Body Awareness: What It Is and How to Practice It

direct shot of a male athlete stretching and holding his foot and smiling.

My craving for distraction starts first thing in the morning. I like a funny or inspiring podcast, and I’ll settle for nothing less than world-class. My plan is to absorb something that will help me be a better person that day, but I inevitably end up ignoring it as I move around the house. I also take my coffee with Instagram scrolling, and most meals with a side of YouTube. The rest of the day is occupied with different levels of focus on a screen or headphones. God forbid I should have to listen to silence! Does this sound familiar to you? I’m picking on technology here, but my point is – our eternal focus on the external world ultimately robs us of body awareness.  


Body awareness is a term for having a sense of where our body is in relation to our surroundings, such as the ground. It includes knowing where our center of gravity is, and the ability to move the way we intend to. Someone with a low level of body awareness might have trouble distinguishing their hips and back during a squat. Body awareness is also recognizing the subtle signs of repeated stress your body gives during an exercise with poor form.


When we replace what little silence and stillness we have in a day with media, not only is that body awareness, but anxiety and negativity go up. These quiet moments are when the mind gets creative and processes events.  

Here’s a test – when was the last time you exercised without music? Even a body awareness practice, which is a workout, is tough without distraction. It’s worth trying! Exercise without music leaves you with more mental bandwidth to focus on how a move really feels in your body. Are your hamstrings tight? Can you feel your glutes relax? Do you realize you’re holding your breath? “I don’t know” is a common answer to these questions. However, you’ll notice these things more in a quiet workout session!  


Now I’m not here to scold you for your tech habits, especially as I’m as addicted as anyone. (Not to mention, you’re probably reading this on a screen.) I’m not even asking you to jog without music. This is an opportunity to take stock and recognize if there’s a problem. Ask yourself, “Is the amount of time I spend externally focused causing me to become less in tune with my body?”  

Yes? You know what to do. Whether it’s a yoga class, a lift session, or a deep tissue massage, the physical practice you choose is critical in taking you out of your head and back into the ol’ meat suit. The less time we spend in our body, the more of a painful, injury-prone burden it becomes. For example, take tripping over something on the ground. You’ve done it, and you will again. After the age of 65, breaking a hip has a 15-30% chance of leading to death within 12 months. Maintaining body awareness can be the difference between catching yourself from falling in time, and not. 


As a massage therapist, I highly value a professional touch of some sort. In my work with my clients, I like to use variables to increase a person’s body awareness. Changing from light to medium pressure, or from slow strokes to fast, more percussive strategies are simple, effective ways to help. Just the simple act of touch is enough to help most people back into their bodies. As I commonly hear clients say during a session – “Gosh, I didn’t realize how tight my lats were!”  

So take this as your reminder to check in with yourself periodically! The simple act of being present with yourself, and working on that bodily connection, can go a long way. And if you feel out of touch and need a tune-up – help is available!


Headshot of Massage Therapist Sean RileySean doesn’t believe in quick fixes, but that real change comes through a consistent and multi-faceted approach. He considers it his job to communicate with the human nervous system, via touch, in order to create positive change in soft tissue. His approach to bodywork includes deep tissue therapy, sports massage, and assisted stretching. Depending on the client’s needs, a session can incorporate all three, or just one or two modalities. Through bodywork and movement, Sean will help to reduce pain and increase quality of life in many ways!

Sean has been a yoga instructor for over 8 years, and is currently furthering his studies in biomechanical assessment and treatment techniques. As a fitness nerd, Sean loves variety! He enjoys all kinds of exercise – the kettlebell is his favorite tool, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is his favorite hobby.

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