These days digital media consumes so much of our attention that we’re no longer noticing the subtle signs our bodies are sending us. Whether its checking email, responding to texts, updating social media, you name it, logging in all this screen time has now become the new norm. And love it or hate it, it’s having an affect.

Neuroscience has shown that the brain cannot tell the difference between an image it sees in the physical world and one that it sees in our mind’s eye. They essentially affect the same regions of the brain. If we stop and think about it for a moment, the implications of this are profound. Let’s imagine we’re out on a hike. It’s a beautiful day, we’re out in nature, and then we spot a bear off in the distance. What happens now is our body kicks into fight or flight. Our senses become heightened, our heart starts to race, and our breathing changes. These are all normal physiological responses to a life or death situation. Now close your eyes and imagine that same scenario playing out in your mind’s eye. If you really put yourself there, you’ll notice that your breathing will become shallow and your body will tense – essentially the same physiologic response, albeit a less intense one, as the real deal!

This fight or flight response releases a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters designed to kick your system into overdrive. You either fight off the potential threat or if that’s not possible, you flee. This stress response was not meant to be a chronic and ongoing thing. The longer these stress hormones remain in your system, the more deleterious their effects become on the body over time. So what does this imagined scenario have to do with body awareness and learning how to develop it?

Whenever we check in with our bodies we develop a capacity to pickup on these often overlooked signs. Are we holding ourselves unnecessarily? Is our breathing shallow or labored? Are we feeling an ache or pain somewhere? Paying attention and listening to the body takes us out of our heads and away from all the noise of daily living. The quickest and most effective way to do this is to pay attention to the breath. By noticing the breath we can tune into the body’s autonomic nervous system. This branch of the nervous system regulates our heart rate, blood pressure, our digestion, and of course our breathing. All of these are critical functions of the body, which for the most part go unnoticed. And the breath is the only one that we can actually influence directly. This is why sages have referred to the breath as the bridge between the body and the mind.

Developing body awareness can take on many forms. Most common of course is meditation. Creating a daily practice of introspection has been scientifically proven to be effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing stress levels, and generating an overall sense of happiness. But it can also take the form of physical activity, such running, cycling, yoga, and swimming. Obviously, some of us may have more limitations than others. But even if it’s just walking, the effects are a boon to our physical and mental well-being. Receiving bodywork is another way of developing body awareness. How often have we gone in for a massage and discovered how sore and tight certain areas were? Areas we had no idea were holding on to tension.

The body has an amazing capacity to adapt. If we’re tense our bodies are tense. Where this manifests in the body is different for every person. This is why cultivating a practice of body awareness is so helpful in staving off the effects of stress, not only of the body, but the mind as well. Setting aside some time for oneself can be a challenge in itself, so start small. Pick three opportunities throughout your day to pause for a few seconds, and take one conscious breath. Ahh… For those few seconds, place your full attention on your breath. Notice how the breath feels coming into the body. Make sure to breathe with your whole body. Allow the abdomen and chest to expand as you fill your lungs with air. Then with the same focus, notice how the body naturally contracts as the breath leaves your body. This ingoing and outgoing of the breath is the basic rhythm of life. The yin and yang of existence. All this, in one conscious breath! Make this your practice throughout the day and before long you’ll start feeling its positive effects on body and mind.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.