For the past month or so, I’ve been exploring what yoga is and what it isn’t. I’ve talked about how yoga is not just cool poses on Instagram, it is so
much more—including teaching us to reconnect with ourselvesYoga is Reconnecting with Your Mind, Body, Emotions and to breathe and regulate our energy and stress in better ways.
So today on the blog, I’m going to explore another thing that yoga helps us with a little more in depth. And that is a thing called “body awareness.” While you may have heard of this concept, you might not know what it is. Yoga, as we talked about in a previous post, is all about breathing. As you learn how to breathe and notice all the subtle influences the breath has on the body, you are also learning how to listen more deeply to your body. You begin becoming more aware of this thing you live in, this body that is intimately connected to—well, you!
This whole process is called learning body awareness to come into embodiment. But sometimes we toss around terms like “body awareness” and “embodiment” without unpacking them. So I thought I’d talk about body awareness and embodiment and what that all really means today…
The Body Awareness of Proprioception & Kinesthesia
Did you know that you have more than five senses? Yep, it’s true. Part of body awareness is a sense called proprioception. Proprioception means that you can really feel your body, where it takes up space, and how it moves and interacts with the world around you. You have a real awareness of both the internal and external components of your body.
Another way your body is aware of itself is through what’s known as kinesthesia. If you talk about proprioception as the position of your body in space and the awareness that creates, kinesthesia is the movement of your body through that space. While proprioception is cognitive and subconscious, kinesthesia is more about behavior and conscious actions. Kinesthesia is about learning how to move in better ways, becoming more and more aware of how our body is functioning through movement.
These things may sound simple. I mean, we all walk, sit, and do things all day with our bodies! So all of us have at least some kind of proprioception and kinesthesia. Yet it’s more complex than that. If you’ve taken a yoga class, fitness class, or any kind of movement class, you may begin to realize just how unaware of your body you actually are.
For example, in Warrior 2, it may seem like you’re holding up your arms up in a straight line, but in reality most people are very lopsided with their arms and don’t even realize it. Or a yoga teacher may point out that your foot is angled off to the left, and you had no idea it was! Someone may ask you to breathe deeply, and you had no idea that you were breathing so shallowly and that your chest is tight.
It’s all these little things that start to bring us into a deeper relationship with the external and internal worlds of our bodies.
Body Awareness For External and Internal Connection
So why does this even matter? In reality, many of us are cut off from our bodies in really profound ways. Most of you probably carry some kind of shame, indifference, or disgust around with you when it comes to your body. And when you have had hard things like loss or trauma happen, then you become even more disconnected from your bodies as a defense mechanism. (I’ll cover more on this in another post at some point, but it’s just safe to know for now that hard things make you disconnect from your bodies in real ways.)
When hard things happen, or when you feel alienated from or ashamed of your body, then you start losing those deeper realities of proprioception and kinesthesia. But having awareness for your body is key, because your body tells intricate stories about the complexities of your life. Body awareness is linked to other things like emotional awareness, mental health, and physical health.
It’s true that our bodies hold emotions and that these emotions can show up in a myriad of symptoms. For example, you may not admit cognitively that you’re really grieving the death of a loved one, and you may even shut off parts of your bodily awareness to cope.
However, that grief will fester inside, leading to health problems, pain, stress, etc. And if you’re not aware and tuning into those things, there will be lasting physical, mental, and emotional issues.
Just as you probably think you’re much more aware of your physical body and how it moves in space than you actually are, you probably think you’re pretty aware of how your inner world is behaving. But as you begin to move through yoga, connect with your breath, and focus inward through meditation, etc., you may actually be surprised at what you encounter underneath the surface. And it’s all connected. The body, mind, and emotions are intricately connected in ways you may not even realize.
So yoga and meditation are a powerful way to start refining your body awareness and connecting your awareness back to your body. Connecting back to the body may help you start connecting with other things like emotions, thoughts, patterns of behavior, etc.
Body Awareness Leads to Embodiment
So as yoga and meditation help you start thinking about your body in deeper ways, yoga and meditation help you start claiming your body as your own once more. You come into relationship with your body again, and you come into relationship with yourself. And when you begin a true relationship with your body, then dialogue, processing, healing, and release can happen. You can truly feel, express, and heal.
This is called embodiment. And the more embodied you are, the more authentic and wholly you can live. You come into true interaction and connection with yourself, you learn to listen to yourself, and your life may be radically changed because of it.
Becoming more aware of your body—embodiment—is a way to own the stories inside yourself, and releasing those stories as you learn to become more present inside yourself leads to new ways of being in the world. And senses like proprioception and kinesthesia are just a few scientific ways to start unpacking why learning to listen and become more aware of your body has a profound impact on your whole entire being.
Embodiment is about healing, wholeness, hope, and transformation!
1. How aware of your body are you actually? Take a moment to get in front of a mirror. Close your eyes or don’t look at the mirror. Do a yoga pose like Warrior 2 or Tree (something a little more difficult). If you’re not super familiar with yoga, just strike any kind of pose you fancy. Before looking at the mirror, think through what you think you look like, and then compare your mental note to the mirror. What was different about your perception and reality?
2. Now take a moment to sit very still and think about your day. Take a few deep breaths in and out. Let any emotion arise that wants to. Give yourself permission to feel. What happens when you do so? Do you just feel numb? Or does something arise that surprises you? Just take a moment to think through if you’re suppressing your inner world, disconnected from it, or ignoring it in subtle ways.