Body Awareness

Thursday November 3, 2011

A. Bench Press


B. 3 Rounds:

12 Push Press (135/95)

12 Burpees

Body Awareness

Ascending Mt. Everest, day 10 of a military boot camp, the 22nd running mile of an Ironman, the 3rd round of “Fran”.

These are some of the most challenging scenarios involving incredible physical exertion. If you have ever been in one of the above situations, your heart rate might be elevated at this moment. Put yourself in the Ironman’s shoes. At this point, you have completed a 2.4 mile swim, a 115 mile bike ride and are now out on the open road, legs churning towards the finish.  You start to feel the lower back tightening up, the legs screaming to cease this torture, and the lungs wanting to just give out.  It is this precise moment in the marathon where many athletes have total body awareness.

Body awareness is perhaps one of the most important and under-appreciated aspects of wellness.  This concept is not simply looking in the mirror and recognizing how you perceive yourself physically or what want to change about your body.  It is a constant and even subconscious awareness of how we feel both physically and mentally.  To get a good idea of the middle ground of this concept the extreme example would be a hypochondriac (too much awareness, even paranoia) and the woman who suddenly realizes she is 8 ½ months pregnant  (too little awareness).  Body awareness is dynamic, constantly changing phenomena that is a totally lost art in modern society.

Back to the Ironman athlete, this person is in the moment, completely cognizant of nearly every system in her body.  She feels the sweat evaporating on her skin, every ache and pain, a change in wind direction, the rhythm of her breath with her strides, and even individual muscle contractions.  Some people go months or sometimes their whole lives without having this type of moment.  I would like to propose that CrossFit gives people a chance to have these epiphanies on a weekly or even daily basis, and it improves their lives immensely.

In CrossFit we push our bodies to the edge in just about every workout.  We learn our limitations, or lack thereof, through countless mini experiments (WOD’s).  Remember the first time you surprised yourself with the extra two reps without dropping the bar or that kick you had at the end of a 5K run?  Whether you realized it or not, your body awareness IQ skyrocketed in that moment.  Now think of a time when you showed up at a workout sleep deprived, after a big weekend, after a few days of poor eating or all of the above.  During that workout you felt something different.  Movement is labored, breath is out of rhythm, the weight just wouldn’t go up.  It is on these days where you realize how your body truly is a high-performance machine.  Once you feel the difference between poor preparation and perfect preparation, you never want to go back.  When we take these little moments of body awareness into our daily lives, our instincts can evolve from the overworked executive to a primal, medieval warrior.

So why is body awareness so important?  For one it promotes self-care.  Imagine knowing your body so well that when you get sick, you have a good idea of how you  got the illness and how to care for it.  Many animals decrease their calories or only eat a certain plant when they get ill.  The simplicity of animal’s lives allows them to listen to their instincts more effectively than humans can.  It can be difficult to listen to the body when you are trying to juggle 50 daily activities at a time, but we all possess this instinctual self-care mechanism.  This idea of self-care is critical now more than ever.  Knowing your body allows you to overcome illness without dealing with a failing and profit-driven healthcare system.  Slowing things down and listening can lead to subtle healing techniques like a deep breath, drinking a glass of water, going on a walk or eliminating something harmful from your life.

So, next time you find yourself bent to your limit, hitting that snag in “Helen”, embrace it.  Become aware of the story your body is telling you, and allow this knowledge to translate into your daily life.