In lasts weeks' blog I talked about the meaning of Body Awareness.
Today we're are going to look at some signs of poor body awareness and some solutions to help improve body awareness.
What are signs of body awareness problems?
Focusing on general body awareness issues in adults (not related to specific medical diagnoses).
Signs of proprioceptive problems in adults include:
Stiff or awkward movement patterns
Difficult with balance or coordination
Difficulty mirroring exercises
Difficulty learning proper form for exercises
Difficulty moving to the beat of music
Body Awareness & Proper Form
Getting tuned in to sensations like stretch, pressure, discomfort, movement, etc. can help you listen to your body to improve form and decrease the risk for injury.
When was the last time you weren’t multitasking?
When it comes to performing different fitness movements, not paying attention can be like asking for an injury. Especially if you know coordination is not your thing.
How to Improve Body Awareness
So you’re having difficulty in that cardio step class, following the right weight lifting cues, or what the heck your yoga instructor said because you can’t see.
Don’t feel bad if it just doesn’t come naturally. If you’re willing to explore and put in some work, you can improve.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try.
Here are some tips to use in addition to specific body awareness exercises to improve.
Ask For Help
Ask instructors to show you a particular move and practice it! Depending on the situation, they may be able to provide a hands-on adjustment or offer a different verbal cue that makes sense for you.
Don’t love the instructor? Ask a different one that you know and trust!
Don’t reinforce bad form! Learn the proper way.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember the old saying practice makes perfect?
With practice, focus, and a little patience, you can become more proficient at different moves and decrease the risk of injury. Repetition increases that muscle memory!
As a kid, you were probably tricked into learning body awareness with games like Simon Says and Hokey Pokey. Learning now may not be as fun, but with so much information available for free, there’s no excuse. Just make sure you’re trying to seek out legit sources.
Take opportunities to really learn about what you’re doing and why. Don’t just go through the motions.
Educating yourself about anatomy and the purpose of each movement can help improve awareness. You can’t “put your mind to the muscle” if you don’t know where the muscle is.
Improve Knowledge of directions and Movements
When following an instructor or reading about exercises, you will hear many different cues like flex/extend, bend/straighten, left/right, forward/back, etc.
Do you struggle with understanding verbal cues?
In a fitness class, you may not always be able to see the instructor and may need to rely more on verbal directions. Remember Hokey Pokey? That was helping us with this.
It gets more complex when an instructor is explaining cues for how to perform a movement. You don’t want to miss out on valuable tips to perform movements properly.
Take the time to learn the lingo for the class or other fitness activities you’re enjoying.
If you’re a little rusty on your knowledge of anatomy, you can read about it. Don’t be caught off guard when someone says quads or gluteus!
Use Exercise Modifications
Always take the modification until you feel confident you can progress. If you have trouble doing two things at a time, it will be impossible to do four things at a time.
Understand what makes movements easier or harder. Use these levels to your advantage.
The more challenging an activity is, the more sensory input you receive and need to process. The more body parts you need to keep track of.
When you modify, there are fewer variables to think about, and you can focus more efficiently on the purpose of the movement. If you start simple and gradually progress, with practice, you can learn to recognize when something feels right, and when it doesn’t.
Take Advantage of Mirrors
Some people genuinely hate looking in the mirror at themselves. Now that may be beyond the scope of what I’m getting into today, but your form is not getting better because you’re avoiding looking in the mirror.
Remember visual sensory input? Mirrors are one of the best ways to improve your form and get immediate real-time feedback.
Practice Fundamental Movements
Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, and other fundamental movement-based methods are fitness activities that encourage more self-awareness with controlled, coordinated movements.
Including these types of activities in your routine can help improve that mind-body connection by encouraging slow and purposeful movements.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase core strengthening?
Hint: it’s not sit-ups!
Pilates is also a core strengthening activity. The core is not often something we think about using and, as a result, core weakness can decrease body awareness.
Good core stability provides a stable base for all other limbs and can improve overall movement patterns.
Teaching core/postural exercises as a physical therapist is one of the most challenging concepts for patients to grasp. They often become frustrated and say, but I can’t tell if I’m doing it right.
This is where various verbal cues, hands-on cues, and education about anatomy and movement comes in. Different instructions click with different people. With practice, you gain a sense of what feels right.
Strength Training Exercises
Strength training exercises (after you’ve had instruction on proper form) can improve strength, neuromuscular control, and proprioception by placing load through the system, providing additional sensory input.
Practice Guided Meditation
Meditation can be intimidating to many and little woo-woo to some. I’m by no means an expert. However, science does say practicing meditation can help promote relaxation and become more attune to the sensations in your body.
Try a guided meditation for even 5-10 min. Bonus, there’s tons of free guided meditations on YouTube.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises can help improve awareness of breath and core muscles and decrease stress.
Deep breathing is a natural hack into the nervous system and often overlooked in healthy movement.
Deep breathing has a connection to the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, running through the throat, chest, and abdomen, helping to elicit a relaxation response to decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and reduce the concentration of stress hormones circulating the body.
Body Scan Exercises
This involves taking the time to scan sensations slowly through different body parts, processing the sensory information coming into you such as pressure, pain, tightness.
We normally ignore these as we go throughout the day, but taking time to process this information can help improve the connection with your body and recognize negative sensations more quickly.
Body scanning also helps with recognizing internal body sensations.
These are typically used as relaxation techniques to release subconscious muscle tension. Voluntarily contracting and relaxing muscle groups allows you to perceive the different sensations that go with each and improve your overall body awareness.
Isometric contractions (the ability to engage a muscle group without making a movement) is also helpful for all forms of exercise as you monitor form and posture.
Work on Your Balance
Working on balance and other closed chain (standing) movements can help improve proprioceptive sense. Remember, proprioception gives up feedback on where our limbs are in space.
By working on balance and fine-tuning this sense, we are able to adapt to balance changes more quickly, hopefully, stay upright and avoid injuries.
Better balance can mean the difference between a close call and an embarrassing wipeout.
Slow Down and Be Mindful
Take the time to focus on what you’re doing. Mindfulness is getting a lot of attention these days and for good reason. We’re always distracted.
Back to the coffee for just a sec, remember the last time you were distracted and tried to pick up your coffee and drink it? Some of it may have ended up on your shirt.
You’ll become more proficient at something if you can focus. Don’t just go through poorly formed motions, pay attention.
The same principles apply when you’re doing exercises. Make sure you’re paying attention and listening to your body! Get tuned in to the sensory cues. Don’t be thinking about your grocery list.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try. Everyone can make progress toward improving body awareness.
Improving body awareness can take a long time, but you can make progress. It can be a lifelong process, and no matter what your level, it’s always good to become more in tune with your body.
I hope this post encourages you to try some new forms of exercise or get better at those you’re already doing.