You're in the park, on the track, at the gym? Terrific! You've squeezed a workout into your crazy busy day. You deserve a Snickers just for showing up.
You've done your stretches, and your muscles and tendons are warmed up, ready to have some fun.
Bravo! May all your dreams of thinner thighs and tighter butts come true.
But, wait ... just showing up isn't enough. To get the best results from any workout, anywhere, any sport, you need to bring your mind into play and cultivate body awareness.
That's what serious swimmers do when they work on their narrow kick and high-elbow recovery.
That's what low-handicap golfers do when they're practicing the Bubba Watson hip rotation.
That's what yogis do when they stand in mountain pose: focus on the space between their toes and draw energy up the spine and through the crowns of their heads.
Sound weird? So does gravity. If you're not used to concentrating on what's happening on the inside as well as the outside, body awareness may sound like touchy-feely mumbo jumbo. It's not.
Your energetic body is just as real as your physical body. The way you tap into it is through body and breath awareness — a proven and profound way to break through exercise plateaus and bring your workout to a higher, safer level.
How do you tune into your kidneys, your hips, your heart? You touch them with your mind. You pay attention to those little GPS receptors in your muscles, joints, ligaments and connective tissue. This is an advanced teaching compared to "hit the ball and run," but it's easy to learn.
Here are three basic body-awareness exercises to play with. If these amuse you, you'll want to find teachers and classes to continue your exploration. Yoga is one wonderful way. So are qi gong, tai chi, Feldenkrais and the Alexander technique.
Just be patient. Turning your mind's eye inward takes time, trust and imagination:
—ARE YOU LOCKED OR LOOSE? I see this in the gym way too often: stiff-limbed lifters who lock their knees or elbows as they work through their routine. Not smart. Locked limbs lead to blocked energy and strained muscles. Your muscles work best when they are fluid and tension-free — the counter-intuitive principle behind "strength through relaxation." Tensing up and swinging hard is the exact wrong thing to do.
To boost body awareness, check yourself before you start moving. Are your knees, shoulders, elbows locked and tight, or soft and fluid? Are your kidneys floating? Send relaxation vibes in the form of gentle waves, warm honey, melted butter or whatever else you visualize that moves your qi — Chinese for energy — releases knots and makes you smile.
—ARE YOUR KNEES BEYOND YOUR TOES? Back to the gym, where body awareness prevents injuries. Done properly, lunges and squats are excellent exercises for building strength in your lower body. Do them improperly — with your knees extended beyond your toes — and you can blow out a knee. To avoid this common misalignment, create body awareness:
First, see if your feet are parallel and your toes aligned properly. If not, adjust.
Second, close your eyes, and relax onto your bent knees. Feel the unimpeded flow of energy in your thighs, hips and knees, from the bottom of your feet to the crown of your head. See yourself doing a lunge that is balanced, strong, effortless. Absorb what success feels like.
Third, open your eyes and do the lunge you just visualized. Think in pictures, not words.
—CAN YOU HEAR YOUR BREATH? Your breath is your best friend when it comes to developing body awareness. It's the link between body and mind, and as soon as you focus on it — sensing your belly expand on the inhale, listening to the sound of your exhale — you are drawn inward. From that place, it's much easier to enter the Flow state every athlete hopes to achieve.
Cultivating body awareness is the all-important Next Step in staying healthy and fit. It's not voodoo. It's You Do. (Could I resist?) You have to venture there in your own mind, and when you do, your body will thank you.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! AGING WITH AWARENESS IS AWESOME "Through awareness we can learn to move with astonishing lightness and freedom, at almost any age." — Moshe Feldenkrais
Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to [email protected] She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.