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Awareness can be defined as “Having knowledge or perception of a situation or fact”.
For me, words like mindful, intuitive, familiar, conscious and enlightened come to mind when considering awareness. How often these kinds of words come up in a person's life from a health and fitness point of view may help in explaining how attune a person is to their physical body and as a result may assist in achieving a higher level through strength, flexibility, diet, injury prevention etc.
A few tricks to develop more body awareness are as follows:
1. Notice the difference between Pain and Discomfort
Physical pain is different for everyone, particularly the threshold in which one can continue to function even with pain present, but basically, pain is your body screaming STOP! The feeling is often a sharp, stabbing or numbing sensation and though often it is possible to continue through the pain, doing so may well result in injury. When pain is present, it is often best to reflect on how best to move forward. Imagine the brakes on your car begin to fail, would you continue to drive indefinitely without trying to remedy the situation?
Discomfort, on the other hand, is more of a reflex of the body to something that it is not used to – something uncomfortable or unfamiliar. The natural reaction here is to pull away when often leaning in with some curiosity is what the discomfort is suggesting. Thinking of it like corking a wine bottle, corking it slowly with care and attention is the best approach while going too fast and reckless will probably result in spilt wine – and who wants to spill wine?.
2. Train in the present
Have you ever arrived home after a short and oft taken drive, and realised that you didn’t remember a single minute of that journey? I find it amazing that we can switch off so quickly, it happens us all at different moments, and during a training session, we are particularly susceptible. Many of us have the same old routine, or just go through the motions when we train. How about instead training in the now, aware of every breath, every movement and feeling in your body. Making this a habit can lead to miraculous changes in our training regime. The type of training is irrelevant, you can always ask similar questions – ‘can I go a little deeper, heavier, or tweak something, so it suits my own body instead of adhering to a general rule of thumb.
3. Try Something New
Possibly the best way of developing more body awareness is trying something you’ve never done before, or not done in a long time. The options here are endless.
As a Yoga practitioner, I recommend everyone try this (or if you always go to the same class, train with the same teacher or practice a specific type of yoga, why not change it up?). Meditation, Diet (would you be willing to go plant-based for two weeks?), bouldering, train with a team if you always train alone or if you always run why not try swimming?
Of course, the natural reaction is to say ‘this is not for me’, and it may well not be (though I honestly believe everyone in the world can benefit from some form of Yoga and Meditation). Why not give it a try - a proper try, and then make a decision. Even if you don’t take to the new pursuit, I promise your body has become more aware from the experience.
“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives but none about his or her own” Paolo Cuelho – ‘The Alchemist.’
Society is more than willing to tell you how you should live your life, developing awareness of the body, and as a result, the mind (a discussion for another day) will instead allow you to do what suits you in particular and not what society, in general, says you should do. I don't mean to suggest that other peoples advice and expertise isn't helpful and sometimes necessary, only that you have the final say.
Nobody will ever know your body as well as you do, so why allow it to be governed by somebody else, or not at all.