Body awareness is not only the ability to perceive your own body, but also the level of cooperation between your nervous system and your muscles. The physical body is what makes us who we are: without our body we would ‘just’ be the mind. We can live, in every sense of the word, our bodies serve us in all our activities. Logically, this would mean, that we can take full control over our body and control our movements in great detail. However, this ability of full control is not entirely straightforward.
Of course, our central nervous system (CNS) - our brain and spinal cord - is responsible for controlling our body. The sensory receptors in our muscles and joints, the ones that responds to position and movement and receives stimuli from within the body, are called proprioceptors. They’re constantly transmitting messages to our brain regarding where each part of our body is located in space at a given moment. They also send signals about whether our muscles are contracting or stretching and overall, what generally happens to us.
Receptors are groups of specialised cells. They detect a change in the environment (stimulus) and stimulate electrical impulses in response. Proprioceptors detect change related to our movement in the same way that receptors in our eyes create vision. Our brain maps our bodies and based on what it receives will decides what will happen in each situation that arises. The more detailed this map is, the more precise movements the brain can ask our body to perform. Therefore, these sensors are more numerous in those parts of our body where the more important or most subtle, versatile movements - such as our hands - can be made.
One of the muscles that has the greatest number of proprioceptors are located in the top of the neck, the suboccipital muscles – the muscles that connect the top two vertebrae in the neck and the skull, so we are aware of our head position very accurately at all times. The opposite is true also, the brain senses less - and also has a smaller area in our brain for parts of our body that are less significant in terms of movement, such as the middle of our back. One’s occupation cannot be neglected either in terms of how important a given body part is for someone regarding conscious use: for example, in a musician's brain, the movement of their fingers and hands is mapped much better than in an average person's brain.
But proprioception is only one aspect of our body’s perception. Body awareness will, in fact, mean whether we are able to consciously focus on these processes. Beyond simply being in a body, are we actually present in it? In addition to be moving on the physical plane is our mind also connected to using it consciously? It is no coincidence that this kind of body conciseness can be best mastered in forms of movement such as Pilates or Tai Chi or in specific dance styles and ballet.
The central point to these is the fact that our body constantly needs to make controlled sequence of movements: we keep the muscle work under control for the entire time spent, i.e. we do not perform uncontrolled movements such as swinging or jerky. It also includes being able to define and shape the limits of our physical performance, not inadvertently
engaging compensatory muscles that prevent weak muscle from strengthening.
Come back next week for Part 2.