In physical health and wellness, we often focus on external factors such as exercise routines, diets, and supplements. While these elements do play a role in our well-being, there are other aspects that we should consider. One aspect of health that is often missed or misunderstood is body awareness. This awareness is our unique ability to notice our body and the language it uses to communicate its needs.
In a world filled with constant distractions and busy schedules, it can be challenging to take time to connect with our bodies. But, the importance of doing so cannot be diminished. It allows us to build a harmonious relationship between the mind and the body. This can impact our social relationships, too. When we are aware of our body, thoughts, and emotions, we enhance our health and vitality throughout our lives.
The human body is a connected system
To understand the significance of body awareness, we must recognize the human body as the interconnected system it is. The human body is like a symphony. Different instruments work together to create cohesion and unity. When the symphony of our mind and body are in balance, there is an ease and flow between our organ systems and cells.
Everyday life provides many challenges for each of us in one form or another. We often experience life’s challenges as stress. When we are up to the challenge, stress can be a motivator. In this case, completing challenges can feel satisfying and fulfilling. We experience satisfaction in our bodies because we accomplished what we set out to do.
Yet, far too often, challenges occur one after the other. This keeps us in a state of high activation. We learn to push through by staying logical, and we repress feelings that don’t serve us. This constant push to perform causes us to lose our connection with the body. When we aren’t listening to our bodies, we may push through discomfort, such as pain or muscle tension. Small changes in function can evolve into significant dysfunction over time. Pain is often the body’s loudest cry that something is wrong.
Our bodies are resilient when our muscles work together and provide balanced support. Still, over time, stress will take its toll. If we listen, we’ll get the warning signs and be able to act on them. Imagine a machine in which each component relies on the others to function. When one part stops performing its job, noise or vibration is often felt or heard. Imagine driving your car and feeling it begin to rumble and pull to one side of the road against your will. How you handle this situation will depend on what you know and how much stress you are carrying. If you don’t know that these are signs of a tire misalignment, it might be easy to explain away or ignore. Too much stress might leave you too drained to care about what is happening. Here’s the catch – this misalignment could lead to increased wear on the tire. Over time, this would result in having to buy new tires much sooner than needed.
Relating this idea back to the body, when its components are working together, the body’s systems are able to communicate and create ease. If something goes wrong and we are too stressed or not aware, we won’t be able to hear the body’s signal for help. When we practice body awareness, when we take time to understand the body, we can better detect warning signals. This allows us to make changes that help minimize the risk of illness and promote overall wellness.
Health and the body-brain connection
The connection between the body and the brain is nothing short of extraordinary. The brain serves as the command center. It receives input from our senses, both internal and external. It also sends signals which dictate everything from our heart rate to our breathing patterns. Real-time adjustments occur every moment of life to maintain homeostasis.1
This intricate feedback loop is the cornerstone of body awareness. As we experience life, the brain and body are making connections. These connections are then reinforced the more we use them. When we take part in body awareness, we encourage awareness of these connections. This enhances the communication between brain and body, and we become more sensitive to what is being said.
Neuroscientists have uncovered the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself in response to life experiences. Just as we can learn to ignore or bypass our body’s signals of stress, we can also learn to restore connection. Restoring connection with our physical experience supports our physical health and wellness.1
Moreover, the brain-body connection goes beyond physiological functions. Our mental and emotional health share a connection to our physical well-being. For example, anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms such as poor digestion or decreased immune function. Our physical experience of our bodies can alter our mood, too. Thus, the body influences the mind and the mind influences the body. Another example of this connection is the different responses people have to being hungry. Some people become irritable when hungry, while others don’t. Either way, the body’s sensations cue the brain to bring attention to what’s needed.
As discussed above, everything is a learned process. This means everyone will respond in different ways to their body’s cues. In a similar way, our thinking and what we focus on mentally will impact our bodies. If we often think about worst-case scenarios in daily life, the body will respond as if it is constantly in danger. This can present as increased tension and increased stress hormone levels in the body. Over time, this stress can cause the body to signal that it is in pain.
The body has the ability to learn how to move through life in patterns that are beneficial and supportive of our health. Yet, odds are that life will create patterns related to stress in the body. If these patterns continue for extended periods of time, our bodies will start to experience the cost of dealing with chronic stress. Body awareness allows us to gain the tools to help us recognize and manage stress. This ultimately promotes a healthier mind-body equilibrium.2
The benefits of cultivating body awareness
The advantages of body awareness extend far beyond recognizing that we are feeling something. This practice provides a wide range of benefits that contribute to our physical health and well-being.
Early Detection and Prevention
When we’re in tune with our bodies, we can detect subtle changes that might signal underlying health issues. Regular body scans and check-ins can help us identify potential problems. We will be more readily aware of muscle tension, aches, and areas of increased or restricted blood flow.2 Detection is critical to prevention because it creates the opportunity to find support or treatments to bring relief.
Improved Posture and Movement
Body awareness enhances our understanding of how we move and hold ourselves. Posture is a habit, and we often don’t recognize the impact it can have until we begin experiencing pain. Being aware of how we hold ourselves provides information about what’s tight, weak, or stressed.1 This knowledge can lead to taking action steps to improve posture, reduce strain on joints and muscles, and decrease the risk of injuries. Additionally, mindful movement can enhance athletic performance and overall physical capabilities.
Chronic pain is a prevalent issue that can significantly decrease our quality of life. Body awareness techniques, such as mindfulness meditation and gentle stretching, have been shown to reduce pain perception and improve pain coping strategies.3
Enhanced Body Image and Self-Esteem
In a world that often promotes unrealistic body ideals, body awareness can help us develop a more realistic and positive perception of our own bodies. It’s not easy to think ourselves into believing something. But, by focusing on how our bodies feel and function rather than how they look, we can develop a healthier self-image and boost self-esteem.4
Stress Reduction and Relaxation
Practicing body awareness often involves relaxation techniques that activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This decreases stress hormone production, lowers blood pressure, and increases calm and relaxation. There are a tremendous number of practices that support body awareness. If you wish to find a sense of relaxation or release stress, yoga, dance, meditation, or breathing techniques are great options. There are more options for cultivating relaxation, so be sure to try a few things until you find what works well for you.5
Mindful Eating and Digestion
Eating mindfully is a component of body awareness which encourages us to savor each bite and pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. This can lead to healthier eating habits, better digestion, and a more balanced relationship with food.6
Enhanced Immune Function
The mind-body connection plays a significant role in immune function. By reducing stress and promoting relaxation through body awareness, we can bolster our immune system’s ability to fend off illnesses.1
Empowerment and Autonomy
Body awareness creates a greater sense of choice. It empowers individuals to take an active role in their physical life. We are all moving through this world in bodies that are working incredibly hard to support our experience in this life. The more we can be attuned to their needs and clearly interpret their signals, the more we can choose behaviors that provide support and make informed decisions.
In a world overwhelmed with external distractions and stimuli, our connection with the body is increasingly ignored. Yet, as we’ve explored, the benefits of body awareness are far-reaching and essential for optimal health. It’s time to shift our focus inward, to embrace the wisdom of our bodies and its dance with our minds.
Cultivating body awareness is not a one-time endeavor; rather, it’s a lifelong journey that requires patience, practice, and mindfulness. By tuning into our bodies’ whispers and signals, we pave the way for a healthier, more vibrant life. As we embark on this voyage of self-discovery, we unlock the power to harness the body’s innate wisdom on the path toward holistic well-being.
- Reed RG, Raison CL. Stress and the Immune System. Environmental Influences on the Immune System. Published online 2016:97-126. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-7091-1890-0_5
- Paciorek A, Skora L. Vagus Nerve Stimulation as a Gateway to Interoception. Frontiers in Psychology. 2020;11. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01659
- Lesondak D. Fascia – What It Is, and Why It Matters, Second Edition. Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2022.
- Cella S, Cipriano A, Giardiello C, Paolo Cotrufo. Relationships Between Self-Esteem, Interoceptive Awareness, Impulse Regulation, and Binge Eating. Path Analysis in Bariatric Surgery Candidates. Clinical neuropsychiatry. 2019;16(5-6):213-220. doi:https://doi.org/10.36131/clinicalnpsych2019050604
- Schulz A. Interoception and stress. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;6. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00993
- Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating, and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2017;30(2):272-283. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/s0954422417000154