Have you gone through life always feeling like your the uncoordinated one of the group?
Have you been hampered in your pursuit of fitness regimes because you can’t do simple movements properly?
Have you frequently gotten injured because you’re not coordinated enough?
Have you been avoiding trying new types of exercise because of fear that you won’t get the movements right, and you’ll look silly?
If you can relate to any of these questions, then read on!
Today I’m discussing body awareness, why it’s important, and how to develop better body awareness.
Why is body awareness important in everyday life?
For some, body awareness comes quite naturally to others not so much so.
Sometimes poor body awareness accompanies medical or developmental issues, can be a result of injuries or muscle weakness or just the way you are. Plenty of people will claim “I’m just not coordinated” or “I’ve never been athletic.”
Body awareness is our internal connection with ourselves and where we are in space and allows us to react and move appropriately, whether it fitness related or and in everyday life.
Another factor in body awareness is spatial awareness, or our ability to understand and interact in our surrounding environment.
This sense helps us not walk into others in a grocery aisle or not kick the person next to us in an exercise class.
Let’s look at a simple example…chances are you had coffee this morning. In order to do so you needed to successfully stand the appropriate distance from the coffee. Extend your arm at just the right speed and precisely grasp the cup. You carefully brought it to your mouth without spilling it to begin to drink your morning pick me up.
Sure, you say, that was easy, it’s just picking up a cup. How does this relate to helping me not look like a spaz at the gym?
I’m getting there…
At some point as a child, you were not that skilled in such a simple task. Sippy cup anyone? But you learned. Just like you learned to walk, run, play, drive, or become skilled at any task.
Coordinated movement requires the brain to interpret sensory information (sensory integration) and produce the correct movements accurately.
When you do something over and over again, the brain forms motor patterns. This is referred to as “muscle memory.”
A motor pattern is a sequence of muscle movements that work together to accomplish a task. A task could be as simple as sitting down or as complex as hitting a baseball.The more we practice something, and the better we are at interrupting the sensations that come in, the better the outcome is.
Body awareness is essential for all exercises and can help improve form and decrease the risk of injury.
How does body awareness work?
Any of the systems that relay sensory information to the brain helps to contribute to body awareness.
Information such as visual cues, auditory cues, sense of touch, perception of movement, pressure, and pain are crucial for physical activity.
There are 2 terms that are most often associated with body awareness…proprioception and kinesthesia. Though often used interchangeably, they have slight differences.
Proprioception is the ability to know where our limbs are in space. Sensory receptors (proprioceptors) in muscles, tendons, joints, and fascia relay information to the brain about the position of a joint.
When your eyes are closed, you should be able to tell the difference between standing and sitting. That’s because you receive proprioceptive input and other sensory information that allows you to interpret the difference.
The proprioceptive system helps you understand if you are doing movements properly without being able to see your entire body.
Kinesthesia is the movement component, using feedback from proprioceptors and other means of sensory input.
The kinesthetic sense plays a role in “muscle memory” and hand-eye coordination to allow you to coordinate movement patterns.
Visual & Vestibular Systems
Your brain also receives valuable cues from the visual and vestibular systems.
If you stand and close your eyes, you might notice it’s harder to keep your balance. That’s because you eliminated information from your visual system and are now relying solely on input from other systems.
The vestibular system is complex, so let’s keep it simple. Organs within the inner ears sense head position, motion, and spatial orientation. This helps with movement, posture, and equilibrium.
Anyone that’s ever had vertigo, other dizziness issues, or a few drinks knows how difficult it is to keep your balance.
All this information gets processed in the brain to assist body awareness and movement.
We are constantly processing internal and external cues to navigate through our space.
If tasks are new or complex, the sensory input can become overwhelming. With practice, less mental energy is needed to complete tasks well.
Check back for next weeks blog where I discuss signs you may lack body awareness and how you can develop better body awareness!