How Movement Awareness Makes You Healthier and Happier

As our lives continue to unfold, one thing is for sure; you can always come back to the body. The more you give your body a voice, the louder and clearer that voice becomes.

On one of my first days of university, our professor asked us to write down why we had chosen dance education as our vocation. I was only nineteen at the time and to be honest, this question puzzled me because I had never really thought about my choice – I just knew I had to. My inner guidance was certain that this was my path, even if logically it made little sense; I had very little formal dance training and certainly did not have the typical body of a dancer. That day, I wrote down something that I will never forget: ‘’dance is a form of awareness and if all people had access to dance knowledge, they could become aware of themselves, their bodies, emotions, others and then world around them’’.  When I look back now many years later, I recognize that this may seem utopic – but that had actually been my experience. Therefore, I had a mission and a duty to transmit this knowledge. Though dance has surely been one big piece of the puzzle for me, it certainly isn’t the only path to creating change.

Over the years, I have come to understand that the body isn’t just a machine carrying our muscles, organs, bones and brain- the body is also the seat of our inner wisdom.  Our body speaks to us continuously, guiding us towards this intrinsic intelligence if we take the time to listen and become conscious. Wisdom is different than knowledge in that it is innate; it goes beyond the logical mind. We are born with this inner ‘’knowing’’ of what is right for us. Our body delivers this truth to us in subtle ways such as through a ‘’gut feeling’’, an unwanted headache, pain or even immediate relief when plans get suddenly canceled. Yet, in a world that focuses on appearances and material possessions over spiritual growth as well as intellectual abilities over emotional or body intelligence, we begin to distance ourselves from this wisdom. Many of us are living on autopilot, losing sight of what we truly want and need. Our body is our compass, but most of us are just too busy, rushing through life and tuning out. Often, we wait until we burn out or breakdown before realizing that a certain habit, job, education program, relationship or workout no longer works for us. Think about it – how often do you check in with your body? Without body awareness, we can get lost. Awareness is vital, and not just to reach higher degrees of physical performance but for even deeper reasons than I initially thought. Here is why and how you can use your body to create more awareness and access the wealth of your own inner wisdom.

Why You Need Movement Awareness

The way we move and carry ourselves is largely unconscious and has been shaped by the values, family, culture and institutions we were raised in.In fact, we acquire throughout our development something called ‘’implicit memory’’; where our body learns to perform actions so that we don’t need to actively think of them. It allows us to do several things at once like move, speak and think. These patterns of movement have been programmed to help us develop skills and deal with everyday tasks while unburdening our attention to the abundance of possible details. Thomas Fuchs, a well-known phenomenologist, states that we are continuously re-enacting what we learned through  ‘’body performances’’.  In a sense, our bodies are the sum of our living past. Habitual patterns can reflect many aspects of our personality or occupation. Even how we interact with others; the way we stand, angle ourselves, cross our arms, avoid or engage in eye contact are mostly automated. Even though we pay little attention to our body language, most experts would agree that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. So without even being aware of it, our body is painting a portrait of who we are, how we think and how we relate to the outside world. Though these unconscious processes are necessary to function, there is a dark side to it. With a loss of awareness, we develop ‘’bad habits’’ that lead us to dysfunctional movement, thinking and feeling patterns as well as social interactions that don’t serve us very well. We all have our patterns – for better or worse.

The Good News

Insight into your own patterns of movement allows you to become familiar with your habits, supporting change towards body, mind and emotion integration.In that sense, you begin to feel more harmonious and whole. That being said, it would be impossible and frankly exhausting to be continuously aware of every inch of our bodies at every moment. Several movement methods such as Feldenkrais are based on increasing awareness of bodily sensations so that the brain can make new decisions on how to move. In Yoga, the goal is to go beyond your conditioning to find your truest nature. Pilates allows you to work more efficiently with the whole body while improving muscular balance and posture. Whatever method you choose, this is the key: only once you become aware of a pattern, can you begin to change it. Movement awareness gives you the power to change dysfunctional patterns and express the most authentic version of yourself. It brings you back to the present – not the You that was programmed decades ago.

How do I Access Movement Awareness Right Now?

The first step is to stop what you are doing right now and tap into sensations or bodily feelings (really, try it!). When we are in a thinking mode, we often cut off other ‘’parts’’ of ourselves like sensations. Ever been so concentrated on a task that you stop seeing or hearing what is going on around you? You can understand it as thinking being the exertion mode and sensing as a way for the body to recuperate. We need this work and rest cycle to maintain balance. Many of us are just living in our heads – we literally have thousands of thoughts everyday! But if we never tune into our sensing mechanisms, we become disconnected and never get to the recuperation part of the cycle. By connecting our feeling, sensing and thinking selves, we start to feel more whole, peaceful and connected. Here is how you can do this; as you are sitting here and reading this, ask yourself how you feel in this moment? Is your body holding any tension? How are you positioned? How are you breathing? Are you cold, warm? We are often unaware of the signals that our body is sending us – and yet our body has a built in capacity to monitor and make adjustments. Once you have checked in, you simply need to sense what your body needs to do right now to feel more comfortable. You might instinctively feel a need to yawn, shrug your shoulders, shake your hands, stretch your arms or get up from your chair. Self touch, like touching your face or hair is a way for us humans to self soothe if we have been in a thinking mode or stressed out for too long. The adjustment of our position helps us to connect to ourselves and self-assess. Self-monitoring is a vital part of self-care, especially important to our well being. The best part is that you can begin to practice right here and now in your seat! Essentially, it just needs to be something that feels good right now – no explanation needed. It isn’t something that you ‘’should do’’- it’s what your body is telling you. If it isn’t working and thoughts keep racing through your mind, you can start by taking a few deep breaths and focusing of the exhale; this helps us to calm the mind and access the sensing part of ourselves. Sometimes you need to be in a space away from regular daily stressors, which is when signing up for a mindful movement class can be helpful. Bottom line, the more you practice self-assessment, the easier it becomes and the happier the body and the mind will be. It’s that simple!

Awareness is an ongoing process of continuing education about yourself and the communication with yourself. What you need now will likely change tomorrow as we continue to evolve. As our lives continue to unfold, one thing is for sure; you can always come back to the body. The more you give your body a voice, the louder and clearer that voice becomes. This inner knowing or intuition is your compass and the seat of your power.  The more you listen, the better able you will be to take care of your body, mind and spirit. You will better be able to discern what movement, person, situation, job, relationship is good for you. Even more, you will begin to feel centered and grounded. I believe that becoming a conscious mover is necessary to live an awakened life – and who wants to spend their life sleep walking?

I really do hope this helps on your journey to healing and happiness.

All my love,

Lena B.