Body Awareness is a popular term especially in yoga and Pilates circles, but what does it mean? Some would argue that being “body aware” is having a keen kinesthetic sense of how your body moves and feels in your environment at any point in time. One medical dictionary definition describes Body Awareness as “the felt sense of embodiment; consciousness of our somatic feelings.” How’s that for a clear definition?
In working with clients, I have received a number of explanations of Body Awareness over the years. Some would use this term as an expression of how well they know what hurts them and how well they can articulate that discomfort. Others use it in tandem with a number of anatomical references, regardless of accuracy, to show me how well they know their bodies.
What is a common theme in all definitions is that the physical aspect of Body Awareness often goes hand in hand with the cognitive. This means that people are spending a lot of time these days thinking about their bodies, how they feel, how they look, what’s working and what’s not. This can be great for Movement practitioners as we are given ample information and feedback from our clients, but is this really a good thing or are we creating a monster?
In my opinion, a useful definition for Body Awareness involves being present in your body at a time when it is necessary to focus on a specific quality of movement. This does not mean that we should think about every movement all day, and what body part or muscle group is active with every action. What an exhausting way to move throughout your day. Some activities definitely require thought to execute them safely and effectively, but most of our daily tasks do not.
Our bodies know how to move, partially in our innate makeup and otherwise from our learned behavior formed at a young age, and the subsequent movement patterns that developed. Controlled by our central nervous system, we are subconsciously able to make split second decisions about movement, whether to propel us forward to the next task, to direct us around space, or stop us from impending danger. We do not need to think through these actions, in fact, over-thinking can be detrimental. Often times, the exact opposite of our intention occurs. By thinking too much about our bodies in motion, we are inadvertently slowing our progress forward, and creating barriers to movement fueled by fear and doubt.
Perhaps a better approach would be to just allow our bodies to move through life as we are designed. If we really need to focus the mind, maybe thinking about movement in terms of direction, space, and shape as explored by Movement Theorist, Rudolf von Laban would be more productive, rather than in terms of pain, inability, and apprehension. Most importantly, I think it is time we stop thinking so much and just start moving for movement’s sake.
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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