4 January 2020
Body awareness is the ability to tune into our bodies and how they are feeling. It’s how we know to eat when are hungry, and to stop when our stomach tells us we’ve had enough. It’s how we know if we are tired or unwell. Body awareness tells us we need to rest when we have overdone it, and that we need to take time off work when we are ill.
As children, we are connected with our bodies and experience them with joy. As we become adults, we get caught up in our fast-paced lives, and lose our body awareness without realising.
Many of us live our lives so much in our head, that we lose track of what is happening in our bodies. We often spend more time being aware of the weather, the time of day or what other people expect from us, than the sensations in our own bodies.
We can learn to become aware of our bodies again by understanding the difference between our external and internal awareness.
External awareness includes all the stimulation we receive to our senses from the outside world.
Internal awareness is any physical sensation, feeling, emotional comfort or discomfort inside the body.
We often don’t notice what’s going on in the body, because most of our awareness is focused outside of it.
As we become more aware of our body and its’ sensations, we become more likely to notice stress, anxiety and tension. The body registers stress much sooner than the mind. When muscles start to tense, it’s the body’s way of letting you know that you are stressed.
For more on how the body reacts to stress read Fight or Flight – understanding how your body reacts to stress.
Our body has inbuilt signals to tell us when we’re hungry, and need to eat; or tired, and need to sleep. Without body awareness, we often ignore these important signals from our body. Neglecting our basic need for rest, food, and digestion, can affect our physical and mental health. As our body awareness improves, we can better respond to our own needs.
For more on how signals to eat can get disturbed, and what you can do to reset your body’s hunger function check out When food rules your life – disordered eating explained
Body awareness can help improve emotions too. Most emotions are felt in the body as well as the mind. So, when we are nervous, we may feel it in our stomach. When we are angry, we may flush red and feel our heart beat faster.
The physical aspects of our emotions often begin before we even register the feelings. By improving body awareness, it becomes easier to identify and understand emotions based on small changes in the body.
It’s possible for everyone to become more aware of their body. When I work with clients, whatever the issue, I support them to become more in touch with what is going on inside their bodies. As they begin to find it easier to tune into their bodies, they are able to start making changes at a pace that is right for them.
Try these exercises to increase your body awareness and develop your understanding of your body and how it responds.
Begin by focusing your attention on the outside world. Become aware of what you are noticing. You could use the words “I am aware of …” to help you focus. For instance, “I am aware of the cars driving past”, “I am aware of the colour of the carpet”, “I am aware of the smell of cooking”, etc.
Once you have become aware of what is going on around you, move your focus to your body and its physical sensations. This is what we call the internal world. Still use the words “I am aware of …to help you. For instance “I am aware of feeling warm”, “I am aware of stiffness in my shoulders”, “I am aware of my stomach making noises”, etc.
Now shuttle between the internal and external awareness. This might be something like “I am aware of the chair against my leg”, “I am aware of the light coming from outside the window”, “I am aware my back is rounded”, “I am aware of the birds singing” etc.
This exercise only takes a few moments to practice and can be done throughout the day, whenever you have a spare minute. It helps to separate and appreciate the difference between your internal and external worlds.
Close your eyes. Start with your toes and gradually moving up your body ask yourself “Where am I tense?” Whenever you discover a tense area exaggerate it slightly so you can become more aware of it. Be aware of the muscles in your body that are tense, but don’t try and do anything about it. Next say to yourself “I am tensing my neck muscles…I am creating tension in my body…It is me who is doing it.” We produce our own muscular tension. Now, become aware of anything that is going on in your life that may be causing the tension in your body and think about what you could do to change it.
Developing body awareness involves passively observing your body and its actions without thinking in terms of “good,” “bad,” “attractive” or “unattractive.” You can think of it like being a scientist investigating yourself. The aim is to detach yourself from personal criticism, and just be interested in perceiving, understanding, and accepting your body exactly as it is.
This nonjudgmental awareness toward our bodies helps foster greater self-acceptance.
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