interoceptive training is no different. It’s really important to celebrate your successes even when they might seem small. Many times they are a really big deal, whether that’s just noticing a certain sensation in your body one day or remembering to slow down and take time to notice how your hands, or your feet, or your mouth feels at a moment in time. That goal is going to look different for each one of us. But it’s important to take time to celebrate your successes. Celebrate that connection to your body or whatever goal you have for yourself, because that really can help us to keep going when we focus on those small wins. Sometimes, those small wins are really big, but when we can focus on that, that can keep us going through the days where it might not be as easy.

Until next time.