It has been a fun couple of weeks, hasn’t it? We all got a chance to knock fitspo down a peg and reestablish our own individual health and wellbeing as being central to the concept of, well, health and wellbeing.
So, what now?
Well, the opposite of “no pain, no gain” culture is not inactivity, any more than the opposite of talking nonsense is not talking. Let’s move, but move like intelligent, self-respecting adults; let’s keep talking and just stop saying nonsense.
And most importantly, let’s learn some really cool stuff about bodies! Here are some concepts that will help you see—and move—your body in a whole new way.
#1. Dude, where’s my body?
Proprioception is your internal sense of where you are in space or, more academically, “a sense or perception, usually at a subconscious level, of the movements and position of the body and especially its limbs, independent of vision.” 
Basically, it’s what a drunk guy doesn’t have during a field sobriety test.
It’s one of those things you’d think would be pretty hard to get mixed up about. We’re all pretty sure that, at any given time, no matter what else we may have gotten wrong or messed up on today, we know where our limbs are.
The truth is, you probably don’t have a perfectly accurate sense of how you stand or move. If you’re one of those folks for whom little aches and pains keep you from moving—or if you’ve plateaued in your workout—these inaccuracies may be to blame.
Here’s how it got that way:
Your brain, like the rest of your body, gets good at whatever you use it for. Each of your muscles contains specialized proprioceptor organs that generate information about every movement you make; patterns that repeat frequently start to stand out, like biological mile markers. Those markers contribute to a kind of mental map that allows your brain to do a little less grunt work when it comes to spatial analysis. Without it, processing even the simplest movements would be like running Microsoft Office on an abacus.
It’s the reason newborns are calmed by swaddling: their little half-baked brains get exhausted trying to constantly integrate where they hell they are in perceivable space. Swaddling delivers an overload of tactile information telling them they’re not floating off into the unknown.
So let’s say you are genetically predisposed to right-handedness, and over your lifetime you’ve thrown a ball with that dominant hand several thousand times. Your proprioceptive map for right-handed throwing is like a satellite-guided, smooth-talking GPS system: so nuanced and detailed that following it requires almost no mental processing at all.
Now let’s say you’ve tried a left-handed throw twice. Your map for this action looks more like something you scribbled on a cocktail napkin with eyeliner. Throwing lefty would require your somatic nervous system to cross-reference a deluge of information coming from your skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, inner-ear and visual field; If neuroscience has taught us anything, it’s that your stingy, corner-cutting brain doesn’t want to do any of that crap and would rather just use the side with the better map.
And you know what? That’s ok! In fact, it’s more than ok: Your side-dominance is an evolutionary gift: a survival technique that saves you from having to constantly recalculate your body’s position when what you should be doing is not getting eaten.
But there is a catch.
If you throw a ball with your right hand several times a day, every day, and that’s all you ever do, that evolutionary gift becomes a Trojan horse. You have access to an awesome variety of movements, yet studies repeatedly show that we spend most of our modern lives doing a whole lot of not moving. When we do exercise, we pick a sport or activity, maybe two. Ignoring big chunks of the movement available to you makes for a proprioceptive map about as accurate as an American tween’s best guess at the geography of Central Asia.
It also means that joints become boxed in, performing only the movements for which they do have a halfway-decent map. As those motions wear out from inevitable overuse, the available range of motion gets smaller and smaller. Once you’re on that track, it’s only a matter of time before bad things happen.
The good news is, improving your proprioception is actually pretty fun:
1. Think variety, not intensity.
Your proprioceptor organs light up no matter what you’re doing; doing it harder isn’t necessarily doing it better. Put the weights down and just experiment with movements you’ve never done before. You don’t need a bosu ball, you don’t need a wobble cushion, you don’t need a Power Plate. (Let’s be serious: no one needs a Power Plate.) Remember, you’re drawing a map: use a pencil, not a jackhammer.
Example: Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Do cartwheels in the “other” direction. Got kids? Take them to a playground, follow them around for fifteen minutes and do whatever they do. Seriously. That last one will blow your mind.
2. Think bone, not muscle.
If there’s one thing you learn from the Reembody blog, let it be this: muscles don’t create movement patterns; they respond to them. While you’re experimenting with new movements, don’t try to contract specific muscles. Just move your bones.
Example: Find the pointiest part of your hipbones and press fingers into both sides. Now look in a mirror. Are they both the same height? Is one further forward than the other? Do you suppose that has an impact on the way you move? (Answer: YES.) If you change the relative positions of those bony bits, do different muscles turn on?
3. Don’t compartmentalize, integrate.
One of the great myths of modern culture is that you need special tools, training or clothing to use your body. You do not need a gym membership to move, you just need a body. (Oh look, you have a body!)
Example: Walk to the grocery store. On the way there, toss a rock back and forth between your left and right hand. On your way back, force yourself to take the last 20 steps to your door at a measure of four seconds per step (this will seem really slow). Is it harder to slow down one leg than the other? How’s your balance?
Have fun with this and be inventive! And hey, share your experiences below!
15 Responses to “3 Ideas That Will Change the Way You See Your Body”
Great blog Kevin, please do more!! Although I am lucky enough that I get to work one on one with you, I really appreciate hearing more of your thoughts!
3 Ideas That Will Change the Way You See Your Body (Part 2!) | Reembody
[…] my last article, I mentioned near the end that “if there’s one thing you learn from the Reembody blog, let […]
I found your blog from a link to the fitspo post. I plan on staying forever and ever because of THIS post. It’s so simple it makes me feel stupid but inspired and I couldn’t really ask for anything more. I went for a walk with my dog this morning and now I’m patting myself on the back because I walked her with the leash in my non-dominant hand and noticed my body moving differently but thought I was being dumb and overthinking it. Now? I realize I was doing something good for myself beyond just walking the dog and the kid! Thank you 🙂
I salute the sun, then I roll my spine | theblogofpumba
[…] to the transference of tension from another part of the body. It’s all about self-awareness, or proprioception. Understanding the basics of anatomy and utilising some creative thinking and problem solving […]
Another entertaining and astonishingly insightful blog post. So glad you’re in the world.
Reblogged this on It Tastes Like Wine.
I had never heard of proprioception before, but I am so glad that I read this. Despite being a lifelong distance runner and generally strong and athletic person, I had a horrible idea of where my body was in space. My legs and hips were constantly covered in bruises since I was always walking into the edge of the couch, the coffee table, or my desk. But, since I started doing a regular vinyasa yoga practice a few years ago, I’ve managed to nearly eliminate my problem of not knowing where my body ends and the world begins. I had never connected the two before, and it makes total sense.
This is the first time I’ve come across your blog and LOVE it. I particularly like your lean to movement and variant in movement. I’m a Callanetics Instructor and proprioception plays an integral part in my teaching. Thanks again 🙂
Such a great explanation. I’ve historically had really bad proprioception (I blame not doing sports or dance or, well, anything more active than walking when I was a kiddo) and it’s something I’ve been working on. When I first started doing yoga a couple years ago I absolutely HAD to be in a spot where I could see myself in both mirrors in order to know what my body was doing. Now it’s a lot easier. It seems like the more variety of exercise I participate in (yoga, running, weight training, different cardio classes) the better it gets.
Love love love your blog. I am a yoga therapist and use the principles you are talking about with clients. Thrilled that you are spreading the word the fitness and exercise industry has to change it is time. I tell clients all the time to move the bones – think bones not muscle. When you think in terms of what muscles to use you are limited to what is in your current movement patterns and won’t be building new ones. Congrats on the viral success of your last post it brought me to your blog and was an absolute breath of fresh air!
This is such an awesome blog. I got here through the fitspiration post too, but am following because everything on here is so awesomely… healthy and balanced.
I recently found your blog, thanks to the success of your fitspo article, and I’ve just got to say that I love it! The points you discuss are very refreshing, important and above all done in a readable and enjoyable way. Thank you.
I love your blog so much. I feel left with major whiplash from the body-hating, pain-inducing diet and fitness industries. I want to be able to value my body and enjoy my life, and Reembody helps me remember to that. Thank you.
Meaningful words! Some of these concepts are coming through for me as I learn Qigong….. which I can do anywhere, anytime. It does not feel rigorous at the time, but I know the next day that I used a lot of different muscles.
Of the many things I love about your blog, the fact that you make me excited about using my body tops the list. Though I am anything but sedentary, you constantly remind me that playing kickball and tag with my grandson, skipping when I walk my dog instead of just walking, in short, being a kid again, can be my very best gym!