Why You Need Body AwarenessOct 07, 2014
Body awareness is the first step towards a pain free body.
One of the initial things a client often experiences while working with me is enhanced postural awareness. Prior to our session, they rarely thought about how they held their body. After our time together, my clients become aware of how they stand and sit. They frequently check their foot position and notice the alignment of their reflection in the mirror. Thus, posture moves from an unconscious to conscious act.
Why is this the first step? Because you can’t change what you’re not aware of. If you don’t notice that you always stand on your right leg, or that you raise your left shoulder higher than your right, or that you hold your head tilted sideways, you probably won't improve.
In order to help raise a client's body awareness of their current position, I begin with a posture assessment. First, I take photos of the client’s static posture from the front, back and both sides. Affectionately referred to as “posture mug shots,” these images can enlighten any viewer. Many clients have no idea what they look like posturally. When they see their structure, most for the first time, clients start to understand how their posture and pain are related. Then, they can figure out what they need to change so that they can heal.
This strategy also works for sports technique. For example, when runners view video tapes of their running form, they often see their compensated, inefficient patterns of movement that plague many enthusiasts and cause seemingly incurable pain. Like with posture, small changes in position and technique can ease the strain.
Take a moment now to check your posture as you read this article. What is the position of your feet, back, shoulders? Are your legs crossed? Are you leaning forward? Is your spine straight?
Body awareness is empowering.
We fear what we don’t understand. For many of us, the human body, our body, is an enigma. Since we don’t comprehend the complexities of the body, we feel intimidated and powerless. This leads us to put our health and trust in medical professions to make us feel better. If, however, we tune into our sensations and trust ourselves, the body often reveals the answers we seek. Here’s a recent example from my life.
As the cross-country ski season approaches each year, I become excited but also worried and anxious. For the past few years I have not been able to skate ski without pain. Will 2014-15 be the season I can skate ski with ease, or will I have the unrelenting tension in my right hip that has curtailed my time on the snow in the past? Last week I started Nordic ski training. And--although I did well during the workout--my right hip was a mass of angry, tight tissue the next day and even worse the next day and...
Feeling the familiar pain, my mind went crazy with anger and frustration: “Not again! After all the therapy I’ve done, I thought this would finally be the year. Why? I just can’t seem to get over this. My body just won’t do what I want. It’s not fair.” I didn’t understand the source of my pain--which I couldn’t seem to do anything to change. Feeling desperate I thought about other therapies I could try, additional experts I could consult. Perhaps, though, the person I really needed to turn to for relief was myself . . .
Despite my soreness, I decided to race a couple days later. It was mountain bike hill climb and a hike--safe activities that shouldn’t flare up my pain, or so I thought. The bike climb went well. Except for tired legs at the top, I had no pain. The hike was another story. I hurt from the first step. What was I going to do? Stop and turn around or push on?
Tuning into my body mechanics, I paid attention to how my foot was contacting the ground and how that affected my hip pain. Soon, I found that I was landing on the outside of my right foot which sent instant pain into my hip. If, however, I focused on stepping on my whole foot, putting weight on the inside edge and engaging my inner leg muscles, my pain subsided.
It couldn’t be that simple? Or could it? As I moved up the mountain I took deliberate balanced steps and the pain continued to lessen. And after the race-- my hip was still tight but much looser than before, even after the difficult effort.
Instead of fearing my pain and acting helpless, I went into it. I tried to understand it and found a solution. It may not be skate skiing that is the problem but a bigger issue of muscles not firing appropriately when I move in certain ways. That is something I understand and can deal with! The fact that I could greatly reduce my discomfort by changing my foot mechanics gives me hope for complete recovery and a great ski season!
Body awareness is the key to healing.
Pain is subjective and hard to describe and assess. Healers are at a disadvantage when working with chronic pain clients. We can’t feel what you feel and rely on you for an accurate description of your sensations. Is there anything that makes it feel even a little better? That could be a big clue as to what is wrong. What exactly causes your pain? Does it hurt when you do X but not Y? The more you know and can relate to your healer, the better we can serve you.
When I visited my Physical Therapist, explained the situation and revealed the discovery I had made, he knew just what I needed. He explained the mechanics of what I had figured out and gave me postural restoration exercises to correct the faulty patterns. Together, using our combined knowledge, my body awareness and his expertise, we developed a plan for healing.
You need body awareness to reduce pain, to be empowered and to heal. Time to get up close and personal with your body!
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