Importance of knowing your physical body and the basics of anatomy.
The way I look at it, our physical body is basically our “home” in this life so we need to take care of it.
Doing this is more difficult if you don’t have an understanding about how the body works.
Now, I don’t expect everyone to have an in-depth understanding of the body and anatomy, that’s why we have doctors. All I’m trying to say is that learning about your body and the basics of anatomy can be super helpful in navigating through life.
Look at it this way, would you drive a car without knowing some basics about a car? Imagine you didn’t know how to turn on your windshield wipers and it started raining. We need this basic understanding of how the car operates. You need to know how your car is supposed to sound so that if it sounds weird you bring it into a mechanic.
Just like a car, when you know yourself in detail, you are more likely to know when something isn’t right and when to seek help. You are also more likely to keep your body healthy. When I say “in detail”, this doesn’t mean you know the detailed anatomy but you know your own body. Think about how high level athletes know what their body needs and what is not good for them. They probably have a basic understanding of anatomy but I would guess that most of them don’t have a PhD in the subject. Even still, they usually have phenomenal body awareness.
Listen to your body!
Another way I like to look at the physical body is like a communication system. The body lets you know when something needs attention.
An example of this is our stomach growling when we are hungry. The stomach is saying “Please feed me.”
Pain is also a common form of communication. Something hurts and that body part is saying “Pay attention to me, something is wrong.” This signaling gets a little more complex in chronic pain which you could read about more by clicking here.
Sometimes pain signals are super clear like when your low back hurts and something is going on in your lower back. But sometimes the pain signals are not as clear, like when you think something is wrong with your foot because it is tingling but then you find out that it is from a nerve being pinched in your lower back. (Just an example.)
Now, this is why it is important to see a medical professional when you are having a problem. That being said, the better you understand your body the easier it is to communicate to a medical professional about an issue you are experiencing. The better you can communicate, the better and more accurate help you will receive. Also, understanding the body helps you in working on a treatment plan with your doctor.
Knowing basic anatomy can help your fitness
I’m not sure if I think the musculoskeletal system is the easiest to learn because I am a physical therapist and this is my area of expertise. But for many, it is an easier system to understand because you can interact with this system on a conscious level. For example, you can bend your elbow and see/feel that your bicep contracts. You can’t consciously just tune into your liver and feel it producing bile, (at least the majority of us can’t 😝).
Another interesting point to note is that when you have some understanding of anatomy in regards to muscles, your workouts are going to be more effective. It’s difficult to improve muscle strength with an exercise if you don’t know what muscle is supposed to be working. Once you have this understanding, if you are doing an exercise and feeling it in the wrong area, you can adjust accordingly.
Same goes with stretching. If you are doing what is supposed to be a glute stretch and you feel it in the front of the hip, you will know you need to adjust your stretch. If you have no idea what the stretch is doing or where you are supposed to be feeling it, you wouldn’t know to change position.
This kind of understanding can help improve your body awareness. One aspect of body awareness is how aware you are of how your body moves in space. When you can’t correct a movement from a verbal or visual cue, this is poor body awareness. There are many examples of this but I will give you one that I have encountered most frequently.
I have noticed that people with poor body awareness have a very difficult time performing an exercise called a hip hinge. Basically a hip hinge is when you lean forward with a straight spine and keep a slight bend in your knees, in essence you are hinging at your hip joints. I find that people tend flex the spine forward or tend to do more of a squat motion. The interesting part is, even when given verbal cues on what to correct and a visual demonstration, some people will still perform the movement incorrectly but have no idea. They “think” they are doing the same motion you are showing them.
This is poor body awareness. They are not aware of how their body is moving in space. Now is this person doomed to have poor body awareness forever? No, of course not. They will probably just require extra practice and need additional cues to fix their form such as hands on cues or looking at themselves in a mirror.
Another part of body awareness is about being able to pick up on sensory signals coming from the body. I think an example will help highlight this.
I can’t tell you how many times I would see someone with low back issues who was trying to take care of it themselves and after an evaluation, I would find out that they were actually doing stretches in the direction that was making the problem worse. I don’t expect people to know how to diagnose and treat their low back pain BUT if they had better body awareness they may have realized that what they were doing was making the issue worse.
Emotions and the physical body
On a more “yogi” type note, our body can communicate things that are going on at an emotional level by presenting physical symptoms. If you are disassociated with your body, you may miss these signals.
Also, if we don’t look deeper into what is causing physical symptoms, we may be missing an important part that is needed for healing. This is something I am very passionate about bringing awareness to.
An example of this is how stress can cause physical symptoms for people.
It is truly amazing how much emotion can impact us physically (in a positive or negative way). It really shows you how complex we are as humans!
Pay attention to your body because it's pretty amazing!
I think that it is important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Don’t just go through the motions. Also, this doesn’t mean to just pay attention to the bad. When we go through the motions we miss the good. This is true for anything in life, like not noticing how beautiful the flowers look coming up in the spring. If you don’t look for it, you may miss it.
An example of a “good” in your body is say you have been working on flexibility and you can now move a little further in a stretch. Or say you had been experiencing elbow pain for the past month and now it’s gone and feeling great. These are things that we might take for granted. Now, I’m not saying to ignore something “bad” that your body is telling you. I’m just pointing out that it tends to be human nature to focus on the bad and most of us have to work to focus on the good.
Another thing I want to point out is to not ignore problems. Maybe you have tight upper traps at the end of everyday but you figure it’s stress. Maybe it is actually stress and you need to work on stress relief. But if it is stress and you don’t work on this and that muscle is constantly tight, it could lead to other neck issues later on. I’m sure stress relief is something we can all work on. We often don’t realize how much stress can affect us physically. I think you guys get where I am going with this. I also know this is easier said than done but like I keep saying, we need to listen to our body and care for it.
Ways to improve body awareness
Exercise is really the best way to work on body awareness. I find that things such as weight training, yoga, and pilates help improve body awareness more than cardio type activities. This is because cardio is more repetitive type motions and these other forms of exercises will have you moving in different directions.
Some other suggestions:
– Learn what muscles are working with each exercise so that you can focus on them properly.
– Perform exercises in the mirror so you can watch your form.
– Practice the movements you are working on!
– Work with a trainer or physical therapist for extra guidance.
– Meditate. I know this one seems different from the others but the point of meditation is to allow us to look inside. There are so many distractions in this external world that it’s important to take the time to sit with ourselves in quiet.
Click here for 5 tips to help you begin a meditation practice.
Question what is normal
I also encourage you to question what’s normal. Sometimes people just live with things thinking they are normal when there is an easy solution out there for them.
Pelvic health conditions are a great example of this. People might not realize that the fact that they have to urinate every 30 minutes is actually abnormal. Or that experiencing pain with sex is not normal. Both of which can get better if you seek help!
I think “knowing” your body is a process. Having a thorough understanding of anatomy doesn’t mean that you will have great body awareness. It can definitely help but I’m sure there are some anatomy geniuses out there that you might see working out and you’ll wonder how they could know so much about the body. It’s about getting the knowledge and applying it to your life.
Each individual person is different which is why it is so important to get to know yourself. Looking at the anatomy of two different people, the basics will be the same but if you look closely there will be differences. Everyone’s body responds differently to things as well. Like some people feel great after eat a large salad and some people feel bloated. You can know yourself better than anyone else if you give yourself the right tools.
Look at how you feel after certain things. How does your body respond to different types of exercise? Maybe you feel crappy after going for a run but great after going for a bike ride. How do you feel after eating certain foods? When you go to bed at a certain time do you feel better in the morning? Approach these things with curiosity.
With this post, I am trying to encourage you to learn more about your body and to work on body awareness but always know that learning is a process. When working on learning more about the body, enjoy this process and enjoy the journey!
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