How do we cultivate body awareness?

One of the biggest questions I get in my practice is what is body awareness? I teach  Pilates and Yoga, and I’m an injury specialist, so the question is fitting. Often, these  questions stem from the desire to be aware of a body part to prevent future injury. As  one of my clients said, Ï felt I could avoid future injuries if I was more aware of my  body. I think injuries happen because we aren’t in sync with our bodies.”

While it’s true that body awareness is tended to be talked about in the concept of the  physical body, I personally think the idea goes so much deeper. When it comes to  cultivating body awareness, as with the rest of my work, I think the approach needs  to be well balanced physically, mentally, and spiritually.

What is Awareness? 

Before we dive into cultivating body awareness, I think It’s important to discuss  awareness in general. Awareness is the heightened ability to understand one’s self  and surroundings. By increasing your awareness, you will have a deeper  understanding of yourself, the ability to handle challenges in life, and a sense of  control or direction in life. Most importantly, you find an internal sense of balance  within yourself and your life. 

We often hear the terms “body awareness” or “self-awareness” when defining  awareness. Body awareness is thought of as where your body is in space. Self awareness is having a sense of self and enough attention to understand how you  affect others and your surroundings. Again, I use the term body awareness to  discuss all components of understanding beyond the physical body. While it’s true  that nearly all physical exercise can increase body awareness, this can only be fully  achieved when it’s paired with an intentional awareness of the mind and body  sensations. It’s the practice of somatic psychotherapy, which contends that the mind  and body are not separable. To understand thoughts, feelings, and behavior, one  must understand the body’s inextricable role in these phenomena.  

Cultivating Body Awareness 

When it comes to teaching and implementing in my personal practice, I like to use  the below steps to cultivate body awareness. The first steps are designed to  personally recognize and develop understanding in your life. Once you become more  aware new mental and emotional shifts will occur in your life. The additional steps  will help you further this knowledge. 

1. Prioritize Stillness 

Stillness is a virtue and one of the most essential concepts for cultivating body  awareness. The virtue of stillness is this notion of focusing on one thing at a time. To  fully appreciate one thing instead of multi-tasking between it and five other things.  Stillness teaches us how to combat the temptation to keep reaching for items or  tasks and instead pause and allow the reflection to enter in. To simplify, slow down,  and enjoy life.

When it comes to practicing the art of stillness, this is best done through breathwork  and meditation. I encourage you first to take any comfortable position such as a  child’s pose, a comfortable seat, or even lying down. Start taking deep inhales for 5  counts and deep exhales for 5 counts. Focus and observe the rhythm of your breath  and if the mind starts to wander, go back to counting the breath.  

The principle here is to accept stillness and train the mind to focus on one thing at a  time. Eventually, you will stop counting and fall into a deep meditative state. From  here, I encourage you to zero in on the edge of your nose or your third eye (the spot  in the center of your forehead). Have patience with yourself and know this will get  easier over time.  

I would encourage you to try this practice for 10 minutes every day. To make it a  habit, it’s best to tie it to a routine you already have established. I like to do it after  having my morning coffee and before I go to work. Everyone is different, and I  encourage you to find a time and place that works best for you. Once it becomes a  habit, you can slowly increase the time that works for your schedule and needs. 

2. Body-Scan 

When was the last time you truly listened to your body? Like deeply felt and paid  attention to sensations in your body? This is where the art of a body scan can do  wonders.  

A body scan pays attention to specific sensations in the body and keeps your focus  on them until they dissipate. We do this, so we can prevent unwanted feelings and  information from being stored in the body. When this unwanted information is  trapped in the body, it is stored as stress, tension, and disease. These three  attributes keep us profoundly disconnected from our sense of body awareness. 

There are two ways I advise listening to your body. First, it’s to move and become  more aware of the physical body. This could be yoga, a walk, or anything that gets  you up and moving! As you progress, notice your heartbeat, what muscles you feel,  and if you are hot or cold. I would keep it simple first, then start to explore more deeper the more you practice. These could be questions like, does the movement  feel good in my body, or does my body, not like this? If my body doesn’t like this is it  because of a physical or mental limitation? 

The second way to listen to the body is to practice a body scan meditation. I like to  lay down for 5-20 minutes and do an overall body scan every day. I quiet my mind  and fully relax my body before beginning this practice. I start at the top of my head  and slowly move down to my feet in the front of my body and then back up the back  

of my body. I imagine a white round light, and I pay close attention to areas of my  body that feel more sensations. In these areas, I hold my white ball there and accept  and feel the feelings till they dissipate. After I no longer feel them, I move on to the  next spot. By listening to your body, you maintain a connection to your body and  foster awareness of the information it stores. 

3. Acceptance and Love 

I work a lot with injuries in my practice, and I think this is an essential step in  cultivating body awareness after an injury. This is where you accept your current  physical body and mental state without any attachment. Its knowing that you are  incredible, worthy of giving and receiving love, and worthy of any life you desire to  achieve. When you embrace an attitude of acceptance, you are removing negativity  and resistance from unwanted thoughts and emotions. Acceptance takes you away  from the past or future and returns you to the present moment. Free of resistance or  attachment, the present moment is where effective change for our future can be  made. 

I like to implement this by stating intentions at the beginning of a session. This could  be intentions like “I am here” or ” today will be a good practice.” Then as we move  through a session, I encourage you to keep everything positive and not get frustrated  with the body’s limitations. To embrace muscle shakes and tremors, monkey minds,  and to have the attitude of I’m here to create a more substantial, healthy body and  accept the body I have in front of me today. At the end of the session, I always like to end with gratitude for the body and congratulate my client on making it through the  class. It can also be helpful to have a journal where you could reflect and write down  things you noticed in the course or even your life in general. These could be things  you appreciate, reflect on experiences of the past week, or even what circumstances  added value to your life.  

The critical thing to remember is that acceptance embraces the moment, the body,  the mind, and the experience for what it is. It doesn’t try to change it at that moment.  This acceptance creates an emotional platform in which changes can be internalized  for the better. 

4. Desire 

What do you desire in life? The crazy thing is that most people focus on what they  don’t want instead of what they do. By having this thought, you are actually holding  yourself back from personal growth.  

It’s essential to look at the contrast and continually ask, “How would I like it to be  instead?” Our goal with this step is to shift attention toward the desired and thus create a clear path for the future and build the momentum needed to get there. One of my favorite ways to do this is to teach a client for 10 minutes and then ask  them the below questions:  

What poses, or exercises make you feel weak or cause you to have a negative  emotion?  

Now think about how would you like to feel instead?

Let’s do this exercise again. When you feel negative emotions, I want you to speak a  powerful word that evokes positivity in your body. This could be a word like strong,  beautiful, or dedicated.  

This exercise encourages you to play and look at opposites. In simplicity, every time  you have a negative thought, you replace it with a positive. This can be a great  addition to a writing practice and can be done with all areas of your life, including  relationships, career, and health. By switching and reframing to a positive mindset,  you internalize this new belief and create changes in your unconscious mind. It  allows you to remove the source of discomfort and cultivate a more profound sense  of awareness in your body.  

By cultivating body awareness, you open yourself up to the full embodiment and the  joys of life. My goal with all my clients is to have them leave a session with me  feeling better than when they walked in. Still, most importantly, I want them to leave  feeling more alive than they ever have before. I hope you have enjoyed this article and I wish you fun and happiness as you explore cultivating body awareness in your  life!