Body Awareness

Body awareness is described as awareness of, and attentiveness  to,  one’s  internal  bodily  processes and sensations. It is a sensitivity to normal bodily states that is separate from emotion yet originates from  sensory  proprioception  and  introspection and entails one’s focus of attention toward the self.

Arguably,   the   most   common   perspectives used  to  understand  body  awareness  are  self-objectification,  self-consciousness,  and  arousal. There is debate whether body awareness involves a somatic component of arousal or is distinct from somatic complaints. Some researchers have defined body  awareness  as  separate  from  both  emotion and  somatic  symptoms,  whereas  many  sport  and exercise researchers tend to define body awareness as somatic arousal.

From the perspective of self-objectification, it is argued that individuals, and in particular women, adopt an observer’s perspective toward their bodies, and this objectification leads to an insensitivity to internal body cues. Also, individuals may be so vigilantly aware of the social cues and their outer body  appearance  that  they  deplete  perceptual resources  necessarily  to  attend  to  internal  body sensations.

Similarly,  researchers  suggest  that  individuals who  experience  exaggerated  self-consciousness  or preoccupations with self will also deplete resources to attend to internal cues. Private self-consciousness, which  is  defined  as  the  ability  to  introspect  and pay attention to one’s inner thoughts and feelings, has been used as a measure of body awareness in sport  and  exercise  psychology  research  given  the limited measurement tools available.

There  is  consistent  evidence  that  women  are less likely than men to attend to bodily cues and internal  physiological  cues,  such  as  heartbeat, stomach  contractions,  and  blood-glucose  levels. Women  are  less  likely  to  use  these  cues  in  determining how they feel, and these cues are less likely to be determinants of their subjective experiences compared to men.

Many  mind-to-body  approaches  are  used  to help enhance body awareness, including yoga and tai  chi,  mindfulness-based  meditation,  and  mental training for sport. In yoga, the nonjudgmental awareness of the body helps to emphasize responsiveness  to  body  sensations,  while  also  fostering physical  challenge.  Resistance-training  exercise has  also  improved  body  awareness  when  examined  in  a  pre and  post-study  of  college  students. The  proprioceptive  and  interoceptive  training within sport psychology mental training programs are also important for enhanced body awareness. Breathing  and  progressive  relaxation  exercises within multimodal competitive stress and anxiety mental training programs are also used to enhance body awareness.

From  a  theoretical  perspective,  reducing  body shame,  anxiety,  and  self-objectification  though intervention  strategies,  such  as  cognitive  behavioral  therapy  and  cognitive  dissonance,  may  also help increase body awareness.

There  is  some  debate  on  the  adaptive  or  maladaptive  features  of  body  awareness.  To  some researchers, body awareness leads to maladaptive cognitions,  such  as  somatosensory  amplification, distress and anxiety, and somatization. These maladaptive perspectives suggest that heightened body awareness  can  be  an  impetus  to  eating  disorders and  maladaptive  dieting  or  exercise  behaviors. Alternatively,  other  researchers  and  practitioners argue that an ability to recognize subtle bodily cues leads to adaptive behavioral strategies to manage such body cues. Sport psychology researchers and practitioners  often  fall  into  this  latter  frame  of thought and report the benefits of body awareness for competition and training.

Specifically,  researchers  have  found  that  body awareness increases prior to sport competition and that this response is adaptive to successful performance.  Strong  associations  between  body  awareness and state anxiety have been reported among athletes. Among individuals practicing yoga, body awareness  was  associated  with  lower  perceptions of self-objectification and higher body satisfaction. High  body  awareness  has  also  been  consistently linked  with  lower  incidence  of  disordered  eating attitudes and behaviors in athletes.

Drawing from the injury and pain literature, it is also possible that increases in body awareness can help in the management of pain and facilitate sport injury rehabilitation. The most plausible argument explaining the mechanism stems from a distraction or  attentional  redistribution  hypothesis  such  that focusing on body sensations and cues will distract from exercise-induced symptoms and pain.

References:

  1. Kinsbourne, M. (2000). The brain and body awareness. In T. F. Cash & T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice (pp. 22–29). New York: Guilford Press.
  2. Kotlyn, K. F., Raglin, J. S., O’Connor, P. J., & Morgan, W. P. (1995). Influence of weight training on state anxiety, body awareness and blood pressure. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 16, 266–269.
  3. Mehling, W. E., Gopisetty, V., Daubenmier, J., Price, C. J., Hecht, F. M., & Stewart, A. (2009). Body awareness: Construct and self-report measures. PLoS ONE, 4(5), e5614. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005614
  4. Stegnar, A. J., Tobar, D. A., & Kane, M. T. (1999). Generalizability of change scores on the body awareness scale. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 3, 125–140.

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