Do you workout with a mirror? How often do you check your form when exercising? Are you one who is aware of your bodily moves all the time? Or just one who needs to be constantly reminded to sit tall and relax your shoulders?
I had a chat with my Pilates instructor the other day, and we got onto the subject of body awareness. Both of us agree, that many people who workout, and workout hard, may not have good body awareness. Some of us work by figures (counting the number of reps each time to make sure we improve), or some of us by weight (pounding on extra weight each session to dictate an improvement).
What is Body Awareness?
Full body awareness simply means paying attention to your body, its every movement, every feeling and every process. To work it in simpler terms, channel your focus and attention and feel onto every inch of your body, especially on the benefiting muscles while doing certain exercises. A runner will feel his core engaged, shoulders straight and ‘relaxed’, glutes and calves working with each step of the run. A trainer will feel his glutes ‘harden’ and tighten, core muscles clenched when doing a hip raise. (picture below)
It’s simple, but requires much training to develop full awareness for your body. For those who work out really hard but lack full body awareness, you are missing out on the benefits of just simply paying attention to your body.
Imagine doing a certain move while working out, and to do it completely wrong. Probably working the wrong muscle groups, or worse inducing an injury.
Benefits of Full Body Awareness
If you are one of those truly motivated to keep fit, having body awareness will make you feel really good about yourself while you exercise. Feeling your muscles as they engage with your movements bring about a full mind and body partnership. When you are aware of your moves, the great precision performed with each action allows you to use your muscles more efficiently, and thus resulting in an overall improved performance. What we do not wish to have is to do multiple reps of each move, and to only reap the benefits of a few which are performed correctly.
Naturally having Body Awareness?
I believe body awareness has to be taught. It can be developed through practice. Some activities that help to cultivate this awareness include yoga, pilates, dancing, and any other sport that requires some sort of a ‘natural grace’.
Because of our high-stress jobs, emotional stress, fast paced living, environmental factors, or anything that gives our body discomfort make us lose the awareness to slow down, pay attention and rest our body. Women will tend to focus more on our appearance than how we actually feel. We want ‘visual results’, like forcing our bodies to lift heavier and heavier weights each time, pushing ourselves to achieve a highly difficult move, but in turn, we lost the awareness in the process.
How to develop Full Body Awareness?
I developed a strong sense of body awareness after practising Pilates. I have been at it for more than a year now. Before, I would always slouch on the couch, or in front of my laptop. I used to stand with my weight resting on one leg, sitting with my abdomen tucked in, shoulders collapsing to the front. Because I have reversed most of my bad postural habits, I am telling you now that it is possible to start somewhere to make the change.
Exercises like yoga, tai chi and pilates are excellent for helping develop body awareness, which in turn improves your balance and coordination. When we are at our neutral symmetrical balanced stance, the muscles on both sides of our body are working concurrently. A practice to include body awareness exercises into your training program will help you not just to achieve great results in your workouts, but also increases the quality of your daily life.
Body awareness takes time and practice to achieve. You should not be expecting to see results in a few lessons. Sign up for some classes, be patient and give yourself at least 10 lessons to learn how to awaken your senses to create such awareness. Speak to practicers of yoga or pilates, they will be able to provide good and positive advice and guidance that will help you in lessons. Learn, and you will find your way to a happier, more complete and more functional you.