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Is Body Awareness Always a Good Thing? With Raphael Bender and Cloe Bunter

Episode 65:

Is Body Awareness Always a Good Thing?

What exactly do we mean by the term “body awareness” and what is proprioception? Perhaps you’ve been in a Pilates class where a client is praised for being body aware, or as an instructor, you encourage your clients to practice body awareness exercises. This term is frequently used in the Pilates world, but many of us don’t know what it actually means or how to practice it. In this episode, Raph and Cloe explore multiple definitions of body awareness and share relevant scientific research behind it. 

What You Will Learn:

  • What do body awareness, mind-body connection, and proprioception mean? How are they different?
  • How high levels of body awareness can impact pain tolerance
  • Whether increasing body awareness should be part of our fitness goals
  • How conscious vs unconscious proprioception affect physical performance
  • What scientific evidence has to say about the benefits and potential drawbacks of heightened body awareness

What is Body Awareness and Proprioception?

Also known as proprioception, body awareness is a person’s ability to notice bodily sensations. It’s how we know whether we are hungry or thirsty, hot or cold, or feel any other sensations, including pain. But in the Pilates world we usually use the term to describe someone who is consciously aware of their body. When you picture someone who is body aware, you may imagine effortless movement such as graceful gliding on the reformer or a talented sports person. It may seem that body aware people must be focusing on what each body part is doing in order to achieve smooth and efficient movement. But Raph and Cloe discover that there is a surprising, paradoxical relationship between body awareness and physical performance, and the key is to not think about it at all. 

Should we Strive to be Body Aware?

In the Pilates world today, people frequently mention body awareness in the context of fitness goals. But is it always a good idea to try to increase body awareness? For individuals who are prone to anxiety, intentional focus on body awareness can actually increase their awareness of somatic sensations to the point that they perceive pain at a higher level. Raph and Cloe illustrate this idea with an example of the Pilates instructor who checks in too often with their client who has low back pain. Frequently asking about the pain makes the client pay more attention to it. Raph and Cloe also discuss the idea that too much proprioception can lead to misinterpretation of the body’s normal processes. Especially in these cases, encouraging an external focus is more beneficial to the client than consciously increasing body awareness. 

Body Awareness and Physical Performance

Research consistently shows that external focus during physical activity improves performance. While we may imagine a skilled athlete to be consciously body aware, it turns out that they are actually experiencing unconscious proprioception. Raph and Cloe point out that conscious proprioception has its place in our efforts to be healthy. Body awareness can play a vital role in our health consciousness, physical vitality, and wellbeing in an age when fast food and sedentary lifestyles are more common than ever. Getting back to the heart of Joseph Pilates’ teachings, it’s important that we take an active interest in our physical health if we want to live a good life. 


References and Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Exercising with entertainment results in longer training sessions here
  • Attention to a pain stimulus is related to a stronger impact of pain here
  • A predictive model to explain trait anxiety using the gut microbiome here
  • Where an athlete focuses attention influences strength & performance outcomes here
  • Body monitoring is associated with anxiety here
  • Women tend to notice bodily sensations more than men here
  • Inability to monitor internal body signals is associated with lower resilience here
  • Anxiety disorders are associated with higher interoceptive sensitivity here
  • The role of interoceptive awareness in the development of trait anxiety here
  • Internal focus results in reduced running economy here
  • How to reduce pain catastrophizing – A systematic review here
  • Children’s motor learning is impacted by the same factors as adults’ here
  • External focus of attention increases force production and performance here
  • Body awareness should be considered in multidisciplinary management of chronic pain here
  • The effect of attention on pain may be influenced by gender and personality here
  • Interoception plays a fundamental role in anxiety here
  • The OPTIMAL theory of motor learning here

About Raphael and Cloe:

Raphael Bender, CEO, Breathe Education

Raph believes everyone deserves the opportunity to transform into a better version of themselves. His main strength as a teacher and movement professional is the ability to distill complex research findings into a simple, science-based approach to help people move fearlessly, thoughtlessly, and painlessly. He LOVES running, weights, cycling, and Contrology.

Raph holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology (Rehabilitation), a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Science, Diploma of Pilates Movement Therapy, and STOTT PILATES full certification.

Cloe Bunter, Trainer, Breathe Education

With 8+ years in the industry, both teaching Pilates and nurturing new instructors, Cloe is passionate about empowering new and seasoned instructors to think critically and move fearlessly. Empowered instructors empower their clients, and in turn, change lives.

She finds great joy in building connections with clients, students, colleagues, and the broader movement and rehab community. Co-hosting the Pilates Elephants Podcast, with Raphael Bender, has provided an incredible platform to bust common Pilates, movement, and rehab myths whilst creating a worldwide community of critical thinkers who are elevating health literacy.

Cloe is fascinated by movement in general, and its ability to enhance our lives, at any age. Her own movement practice includes Contrology/Pilates, running, weights, and kettlebells. She has a Diploma of Clinical Pilates, Cert IV in Pilates, and Cert IV in Training and Assessing.

How to Connect with Raphael and Cloe:

Raphael Bender’s new book:

  • Strengthen The Person Not Just The Body Part here

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