Our brain is extremely preoccupied with sensing things.
In order to move well and safely, our brain needs constant input from sensory receptors to give us proper information to get things started. Should we be moving fast or slow? Do we need heart rate up or down? How is the terrain? Are we balanced? What do we smell? what do we see?, How does it taste? etc….
It all comes down to body awareness. Which is exactly what it sounds like; the sense we have of our own body.
We all have basic awareness, but like math or spelling, not everyone is gifted with oodles of it. Sometimes, we just aren’t “a natural” at something. Know what I mean?
No worries. Even if you weren’t born with a plethora of natural awareness abilities, you can still make gains with this important ability through practice and intention.
If you have young children, know that they absolutely need to be given the chance to develop their body awareness through movement and play. And we adults need to continue practicing awareness too. Like movement, you should never stop. Ever.
Upkeep, people. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle. Just like keeping your car in good condition, we need to keep our brain and body working together like a dream machine.
If we aren’t up-keeping in some way, our brain can learn to ignore the signals or allow them to become diminished due to trauma or violence as a way to keep the body and mind separate to protect one’s self. Injury, chronic pain, neurological issues and diseases can do it too.
Even just being a non-mover can lesson awareness at any point in life.
No matter your age, I believe that becoming more acutely aware
of your body,
in your body,
and around your body
will help you in some way to achieve a more fulfilling life.
Your awareness signals come internally, externally, and even proprioceptively (how our body moves through space).
As I’m an extremely visual learner, I like to offer you a visual on things when I can.
So, here goes…
Let’s say you want to reach out and grab your coffee mug off the counter and take a drink.
Knowing how far to reach and how much muscle is required to lift it is a good example of the need for sensory perception.
Without having the body and spatial awareness to do so, you might over-reach, under-reach, or knock it off the counter completely. You might use too much force to lift and hit your teeth, or not enough and spill it all over yourself.
I bet you never thought about how talented you are when it comes to drinking skills, am I right? Thank your body/brain connection for all of that. 🙂
Put into a fitness context, it might look like this.
Let’s say that “Gertrude” is in a fitness class and watches her instructor do a dead lift at the front of the room. Gertrude then lifts her weight and does the same.
But Gertrude lifts it differently than her instructor.
In her mind, she thinks she is moving her body just like she has observed. But, her inner awareness ability is not her strong point.
Okay, so what? She lifted it differently, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is not what she didn’t feel then, but what she will feel tomorrow.
What she doesn’t feel (yet) is that muscles and fascia in her body compensated big time for the movement mistakes she just made.
Gertrude always carries more weight to one side due to an old injury and has super tight hamstrings on that same side. She did not create a true hip-hinge but instead rounded her back, and used those back muscles and neck muscles instead of glutes to pull her body upright each time the exercise was done. She tried to lift more weight than her body could handle well, held her breath to lift, and allowed a ton of tension in her face. Phew! That’s a lot going on!
There were 30 people in class (or more) that day and the instructor didn’t notice that Gertrude was lifting differently, and so couldn’t correct her.
Really, the instructor might not have been able to visually even see some of the things going on inside Gertrude’s body. Only Gertrude herself could be aware of some of them.
Which is what I mean when I speak of “body empowerment”. It’s up to you to know your body. But that’s a topic for another day.
If I were Gertrude or her instructor, here are a number of things I would have asked myself or coached aloud for the class to think on.
Beginning with her feet and working up the body.
Feet parallel? In neutral position? engaged? Equally weighted?
Knees- unlocked? straight ahead?
hamstrings soft and relaxed to allow pelvis hip-hinge position?
Using and contracting glutes to propel pelvis upright, or is it going into your back?
Breath? are you holding or exhaling?
Where is rib cage in space?
Shoulder blades rolled down and back?
What is skull position in space?
Ease in face?
Reaching energy through crown of head?
—Back to dear Gertrude.
The next day her back is screaming at her. Gertrude’s first thought isn’t, “Gee, I wonder if my form was off?”
It was, “What the heck? I must be getting old. Maybe that class isn’t for me anymore.”
Wait what?!! Wrong…
Nope, not old- She simply didn’t have the awareness that she needed in the moment.
Learn from Gertrude. It’s up to you to become aware of how you move so that you can move better. And if that seems like an impossible task, come see me and we’ll work out how you move together.
There are 3 different types of sensory awareness.
Exteroception: Your 5 basic senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. I’m sure you are quite familiar with these. We learned about them in kindergarten.
Interoception: is likened to a 6th sense. And correlates to heart, gut, lungs, skin, and connective tissue. It’s about feeling things from the inside. Interoception is also closely linked to the ability to have emotional awareness of yourself and be able to read others emotions and body language more easily.
And then you have
proprioception: which is how your body moves through space. The proprioceptors in your body also aid in both force production (how much do you need?) and muscular contraction (the ability to know the difference between and be able to regulate both contraction and relaxation).
Studies have shown that dancers and musicians have more interoceptive awareness than others. But they have yet to figure out if it’s something they are born with or if they gain that from the practice of those fine arts.
I’m going to guess that it’s both. Some are definitely born with it and then naturally gravitate to those arts. But I also strongly believe that it’s a skill you can develop over time. I’m not a scientist running tests, but anecdotally, here’s my reasoning.
I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people in a variety of gyms and studios over the last 10 years. I’ve seen people with little to no interoception or proprioception come in to start, and then a few years later be amazed at their progress.
And no, I’m not talking about how buff they get. I’m speaking of their spatial awareness and movement abilities.
For me, having this ability is a gift I’m constantly grateful for. I honestly feel that if you took it away, even if I had sight to see, I’d still feel blind.
It’s the reason (I believe) I’m good at what I do. When I’m coaching someone in pain, I can, after doing their postural assessment put myself into their body posture to feel their pain and different sensations; then try to work it backwards to unravel and help them get out of it.
As a fitness instructor, I’m able to tune into my own body with enough awareness to use words to lead people through what I’m asking of them. I’ll go back and forth between telling them how it should feel inside, to checking if their outer form is reflecting what I want them to have (feel) internally.
Having a heightened sensory perception is what I believe will aid and keep you safe as the years go by. It will allow you to move with grace, dexterity, and functionality- keeping you protected from falls and injuries long into your later years.
It will also aid you in the here and now.
Having the ability to tune-in to what your body is feeling internally will allow you to know when, where, and how you carry your physical tension. Knowing that is key to releasing it and changing a dysfunctional (though I hate that term) movement pattern.
Becoming more sensory perceptive can help you learn where you are placing your emotional tension as well. Pretty great, eh? Who doesn’t want this? It’s like becoming a super hero and having new found spidey senses.
Though I’m all for the belief that it’s never too late to start learning a new skill. Why wait? This is a life-long learning progression. The longer you have to practice it the better you’ll become. The older you become, the more you are going to need it.
I’m currently working on a pdf that you’ll be able to download with many ideas on how to increase your sensory awareness. But for now, here’s a quick little practice.
Sit quietly for a few minutes and see if you can feel your heartbeat.
Not by placing your fingers on your pulse, but instead by simply quieting your body and mind and see if you can feel your heart pumping.
Another step. Come take class with me at my studio or sign up for 1:1 coaching. Not because I’m trying to rope you into spending your money with me, lol. But because I care about you and your movement. I really want to help give you the gift of interoception and proprioception.
Can’t make it to the studio?
Check out my new weekly Friday “Body Empowerment” series on Facebook or YouTube. The below link is a video of last week’s chat and is where this article inspiration came from.