The introspective mobilization of the Sensible, an operational mode aiming at enriching perception, seizing and making sense of and from the corporal subjectivity

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Auteur(s) :

Hélène Bourhis - Professeure auxiliaire invitée de l'UFP, Docteure en sciences de l'éducation, psychopédagogue, Directrice de l'enseignement de CF3P

Docteur en sciences de l'éducation. Sous directrice du CERAP et professeure auxiliaire invitée de l'UFP

Danis Bois - Professeur agrégé, Docteur en sciences de l'éducation, Fondateur du CERAP

Professeur cathédratique invité de l'Université Fernando Pessoa, Psychopédagogue de la perception, Chercheur en sciences de l'éducation

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In this presentation, we want to broach the role the Sensorial introspective mobilization in finding the significance of and from the corporeal subjectivity. In that respect we will rely on our experience as educators in Somatic Psychoeducation for a population of adults who work in the field of education for health and support for a comprehensive approach of sense.

This educational practice led us to ask ourselves : « How can one, from the corporeal experience, make sense and comprehend the experienced phenomena ? ». Among the practical tools in Somatic-Psychoeducation which are the relational touch, the movement practice, the Sensorial Introspection and the importance given to speech and writing, we will delimit our discussion to the Sensorial Introspection, a most facilitating field of experience to lead the learner to question, understand and make sense out of his corporeal experience within the mode of the Sensible.

Nowadays the term ‘introspection’ includes a lot of practices and meanings, which is why, first of all, we will have to define it by highlighting the importance of the associated term ‘Sensible’ as we previously defined it (Bois, Austry, 2006).

This article will give us the opportunity to specify the Sensorial Introspection in comparison to the regular introspective mobilization. We will then present the operational mode used in the Sensorial Introspection, especially the out-of-the-ordinary frame of experience and the educational structure. At the heart of this educational structure, we will emphasize the relevant verbal instructions which solicit tuning-in and presence, observation, exploration, opening to the imaginary and significant links. As a conclusion, we will outline the perspectives that Sensorial Introspection offers in the field of mentoring and supporting a comprehensive approach of significance.

Contextualisation of the Sensorial Introspection

The term « introspection » means « to turn inward ». But what does « to turn inward » mean ? Is it a natural attitude that mankind owns or are there methods of facilitation to access this interiority ? And what does it give access to ? To our thoughts, our inner states ? Or, on the contrary, doesn’t it reveal a peculiar form of presence to ourselves ? We understand why introspective methods have been important tools used by psychology for the study of the human psychological operating (De La Garanderie, 1989).

But the introspective approach is not new, since Descartes was already proposing a method of introspection based on the mode of analytical thinking : « I had ample opportunity to discuss my thoughts with myself », he confided (Descartes, 1999, p. 19). Here we see the nature of the introspection described by Descartes : « Nothing is utterly in our own power but our thinking » (Ibid., p. 36). But Descartes didn’t restrain himself to the thinking, he introduced an informative and educative experiential dimension : he experienced himself in the encounters that life put along his way and, from them, developed his reasoning. Thus he invites us « to seek no other science than the one that would lie inside of me » (Ibid., p.15).

Another French philosopher from the XIXth century, Maine de Biran, proposed a form of introspection which introduces « feeling » as a mode of existence. The self feels its existence when it is « plunged and immersed in the immediate and spontaneous life of inner sensitivity » (Bégout, 1995, p. 28). There is, in Maine de Biran’s philosophy, a sort of inner vision that triggers a specific interest for us to introduce the Sensorial Introspection. Indeed, Maine de Biran looks at himself from the inside through the mediation of the body : « There is no self-awareness without the inner and continuous feeling of a living and actual coexistence with the body » (Ibid., p. 175). In his introspective quest, this philosopher opts for the metaphor of the touch, the contact that he names « inner touch » (« tact intérieur »), in which the « intimate » fact is prioritised over the purely reflexive acts of intelligence. With Maine de Biran, we discover that the introspective act is not only a way of exploring the thinking, but also a way of accessing oneself.

More contemporary is W. James, one of the founders of psychology. He offers an alternative which is at the intersection between the aforementioned postures : « Thoughts connected as we feel them to be connected are what we mean by personal selves. » (James, 2003, p.17)[1] or : « The universal conscious fact is not 'feelings and thoughts exist', but 'I think' and 'I feel.' » (Ibid., p.109). James feels the necessity of an analytical method whose purpose is the stream of consciousness. He incites us to consider two identities, the one of the ‘I’ and the one of the ‘Me’ (j’ai cru trouver cette distinction en anglais par James sur internet…), and denounces the narrowness of the field of consciousness in mankind. The philosopher leaves us a description of introspection which is rather close to the Sensorial Introspection : « The more closely I scrutinise my states, the more persuaded I become, that whatever moods, affections, and passions I have, are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bodily changes we ordinarily call their expression or consequence ; (…) » (Ibid., p. 505)[1]. James highlights the organic aspect in introspection and goes even further when writing : « It seems obvious to me that taking away all the sensitivity of my body would take away all the sensitivity of my soul, with all my feelings, tender as energetic, and condemn me to drag a pure spirit existence that would only think and Know. » (Ibid., p. 505). Thus James continues Maine de Biran’s thought, when he states that the body, place of a sensitivity of its own, takes part in anchoring the human identity : « A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity. » (Ibid., p. 105)[1]. He thus affirms that the body takes part in the richness of the reflexive life : « In any ' rapture ', whatever the intellectual motive, we find these secondary organic processes » (Ibid., p. 511). Therefore there is, for James, an influence of the organic modifications on the psychological life : "Is there any evidence, it may be asked, for the assumption that particular perceptions do produce widespread bodily effects by a sort of immediate physical influence, antecedent to the arousal of an emotion or emotional idea ?" (Ibid., p. 500)[2].

After the aforementioned authors, we propose a Sensorial introspective mobilization which applies part of the terms used by Maine de Biran and W. James, but focusing strongly on the corporeal and Sensible aspects. The Sensorial Introspection doesn’t only study the mental phenomena – such as memory, imagination, perception, will –, to measure them, but looks mainly at the relationship that the individual establishes with himself, with his perception, with his body and with his own thoughts. The cognitive operations at play in the Sensorial Introspection are similar to those which are active in all forms of introspections, namely attention, intention, discrimination, categorisation, integration… However the important is less the cognitive resources than the relationship that the subject sets with them. As we will see, this type of introspection goes beyond the pure solicitation of the sense organs to include how the perceiving, feeling, thinking and acting subject moves into action. E. Berger underlines the nature of the perceptive solicitation at stake in the Sensorial Introspection when pointing out : « We say that the introspection is ‘sensorial’ : this means that one is invited to observe oneself from the feeling of oneself, before the thinking of oneself ; it is not about reflecting on one’s own life without having, beforehand, felt it in oneself through the different states of the materiality of the body » (Berger, 2006, p. 78). This specification is important since, in our approach, the different states of consciousness don’t only belong to the mental or psychological sphere : they are also genuine corporeal phenomena.

The Sensorial Introspection within the mode of the Sensible

The term « sensorial » classically refers to exteroceptive sense organs, whereas, in the paradigm of the Sensible, the Sensorial Introspection involves a corporeal intimacy which most often offers an unprecedented experience : « The Sensible appears in the form of a corporeal subjectivity which is moving, internal, embodied and brought to awareness to the subject » (Bois, 2008, p.17). But how does one learn from the relationship to the body experience ? What kind of knowledge emerges from the relationship to the Sensible body ? How to give sense to a sensation ? Here is a series of questions which deserve to be explored deeper. As for the Sensorial Introspection, the subject usually has the impression to recognize in him an experience that he cannot always name or that he cannot give sense to. This phenomenon reveals the necessity to support and assist him to give sense to the Sensible experience. It requires an educator who is an expert in the relationship to the Sensible body and who has gained a skill to make his own experience explicit. Once this condition is fulfilled, the educator creates the conditions allowing the learner to get in touch, in himself, with this Sensible experience, and helps him to make the richness of his contents of experience show, as well as to uncover and unfold a significance that wouldn’t appear without this mediation.

Therefore the Sensorial Introspection within the mode of the Sensible aims at allowing the individual to « advance towards himself » (« cheminer vers elle-même ») by changing the quality and type of the relationship to oneself through a body-oriented attentional effort. To be aware of oneself is to exist by oneself on the base of an « inner feeling of self-evident fact ».

The learner is invited to constantly address himself questions : What do I really feel ? What am I really experiencing ? What do I learn from what I’m experiencing ? He is thus placed at the heart of the corporeal experience where he discovers in his own flesh an animating force, which keeps him alert both on a perceptive and cognitive level. Maine de Biran describes « an active and impelling force » that he feels and apperceives within his consciousness. This active and impelling force takes the shape of an inner movement : « He (the subject) discovers the presence of an inner movement which moves within the materiality of the body and carries in itself the fundamental principle of one’s subjectivity. In this respect it is, for us, what defines the presence of the Sensible and the relation of a individual with the Sensible : when the individual speaks, with full awareness about the dynamic process that he feels in himself. » (Bois & Austry, 2007, p. 7)

The operational mode of the Sensorial Introspection

The operational mode aims at solicitating the learner’s introspective attention within the mode of Sensoriality. The introspective quality at play requires an out-of-the-ordinary frame of experience to mobilize attentional, perceptive and cognitive resources in the learner.

The sense of hearing, and more particularly the quality of listening, the inwards-sight, the immediate and internal observation, (…) temporality are used to enable the learner to develop his capacity to make significative links between his corporeal subjectivity and his context of life.

The out-of-the-ordinary frame of experience

The out-of-the-ordinary aspect is important in the approach that we propose, as we (D. Bois) defined it in our PhD thesis : « The set of an out-of-the-ordinary experience is named so in opposition to (or as a complement of) the ordinary, meaning daily, experience, which is made of both a regular frame and a natural attitude in the relation to the experience (…). We immediately notice that the out-of-the-ordinary conditions are used to produce unprecedented perceptions. These unprecedented facts create astonishment, help the inner experience to become a motivation in oneself, help arise in the individual an interest for aspects of himself and of his experience that he was not aware of until then. » (Bois, 2007, p. 75). The analysis of this quotation gives the essential principles of the Sensorial introspective mobilization : the solicitation of a paroxysmal perception which goes beyond the natural perception, the access to unprecedented inner experiences, and the astonishment that mobilizes motivational resources together with contents of experiences and knowledge that wouldn’t come out without these conditions.
Therefore the expression ‘Sensorial Introspection’ defines, in a first phase, a frame of unusual corporeal experience in which the subject « sounds himself out ». To precise even more the characteristics of our introspective method, we will quote the reflection that one of us (D. Bois) wrote, in an autobiographical article from 2008, about the emergence of the introspective method, and which relates to both the feeling and the thinking : « Thanks to the Sensible introspective mobilization, the individuals would access, as for sensations, the categories of the Sensible which appeared to their awareness as : an inner movement, warmth, inner tonalities referring to a sense of depth, globality/wholeness and existence. However the Sensible Introspection didn’t develop only in the mode of feeling : it also solicited the mode of thinking. I witnessed then the forerunners of a perceptive and cognitive mobilization that would thereafter offer the possibility to an immediate arising of sense from the corporeal experience. » (Bois, 2008, p. 13)

The structure of the Sensorial Introspection

The Sensorial Introspection, before becoming an autonomous practice for the person, is passed on in groups following an educational method which respects a facilitation protocol to overcome the most common difficulties that a learner may encounter. We have listed them as : insufficiency in perception, cognitive predominance, resistance to the new and the unknown, lack of motivation and/or interest, tendency to absent-mindedness.

Presentation of the protocol and first instructions

Most often, introspection is practiced in a group, verbally guided by the educator who offers facilitating verbal guidance orienting the attention of the learners towards the stimulation of their introspective ability. During the introspection, the learners are comfortably seated, in a still posture, eyes closed, and follow the invitations of the educator expressed according to a specific protocol. The guidance technique used in the Sensorial Introspection also supposes an introspective act from the educator himself : he indeed also immerses himself in his corporeal interiority to anchor his instructions in a corporeal and Sensible experience.
In a first phase, the learners are, for example, invited to contact their sense of hearing, then their vision. As for the hearing, the educator proposes the following type of instruction : « Draw your attention to the silence in the room » ; or : « Get in touch with the silence around yourself ». As for the sight, the instructions can be : « Do you perceive a luminosity through your closed eyelids ? », or : « Is this luminosity tinted or not ? ». Then the learners are invited to draw their attention onto the inner corporeal tonalities, such as : « Is the experience pleasant or unpleasant ? ». Eventually the learners are asked to get in touch with the images or thoughts which impose to their consciousness. The instructions are thus always in close relationship with a perceptive actuality available to the educator’s and the learners’ awareness. Silence, for example, becomes a part of what makes what we call a " Shared perceptual background that each one experiences in a singular way.

Importance of the verbal guidance

The first criterion facilitating the introspective mobilization is thus the educator’s knowledge of the specific protocol of the Sensorial Introspection. That said, and it is an essential point, the educator has to seize the information which emerges in the immediate interaction, and insert them in the protocole. The respect for the protocole is not enough : the prosody of the educator’s speech is of high importance in the success of the introspective mobilization. It is indeed not about reeling out well-established instructions, but inhabiting them in a prosody that renders a quality of presence, an in-tune rhythmicality of the voice, carefully distributing moments of silence ; in one word, the effectiveness of an instruction will depend on the perspective and ground from which the educator speaks, that is to say on his anchorage in the Sensible.
The instructions help the learner to take care of his presence to himself and to develop, as D. Bois and D. Austry wrote, a sort of « seventh sense » : « In this experience, the subject encounters different stages of inner malleability or density, different states and state modifications, transiting from tension to slackening, from agitation to calming down, from one feeling to another… The Sensible doesn’t show here as the result of one of the six objectivized senses, but of a form of « seventh sense » which, in the experience, turns out to originate, in an even distribution, from the whole material of the body. » (Bois & Austry, 2007, p. 9)

The introspective instructions are not inductive. The educator constantly ensures that his open invitations keep a questioning aspect as well as they orientate the attention of the individuals towards multiple possibles. He can for example ask : « When you listen to the quality of the silence, do you perceive a symmetry in your listening between your left side and your right side ? » ; or : « Do you perceive a luminosity through your closed eyelids ? Is this luminosity tinted ? » ; another example : « Do you perceive a corporeal tonality or not ? If yes, what is the nature of this tonality ? Is it pleasant, unpleasant ? Does it bring you back to a feeling of quietness, of tension, or of something else ? » ; and so on and so forth.

Listening and presence

We have seen that the learners are firstly invited to contact their hearing sense to solicit their listening. Concerning the hearing, the educator may propose this kind of instructions : « Draw your attention onto the silence in the room » ; or : « Get in touch with the silence inside of yourself ». The listening of the surrounding sound atmosphere gradually changes, leading the individual to become more present to this atmosphere, and then, more present to his own inner atmosphere. He is soon no longer disturbed by the surrounding sounds and gains a form of stability by listening to this inner silence.


The individual is invited to keep his listening attitude for the time of observation which follows. He thus trains in associating at the same time two different perceptive modalities oriented to his  interiority and inwardness, and in developing a listening potentiality through observing and an observing potentiality through listening.

From the stability installed in themselves, the participants are then invited to draw their attention onto the visual to solicit their power of observation. This time of observation aims at seizing a tinted atmosphere and a movement animating this atmosphere. To guide the individual towards the observation of his eyesight, the instructions may be : « Do you perceive a luminosity through your closed eyelids ? » ; or : « Is this luminosity tinted ? If it is tinted, what colour is it ? » ; « Is this luminosity animated with a movement or not ? » ; « Does this atmosphere appear to you as outside of yourself, inside of yourself, or as much outside as inside ? »


Thirdly, the learners are invited to drag their attention onto their inner corporeal tonalities. This phase aims at drawing the attention of the individual onto a « sense of embodiment », a « sense of existing » grounded in the corporeal perception and experience. The instructions proposed can be : « Do you perceive inner tonalities ? Are they pleasant, unpleasant ? » We enter the field of nuances, inner and immediate tonalities which keep the individual informed of his inner state or of his quality of presence to himself.
We have modeled, with the "Processual development of the relationship to the Sensible", the different sensations that people reported when contacting the Sensible, and their likely course. The encounter with warmth is the first described sensation, then the apprentice discovers a sense of depth and wholeness, leading to a sense of presence to oneself which eventually results into a sense of existence.

Opening to the imaginary

In this phase of the introspection, the learner is invited to move from the mode of feeling to the mode of imagining. The educator sets the conditions for the call of an event without using the mode of bringing up as it is used in techniques helping remembrance. All the instructions indeed aim at « letting come to one’s consciousness » the sensorial information, and not at « reaching them » voluntarily. The instructions orientate the individual towards fragments of his life, such as : « Let come to your mind the memory of a moment spent at the seaside (or in the mountain, in the forest etc.) ». The educator gradually adds to his guidance a temporal dimension : « When does your memory take place ? », then a spatial dimension : « Where did this memory happen ? », and a contextual dimension : « Who was taking part in this memory ? ». Eventually he adds an organic dimension : « What corporeal sense do you feel when remembering this memory ? ». He then draws back the individual to his present by asking him : « What spontaneous thoughts come up to you with this experience ? » ; and : « What effects do these thoughts have on your actual corporeal experience ? »

Significative links

The different forms of subjectivity which show in the Sensorial Introspection have been listed from the recording of numerous participants’ oral reports or post-immediate interviews, or from journals in which the learners record what they have experienced and learnt in their introspection.
These different forms always take root in the relation to the Sensible body and generate a sort of thought on subjectivity. This corporeal subjectivity is a Sensible experience which draws the subject back to his life situation or to a fragment of his life. And it is through this work, namely the precise practice of embodied introspection, that one will be able to build a specific autobiographisation. The significative links anchor in the body experience on the base of corporeal sensations, senses of embodiment, corporeal postures, imaginary and metaphorical lines, and spontaneous remembrances.

The organic sensation

The sensations that interest us here are felt in the Sensorial Introspections and are, therefore, in direct connection with the organic sense. The sensation is the item that the participants report from the most easily, because, when an unprecedented sensation shows so obviously in the body experience, the subject is surprised, his attention is stimulated and so is, in contrast, his questioning. To illustrate this type of significant information, let’s take the example of this individual who reports : « When I feel warmth in my body, I reach a place of (self-)confidence ». We thus can notice a first degree of intelligibility : the individual spontaneously makes a causal connection between the sensation of warmth and the state of (self-)confidence associated with it.

The organic feeling

The learner can acknowledge a the connection between his body experience and his mental and psychological state. A learner thus reported : « Before this Sensorial Introspection, I felt a tension in my body, which has been here for a long time ; the more the tension was releasing, the more my mental / psychological tension disappeared to leave space for a sense of well-being ». We deal here with another level of intelligibility, since the subject discovers and understands the nature of the link between body and psyche.

The body posture

The corporeal subjectivity that the participants report sometimes appear as a significant inner posture. For example, taking advantage of the exchanges that always follow the Sensorial Introspection, a participant reported : « As I felt my torso bending forward, it brought me back to a situation that I’m currently going through and that triggers in me a tendency to withdraw into myself. Whereas when my body started sitting up straight, I had the clear sensation that I was taking the decision to never let anybody take power over me anymore ». This example shows how, from the Sensorial experience, the individual is capable of making a causal connection between a posture and a situation of his actual daily life.

The imaginary and metaphorical lines

Another participant tells an introspective experience she has just had : « For the first time, instead of experiencing myself hollow, I experienced myself full. And, in this sense of fullness, I discovered a solidity and encountered a freedom inside of me ». When I asked for precision about the form in which this sense of freedom had appeared, the woman replied : « As I felt a space of freedom in me, I had the image of a small man/figure which was dancing and flying on a theatre stage lighted by blue spotlights ». This other example points out how the Sensorial Introspection is animated with a whole imaginary life which can appear in a metaphorical or symbolic significant form. This space of freedom, experienced in an imaginary flash, was indeed calling the individual’s attention on her tendency to hide her appetite for life from the others.

The spontaneous remembrance

To illustrate this form of corporeal subjectivity, we will get contents in the experience of one of us (Hélène Bourhis), as she described it : « When I was a child, I often had this dream which was associated with a sensation I had at night in my bed, something that penetrated in me and struck my heart, my lungs ; and this thing scared me. I was telling myself ‘it is too smooth, it is too pure, it is too perfect’. That dream was recurring when I was 6 or 7, then it disappeared and I forgot about it. Yet, very recently, in a Sensorial Introspection, I experienced something inside of me which drew me back to the sensation I had in my dream, but, this time, without fear. Facing this perfection, I was even feeling amazement combined with the strong sense that I had found again the very first memory of my sense of existing, which I had unconsciously stayed true to. »


The Sensorial Introspection carries an out-of-the-ordinary frame of experience and an introspective mobilization which is anchored in the Sensible. These two dimensions of the Sensorial Introspection potentiate each other, resulting in a significant subjective and corporeal experience. Every Sensorial Introspection is followed with a time for wording the experience through speaking or through writing, coached and mentored by the educator, to develop the immediate and inner sense and meaning that appeared to the individual. However, for the sake of space and coherence, we didn’t mention the model of the « informative directiveness » which characterizes the verbal guidance or the hermeneutic of writing that is necessary to give sense to the corporeal subjectivity which appeared during the introspective experience. We have made the choice to contextualize the Sensorial Introspection, to describe the operational mode of introspective guidance, and to insist on the pertinence of the corporeal subjectivity as a material for the self-knowledge through a few examples recorded in interviews or in the journals of the learners. We also wanted to open new perspectives to biographical approaches by inviting the educators and the researchers to use the Sensorial Introspection as a posture to develop listening, observation, exploration, to open the imaginary and make significant connections, thus feeding a comprehensive approach of sense/meaning. Obviously, the corporeal subjectivity constantly speaks to the individual of his own life, present, past and future.




[2] What is an Emotion ?, 1884, trouvé sur


[3] What is an Emotion ?, 1884, trouvé sur

[1] The Stream of Consciousness, 1892,

Hélène Bourhis
Danis Bois


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La revue "Réciprocités"

Cet article est issu de notre revue :

Numéro 4 - Concepts du paradigme du Sensible

Ce numéro approndit certains aspects conceptuels et épistémologiques du paradigme du Sensible

Hélène Bourhis et Danis Bois présentent le modèle de l'introspection sensorielle et sa visée d'enrichissement perceptif

Didier Austry et Eve Berger exposent les originalités de la posture épistémologique du praticien-chercheur du Sensible

Deux articles explorent ensuite, pour l'un la place du corps dans la démarche pédagogique du Sensible, l'autre les possibilités offertes par la psychopédagogie perceptive pour l'amélioration de la relation soignant-soigné