What Exactly Is Body Awareness And How Does One Develop It?


“Body-awareness isn’t about knowing how your body works, which can never be complete, it is about CARING about learning about how your body works.” Quote from FitOldDog.

Hi folks,

Mosses and fungi, North Carolina USA, FitOldDog

There is a whole world at your feet on the trails, so look down from time to time. Could you imagine being very tiny and living down there? I bet it’s pretty dangerous.

I’m sure that you have read stories about great hunters who are completely aware of their surroundings. Of course, they have to deal with their prey and the fact that they might be prey themselves. One crack of a broken twig will both frighten away their dinner, and may turn them into dinner for some large cat. These people are aware of their outer environment. Body awareness is about being similarly aware of your inner environment. When I talk about body awareness I have noticed a tendency for people to be turned off by my enthusiasm. It is as though I suddenly started talking in a foreign language, so today I decided to write a primer on the development of body awareness. Such development can reduce risk of injuries, improve exercise programs and sports performance, and enhance your life in many other ways.

Forest canopy

Whenever I look at the forest canopy I want to be able to fly up there and explore – guess I’d be shot by hunters pretty quick if I could, though.

If you are in any doubt about the role of awareness in the quality of your life, just read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ which makes it quite clear.

Body Awareness – A Primer By FitOldDog

General Introduction: like the hunter’s awareness of his external environment, I refer to such a state of awareness of one’s inner environment as ‘body awareness.‘ This is not something that you know or you don’t, it is a state of life-long study, which starts with the field of anatomy and then moves into the many aspects of body function or dynamics that make it the living creature that you are today. Ideally, in order to fully understand your body you should start with two major fields of investigation, which are tightly linked, Evolutionary Biology and Embryology.

FitOldDog's gym viewed in the mirror, Kinetix Carrboro NC USA

The perfect place to explore different muscle groups, and to see how your body works one or two pieces at a time, but remember that the mirrors are there to improve your form, not for self-admiration or self-denigration.

You need to understand your history in order to understand yourself a little better. For your evolution (assuming that you are not into creationism, for which I can provide no useful input) I recommend that you read ‘The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution,’ by Richard Dawkins. It is a long, but rewarding tale. When it comes to Embryology, or how you grew in your mother’s womb, think tube. You were a little tube, and now you are a bigger tube. This concept dramatically simplifies and clarifies anatomy and function. To think from an organ system perspective is sometimes misleading, as every organ has its origin somewhere in the tube that is you. You are built in layers, and the layers became mixed together a bit, and developed lumps called organs (lung, liver, pancreas), causing the original tube-i-ness to be hidden, but it is still there, underneath it all.

The Key Tube Layers That Make You What You Are: on the outside you are covered in skin (integument), followed by layers of connective tissue, which include muscles, bones, vascular and lymphatic systems, nervous systems and fascia (a much neglected area of study), all of which surround (tube-wise) your alimentary tract (guts). Add a couple of lungs, kidneys, arms and legs and that’s it really. When it comes to training, your vascular and respiratory systems are important for ‘cardiovascular conditioning,’ and your awareness of their function can be heightened by tracking performance with monitors or perceived effort levels. This leads into the keys to body awareness for the athlete or anyone aspiring to undertake a program of safe exercise for better health. Let’s look at each in turn:

Integument: this outer layer of your body deserves considerable attention, and sunscreen. It includes the front of your eyes, nails, hairs, and sweat glands (important waste disposal system). Take care of your skin – need I say more?


Location of the panniculus-carnosus, a thin layer of muscle under the skin, of which most people are unaware, and like all muscles it benefits from exercise and massage.

Muscles: this is what people think about most of the time when they think exercise, but to be honest their role is grossly overrated. They are just one critical component of your biomechanical machinery that helps you to get around. Best of luck getting to know every muscle in your body – and I don’t mean just the anatomy. Each and every muscle has its own personality, mix of fast and slow twitch fibers, favorite food, and level of willingness to work with you. You will really only get to know a muscle or muscle group when something goes wrong and it hurts. Take this hurting as a chance to get to know a new functional unit of your body. The more you explore your muscles the more things will make sense. For instance, are you aware that the angle of attack of your feet during running is determined by fan-shaped muscles deep in your pelvis? Are you aware that much of your body is covered by a thin layer of muscle under the skin, call the panniculus muscle, and it can benefit from exercise and massage to keep you looking younger (sorry, it is not present in the face of primates)? Knowing where a muscle is and understanding how it works is not at all the same thing – explore! This is the world of Biomechanics and Kinesiology.

FitOldDog with Mr. Bones

The author takes Mr. Bones for a ride, with the permission of Karen, FitOldDog’s esteemed Feldenkrais instructor.

Bones: at the heart of Feldenkrais, which I promote shamelessly for no financial gain whatsoever, lies the skeleton. Yes! Dem Bones! A bundle of magic bones, and it is the movement of these bones, under the influence of our muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves, that allows us to roam freely across the surface of this planet. Feldenkrais is very much about bones, and if you don’t know where your bones are you don’t know where your body is. Study your bones and how they articulate, it is really worth the trouble. The importance of bones is clearly demonstrated when one goes wrong – a malfunctioning bone spells trouble. Study Feldenkrais and learn to love your bones.

Chez Ollie Fascia – “the biological fabric that surrounds every structure in the body and invests most of them. Without this fabric the 70% of our body that is water would end up as a puddle on the floor.”

Fascia and Related Connective Tissues: this is the toughest one of all, simply because most of us are so unaware of the existence of our fascia, the connective tissue that holds us together. I know why this is the case -> early anatomists dissected the bodies of animals and just pulled things apart to see what was there, and gave those things names, and in the process they destroyed the delicate watery fascia that held those things together and so it went essentially unnoticed for many years. The fascia of your body consists of important fluids derived from blood and lymph, modified by the cells that swim in the lubricating slippery fascia, which include a whole range of immune cells and the all important fibroblasts that make the lacy web of connective and elastic tissue, fascia, all of which holds you together and permits other tissues to slide over one another. Most importantly, fascia retains water, which renders you mobile and dynamic. The study of fascia lies at the heart of Continuum, along with many other things that make us alive.

Chez Ollie The PortaPotty line is a standard fixture at triathlons before the gun goes off – for more information click on the figure.

Guts: down the center of the tube that is us lies our alimentary or gastrointestinal tract. During evolution it was a big jump from a sac, where waste products left the organism via the same route that they came in, but then along came the tube with many functional advantages. It may seem odd to think of yourself as a tube, but basically that is what you are. If you want to know more, follow the debate on ‘Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny.‘ However, if I have sparked your interest, even a little, into the issue of body awareness, I have done my job.

core training, balance ball, continuum,

FitOldDog’s favorite core exercise, learned from his Continuum and dance teacher, Rebecca. Harder than it looks, but go slow and watch your back by holding your core.

Increased body awareness will cause you to spot strains sooner, determine whether your chosen treatment is effective, and dramatically improve your sports performance. It sure did for me. You will learn bit by bit how to stop fighting yourself, which is how the elite athletes do it. You can explore your body on many fronts when it comes to function, with three key factors for a program of safe exercise for better health, especially in older people, these being symmetry, balance, and flexibility. Starting with core training and posture is also a valuable approach.

 Get to know each of the layers of your tube and how they work together to make you the best athlete you can be, whatever your age.

-k @FitOldDog


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.