Do you ever find yourself bumping into things or almost falling over for no apparent reason? Do you have trouble keeping your balance?
Maybe you work on the computer and, while you’re sitting in front of it for hours, you forget you even have a body at all. Then you realize you’ve tweaked your neck or your entire leg is asleep. Ouch!
These issues can often be helped by a little bit of body awareness.
Body awareness is how conscious and connected you are to your own body. It’s also known as kinesthesia, or the awareness of the position and movement of body parts in relation to muscles and joints.
In short, it’s how you recognize where your body is in space.
It involves the proprioceptive system, which tells you where your muscles are moving and how, as well as the vestibular system, which is made of organs in the inner ear that are in charge of spatial orientation.
The vestibular system allows you to keep your balance, posture, and head stability. If you feel dizzy, chances are your vestibular system is affected.
Body awareness can also extend to your body’s cues. When you recognize that you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired, you’re exercising body awareness.
This is also the case with more complex cues, like when you’re at your max during a workout, when you’re feeling lonely and in need of some social time, or when your body is ready for sex.
Body awareness has several benefits that range from physical to emotional health.
Better balance and stability
One of the main benefits of body awareness is having a strong mind-body connection. When you know and feel where your body is in space, you’re better able to direct it to do what you want it to do.
There’s some evidence that body awareness can be a beneficial tool for weight management.
Evidence suggests that body awareness can reduce pain when approached mindfully.
According to one
- lower self-esteem
- less physical contact
- more depressive symptoms
People who used mind-body interventions showed higher levels of awareness of and connection with their bodies. This resulted in greater self-acceptance, vitality, and lower sensory pain.
Identifying and meeting your needs
When you’re more aware of your body’s cues, you can better understand what you need from moment to moment. This means you can tell the difference between hunger, thirst, tiredness, and emotional distress.
Instead of reaching for a candy bar or another less than nutritious snack when you’re tired, give yourself permission to take a nap.
Understanding what your body is communicating can help you better meet your own needs, leading to greater health and emotional satisfaction.
Improved mental and emotional well-being
When your proprioceptive and vestibular systems aren’t processing information from your environment correctly, it can be stressful.
The body awareness that comes from balancing the vestibular and proprioceptive systems can give you a sense of security both in your body and in the world around you. It can even lead to reductions in:
Autistic people sometimes exhibit sensory dysfunction, or the inability for their proprioceptive and vestibular systems to correctly process information. This can have negative effects on attention and emotional regulation.
It’s often managed by using proprioceptive inputs like weight, compression, sound, or other stimuli to help the system adjust and regulate.
One study showed that 8 weeks of proprioceptive training improved motor coordination in autistic children.
Another study showed that when autistic children and adults wore a compression garment for at least 1 hour per day, they had improvements in:
- motor activity
Nearly all physical exercise can increase body awareness. This is especially true if the exercise is paired with intentional awareness of the body parts and sensations.
Improving balance is one way to activate both the proprioceptive and vestibular systems, thus increasing awareness of the body. Balance exercises can be as simple as walking in a straight line or standing on one foot.
Yoga is one of the most well-known and widely practiced forms of body awareness exercise. It involves linking breath and movement to become more present in body and mind.
It’s been shown to have multiple benefits, including:
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that stems from the martial arts tradition. It involves slow, deliberate movements and breath. It’s become a popular low-impact exercise, and is also known as “meditation in motion.”
Tai chi is a safe and effective form of exercise for beginners. It may also offer benefits like:
- stress relief
- improved mood
- better sleep
As silly as it may sound, walking backward is a great way to improve body awareness.
Walking backward forces you to connect to your body in a new way and relate differently to your own movement. It also engages muscles that don’t get used as regularly as those used in regular walking.
Be sure you’re in a safe environment, and move any obstacles from your path before giving walking backward a try.
There are several mindfulness techniques that can cultivate body awareness.
Body scan meditation
Body scan meditation is the practice of scanning the body and becoming aware of sensations like:
- feelings of relaxation and well-being
This type of meditation may improve sleep, reduce pain, and lessen symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Yoga nidra is the practice of consciously relaxing the body and becoming aware of and invoking sensations. It’s often described in the yoga tradition as “psychic sleep,” or putting the body to sleep while the mind remains awake.
Any kind of movement meditation can help improve body awareness. Movement meditation is an active form of meditating, in which movements guide the attention.
Plenty of popular children’s games also double as body awareness exercises. These include:
- Simon says, especially when instructions focus on specific body parts (e.g., “Simon says touch your nose”)
- jumping on a trampoline, pogo stick, or with a jump rope
- tug of war
Kids who need extra support developing body awareness can follow a sensory diet. A sensory diet is a program of activities that’s usually designed by an occupational therapist to help kids get the input their bodies need.
You might visit a physical therapist after an injury, surgery, or whenever you need to improve your mobility and movement.
You might see an occupational therapist to help improve your ability to perform daily tasks, such as fastening a button or tying your shoe.
Somatic therapists use physical approaches to therapy, including relaxation, meditation, and breathing exercises, to help people overcome trauma.
These exercises often involve engaging the senses to help the person feel present, safe, and grounded.
Everyone can benefit from improving their body awareness.
Body awareness exercises can be especially helpful for people who’ve recently been injured or had surgery, or have a developmental or neurological condition.
Simple exercises, mindfulness, and focused therapies can all help you deepen your connection with your body.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses. You can find her on Instagram.