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.
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