You’re at the gym? Terrific! You’ve squeezed a workout into your crazy busy day. You get a gold star just for showing up. You’re even including some gentle stretching before your sets and reps, to make sure the juices are flowing and your muscles and tendons are warmed up and ready to work. Bravo, I say. Congratulations and best wishes. May all your dreams of bigger biceps and thinner thighs come true.
But, wait … just showing up isn’t enough. To get the best results from any workout, anywhere, you need to bring your mind into play and cultivate body awareness. That’s what serious swimmers do when they work on their narrow kick and their high elbow recovery. That’s what low-handicap golfers do whenthey perfect their hip rotation and shoulder turn. That’s what mindful yogis do when they stand in mountain pose, bring attention to their feet, the space between their toes and draw energy up the spine and through the crown of their head.
Sound weird? So does gravity. If you’re not used to focus- ing your attention on what’s happening inside your body as well as outside, body awareness may seem like touchy-feely mumbo jumbo. It isn’t. Your energetic body is just as real as your physical body. The way you tap into it is through body and breath awareness – a proven and profound way to break through exercise plateaus and bring your workout to a higher level.
In kinesiology class, it’s called proprioception. you tune in to your own body, sensing where it is in space, paying at- tention to those little GPS receptors in your muscles, joints, ligaments and connective tissue. It’s an advanced teaching compared to “hit the ball and run,” but anyone can learn it.
Here are three basic body-awareness exercises to try the next time you’re strength training. They help you get into the groove of going inward while at the same time low- ering your risk of injuries.
If these amuse you, you’ll want to explore other ways to develop body awareness. yoga is a great one. So are the Feldenkrais Method and the alexander Technique. Start where you are, and begin to explore the subtle wisdom of your body. Turning your mind’s eye inward takes time, trust and imagination:
Are You Locked or Loose? I see this in the gym way too often: stiff-limbed lifters who lock their knees or elbows as they work through their routine. Not smart. Locked limbs can lead to strained muscles. Your muscles work best when they are tension-free – the counter-intuitive principle be- hind strength through relaxation.
So next time, do a body check before you lift. Are your knees and elbows locked and tight or soft and fluid? Send relaxation vibes in the form of gentle waves, warm honey, melted butter or whatever else you can visualize that unties your knots, unlocks your jaw and makes you smile.
Are Your Knees Beyond Your Toes? Done properly, lunges and squats are excellent exercises for building strength in your lower body. Do them improperly, allowing your knees to extend past your toes as you lower your body, and you’re putting too much strain on your joints. It’s a com- mon mistake and one you can easily avoid.
First, look and see if your alignment is correct. If it isn’t, fix it. Next, close your eyes and sense what proper align- ment feels like. elax on your bones. Don’t strain. Feel the unimpeded flow of energy in your thighs, hips and knees.
Can You Hear Your Breath? your breath is your best friend when it comes to developing body awareness. It’s the link between your body and your mind, and as soon as you focus on it – sensing your belly expand on the inhale, listen- ing to the sound of your exhale – you are drawn inward. From that place, better workouts begin.
Never hold your breath when you lift weights. Indeed, you should connect to your breath and use it – when you stretch, when you lift – to release tension and allow the energy to flow in a free and healing way.
Has body awareness made you a better athlete? Email your inside story and share your secrets of success.