Body awareness involves an intentional focus on and awareness of internal body sensations. Generally found in subtler methodologies such as yoga, Feldenkrais, etc. In my experience, I would also include many Eastern martial arts on this list as they have meditative aspects to them.
Body awareness is basically the process of connecting one’s mind to their body. I am far from an expert in this, but perhaps I can address some things from a personal training standpoint.
If imbalances go unchecked, they may develop into more serious obstacles making it harder to function normally.
Through my training, I have observed some key points which may help you in your own training.
I’ve picked up these points from paying attention to my own weight, cardio, martial arts work and daily life. I’ve also had a chance to observe these issues in others.
I was able to draw out these observations only through slow training. Which works out great! Since I have a movement disorder, I sort of move slow anyways. LOL.
I see many people rushing technique. Don’t get me wrong, speed is great once you know what you are doing. Time is needed to develop the right form. Walk before you can run.
I hope these help you.
Things I’ve Noticed
- Right-side bias – I have noticed that when I approach a door, I tend to automatically open it with my right hand, even if it’s a door that opens to the left. If approaching a curb where I have to step down or up, I lead with my right foot. If bending down to pick something up, I use my right hand – even if the object is on the left side of me.
- Placing more weight on the right side – I noticed that sometimes when I am exiting a squat position or sometimes even when walking, I tend to lean a little to the right.
- Left-side weakness – in general, I would say my left hand, left leg and movement, in general, is weaker on my left side. My left hand is less coordinated. Left shoulder less mobile. Balance on the left leg is less stable. I notice how it is considerably tougher for me to get the left side of my body to do what I want.
- Left leg/foot turning outward – When I relax – like when I sleep, sit or even stand, I notice my left leg and foot turn outward.
I think that a lot of this has to do with a fall I had a few years back. I ended up tearing my left ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). More recently, however, I had a partial tear in my left gastrocnemius (the meaty muscle commonly referred to as the calf muscle).
Although these incidences were isolated, it is not lost on me that they were both on the left side of my body. I also see how I could be more tentative in the use of my left side due to these previous injuries.
Whatever your own issues, I will address a few points that I think will help you to remain aware of your body, judge how you are moving, and repair imbalances.
Before we get into deeper waters, we must first address the possibility that our faulty movements are a result of muscular imbalance or weakness.
Maybe we had some previous trauma (like an injury to our left leg) which causes us now to overcompensate in other areas. In order to balance now, our brain/body now realizes that the right side must pick up the slack. Therefore, we may find ourselves taking a variety of measures to make up for the weakness.
Over an extended period of time, these minor compensations can turn into dependencies – so much so that we become unaware of them. This behaviour will likely make a weak muscle even weaker.
So how do we address this?
I would recommend you take an analytical approach.
Step 1: Test – Use a few standard positions to identify and assess weaknesses. I’m currently going through a GMB Fitness course called Focused Flexibility that covers a lot on this topic. I recommend you assess yourself using these positions: Squat, Crosslegged Sitting, Longsitting, Supine Hip/Knee Flexion, Crossleg Hip Rotation, Shoulder Combined Motions, Prone Backbending and Neck Motions.
Step 2: Experiment – Using what you know from Step 1, apply the consistent practice of movements specifically designed to address the identified weaknesses.
Step 3: Re-test – After 4-6 weeks, go through step 1 again. Do you notice any changes? Is your muscle imbalance noticeably improved? If it’s not totally fixed, you may choose to keep working on it. If it is, you are on the right track and you may choose to move onto another problem area.
Body Awareness Through Proprioception
Proprioception is defined as your body’s awareness of its position/orientation in space.
There are a lot of things we take for granted. One big one is proprioception. In order for us to move through the world, our body must have a sense of where it is and how it relates to the things around it. Nerves located in our muscles, joints, and ligaments receive stimulus from their environment in the form of pressure, sound, heat, light, etc. Once the information is collected, it’s passed on to the brain.
In movement disorder situations, we tend to lose some of these sensory abilities like proprioception.
Depending on your particular condition, undoubtedly some form of your proprioceptive chain-of-command is broken. It could be the nerves themselves that are damaged, the communication system from your receptors to your brain, or the brain itself – in which case signals received may get interpreted incorrectly.
By challenging ourselves, using new and varied techniques, we may be able to re-program or re-set the faulty components or wiring through neuroplasticity.
Here’s a great video that has a good explanation along with several tools you can add to your training program.
TIP: Start working on some of these exercises. Even if it’s the simplest thing. Just start and do it every day, focusing on gradually challenging yourself.
Control is only developed through slow training. This is different for everyone. Maybe your squat is better than mine. Maybe I have better shoulder mobility. Whatever you’re working on, take your time as painful as it may seem. Sometimes, I find myself flopping down into a seat (especially when I’m tired.), but I know that really is of no benefit. The core must be engaged along with quadriceps, hamstrings and everything down to our feet.
Having the ability to engage our muscles at will is the desired effect. Good boxers are able to coordinate a series of muscles from their feet, through the legs, hips to the end of their fist. This should be our aim (not necessarily to be boxers).
Focus and control are long-term sustainable objectives. Speed and power are fairly short-term. It’s the tortoise vs. the hare mentality.
TIP: The next time you do an exercise or movement focus on doing it correctly instead of getting it done.
Danger Danger, Will Robinson!
Here are some other cues to keep aware of:
- Neutral feet – in most situations, you’ll want to keep your feet roughly hip-width apart and pointed forward for good balance and stability. Occasionally look down at your feet and correct them if need be. My left foot tends to turn outward. I notice this when I’m in the kitchen or at the gym mostly and correct accordingly. According to Dr. Kelly Starrett, “When your feet are turned out duck-style, stability bleeds away. With each step, your body has to work extra hard to compensate for the loss. The arch of your foot flattens out, your knee caves in, you lose power, and stresses on the soft tissues of your joints pile up.”
- Posture – I know that many people with diseases like mine suffer from poor posture. I am no exception. You may not even be aware of it as is the tendency. A tight or hunched thoracic spine can cause neck pain, shoulder mobility issues, lower back pain and other issues.
A leader in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease, Dr. Gary Sharpe of Out-Thinking Parkinson’s suggests using sensory props. I would agree (although I can do a lot better in this area). By doing this, you can improve proprioception and reaction time. I know he has had much success with a product called Smovey Rings.
I think we have a lot of options here. The preference should be for something with variable weight to it so that you’d have to anticipate and react where it’s going to go with your body adjusting accordingly.
As a martial artist, I would be inclined t go for some sort of weapon like nunchakus. Lots of control is required to manipulate them since they re two sticks separated by a chain.
TIP: Start with a tennis ball or something similar. Focus on challenging yourself. Once you get the hang of catching the ball, try tossing it higher. Bounce it against a wall. Try juggling.
I am hardly an expert in this area, but I recently read a Canfitpro magazine article by Lisa McLellan which seemed to relevant to this post.
Lisa goes on to explain that ‘Somatic movement is a kinesthetic process that forms a whole experience of our sensations, movements, perceptions, emotions, and thoughts.’
Now, the article was written with older people (50+) in mind, but I find a lot of it rings true for many with neurological/movement disorders.
She goes on to explain sensorimotor amnesia (SMA), ‘SMA is a memory loss of how certain muscle groups feel and how to control them … Examples of the effect of SMA are: distortions in posture, limited range of motion, muscle weakness, stiffness, poor bio-mechanical technique, chronic pain, tiredness, and lack of vitality.’
Certainly true for me!
I’ve given you several techniques here. Don’t get overwhelmed. There’s no need to try everything. Just pick one thing that you feel is your biggest issue and start there.
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