It’s been well established that social and emotional intelligence are vital for satisfaction and success in virtually every area of life. Social and emotional intelligence surpass IQ in their impact on career success, satisfaction with personal intimacy, community impact, parenting, educational achievement… you name it.

In 2003, researchers in psychology and neurobiology demonstrated a relationship between embodied self awareness and emotional intelligence, showing that people who had brain lesions that interfered with their ability to feel subtle sensations had lower emotional intelligence than counterparts who had brain lesions elsewhere. In other words, the emotional intelligence you need to succeed is directly tied to your capacity to be aware of the subtle internal sensations happening all day, every day. The more deeply you explore this topic, the more you come to see how very specific personal qualities — confidence, integrity, decisiveness, follow-through, the ability to resolve conflict, and many more — all emerge from deepening embodied intelligence. As you strengthen your social and emotional sense organ, you become smarter at the things that matter most in life.

Your brain is your social and emotional sense organ because evolutionary pressures made it so. Starting with the emphasis on sensation and motion in the earthworm brain—an emphasis that our own spinal cord replicates and expands upon—the brain evolved to optimize access to safety (brainstem), connection (limbic system), and social status, or what we might refer to as dignity or respect (cerebral cortex).

Our brain captures the strategies that work to keep us as safe, connected, and respected as possible in our early life environment, and then puts those behaviors on autopilot. Just like getting the spoon to your mouth.

Because you take your body with you everywhere you go, writing about body, brain, and behavior means writing about life in all its dimensions. Psychologists argue about which human abilities are social and which are emotional. The two domains intermingle, just as the brain’s social real estate overlaps with its emotional centers. “All emotions are social”.

Emotional intelligence is a skill that refers to one’s ability to understand, process, and express one’s feelings, as well as recognise and be able to engage with the feelings of others.

Social intelligence / social awareness refers to a spectrum that runs from instantaneously sensing another’s inner state, to understanding her feelings and thoughts, to “getting” complicated social situations.

Body intelligence is about how aware you are of your body (body awareness), what you know about your body (body knowledge), and what you actually do for and with your body (body engagement).

Because of the way our sensory perception is tied to the emotional and social parts of our brain, strengthening embodied self-awareness has a wide range of benefits. Training to increase embodied self-awareness can help you align with a sense of purpose and meaning, make a bigger contribution, experience more satisfying connections with others, find the courage and composure to face down challenges, and step into more powerful and authentic leadership. You can come to embody the kind of social and emotional intelligence that is critical for success in life and leadership. Thanks to Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work popularizing emotional intelligence, it is now common knowledge that your EQ has a far greater impact on your success in professional and personal life than your IQ.

Each one of us has embodied our own unique set of associations, which emerge out of the culture we live in, the activities we take on, and our early relationships. So, it turns out it’s not just your brain that’s your social and emotional sense organ. It’s your entire body.

Your Body is Your Social and Emotional Sense Organ

If your body plays such an important role in the outcomes of your life, then it would be wise to learn something about three classes of embodied perception:


That class of sensation, known as exteroception, encompasses the familiar five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. These senses take in information from our surroundings. Because the world around us changes unpredictably, the nerves that travel from our exteroceptive sense receptors to our brains are especially large and fast. This makes it easy – practically instantaneous, even – for you to sit up and take notice when a loud sound suddenly catches your attention. It’s biologically adaptive for us to perceive and quickly respond to changing external circumstances, so nature has evolved a way for us to easily do that.


Interoception is essentially the inverse of exteroception. It’s the term scientists use for your internal visceral experience. Interoceptive nerve cells are smaller and slower than their exteroceptive cousins. Exteroceptive nerves equip you to act quickly the interoceptive class of sensations can be divvied up as well. Your heart, gut, lungs, skin, and connective tissue all provide unique signals to the brain about your internal state. These are the five internal senses of your social and emotional sense organ.

Interoception is as vital to our daily life as exteroception, and yet most of us operate completely unaware of it. That’s partly by design, and partly by convention. Biologically, our interoceptive senses are designed to be on autopilot as much as possible. This frees up attention for other things: poetry, sports, science. It also allows our bodies to maintain a healthy homeostasis without our conscious involvement. But conventionally, we don’t put much stock in our interoceptive senses. We spend years – often decades – in school honing our skills of logic and reason. Whereas proprioception is about where your body is in space, interoception is about how your body feels.


Proprioception, a third class of sensory experience, encompasses your sense of balance and tells you where your body is in space. It also encompasses the nerves in fascia, as well as specialized nerve cells in your muscles. Combined, all of these inputs tell you where your body is in space, without your having to so much as think about it. Proprioception is often called “The sixth sense” – the 5 others being seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. This sixth sense helps us to know where we are and what to do with our bodies at any given time.

Life is constant improvisation and so is dance. Dancing helps you broaden your movement repertoire and your mind. It makes your back and your neurons more flexible and enhances your problem-solving skills.

Fig. 1. Proprioception and interoception
Source: Susan McCullay,

Exteroception includes sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

Interoception involves the heart, lungs, gut, skin, and fascia.

Proprioception involves the inner ear, specialized muscle cells, and fascia.

Your brain’s ability for neuroplasticity – that is the ability to form new connections – will be firing up the engines to make you mentally fit for the future. Just keep dancing…

Perhaps important benefit of developing interoceptive skills is that good interoceptive awareness creates a stronger sense of identity – the interoceptors interface with a brain region – the insula – which plays an important role in our sense of self. As you improve interoception, you improve your sense of self. As you improve your sense of self, you get clearer about the meaning and purpose of your life. Think of it this way – if you know how you feel, you know who you are, if you know who you are, you know what to do.