• Ron Bushner

Body Awareness 101: The first step on a path of transformation

We have all heard someone say: “I would like to have a long life, but, really, it is the quality of life that matters most.” If you would like to improve the quality of your life, better self-care should be your goal. [1] The first step on that path is better body awareness, which becomes the foundation for self-care and improved quality of life.

Given that we are alive, body awareness seems obvious. What is interesting, however, is that among us we have great variation in the levels of our awareness. Some have finely tuned body awareness. Others simply assume that, because we are alive, no further awareness is needed. For some, body awareness comes naturally. For others, the idea makes little sense. Fortunately, body awareness has been an important part of many lineages of yoga for a long time and yoga practitioners have over centuries refined an understanding of how the body and mind work together. The tools described below are a portion of that refinement.

Whether body awareness is natural or alien to you, it can be improved. There are three ideas that—if studied, understood, and implemented—will improve the connection between mind and body.

Analogies, visualization, and breath: The tools

Use these three tools and you will find a path to a deeper understanding of your body and how its parts work together. From there, you will find a different perspective on how awareness of the body can improve health. Whether slight or significant, this shift of perspective will be beneficial. You may also find a new calmness and clarity of mind.

Analogies compare two things that are mostly different from each other but have some traits in common. You know more about one thing than the other. Making a connection between two different things helps us understand one thing by using a second thing, about which we know more. “Our nervous system is to our bodies what electrical wiring is to a house.” The comparison sparks ideas. At their best, analogies leave us so keen to explore the idea to which the analogy pointed that we barely notice we were introduced to the idea by an analogy. Analogies can be powerful tools.

Visualization is a method for improving performance and achieving goals of all kinds. Substantial scientific evidence supports the validity of this method. The neurons in our brains process imagery as if it were real-life. New neural pathways are created based on the images we visualize. Visualization primes our bodies to act in a way that is consistent with what we have imagined. In addition, visualization can be used to understand a process, not just the outcome, e.g. in baseball, visualize the smooth swing, not just the home run. The goal here is to understand the processes of the body. The results of that understanding can be very positive.

Conscious, controlled breathing requires awareness of the equilibrium between the body’s need for air and our ability to supply it. The body meets its metabolic needs by modulating our breath so that the oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bloodstream are properly balanced for our body at each moment. There is much to learn by consciously exploring that balance point. The wide-ranging effects of conscious breathing on humans is a topic in multiple ancient systems. In summary, the point is to relax the body by breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, smoothly, and fully. This kind of breathing frees the mind from its usual chatter and allows us, on multiple levels, to visualize our body and to reflect on whatever analogies we have in mind.

Using analogies, visualization, and breath together cultivates body awareness. We are better able to notice what we are feeling. Pains and ailments may improve or not, but because we are paying close attention to our bodies, we will know whether there has been improvement, or no change, or further deterioration. Even if the news is not good, we can be grateful to have cultivated an awareness that gives us information, so we can make better decisions about how to care for ourselves.

[1] Aristotle said this about goals: “First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends: wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.” This article sets forth the ideas, activities, and attitude that together are a proven means to achieve body awareness.

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