We all have yoga poses that challenge us a bit more than others. For me, it is virabhadrasana I. The pose sometimes feels like a struggle to me, like my mind gets in the way of what my body wants to do. I second guess myself and struggle with alignment. Entering the pose is almost always uncomfortable, but this discomfort is not in my physical body, but in my mind. I’ve noticed that over time, with awareness and practice, my ability to move into the pose is improving. In other words, my awareness of my body movements is improving, but not without a bit of practice. This is an example of the role proprioception plays into the way we move both on and off the mat.
What is Proprioception?
Proprioception is a combination of the words “perception” and the Latin word proprius meaning “one’s own”. It is the ability to sense your body in relation to other body parts, including movement and placement in space. We are equipped with senses to help us explore and make sense of our environment, our body and our place in it. Sense are divided into three categories: exteroceptive, interoceptive and proprioceptive. Exteroceptive refers to the way take in our environment, and includes the sense of taste, sight, touch, hearing, smell and balance. Interoceptive relates to how we experience our internal world, and includes our perception of pain and ability to feel our internal organs. Proprioception is related to the awareness and feedback of how the body is internally moving. It is the sense you have of your body and its interconnected parts. Proprioception is the ability to move the body without looking, say in a dark room or with your eyes closed.
Exploring your Proprioception
Do you ever have days where you feel clumsy, like you lose control or are unable to get your body parts to work together? This is an example of your proprioception not being very sharp. Different people have different degrees of proprioception, and this is largely determined by how often you are required to use it in your daily life. Although we all have proprioception, we often do not notice it is there. Our body is equipped to react to movements effortlessly, and it is easy to overlook proprioception because we become habituated to specific movements.
Impairment of proprioception can happen at various times in life, especially during growth spurts in adolescence or from simply being tired.
When you become imbalanced, your body contracts muscles to restabilize. An example of this is the wobble or unease you may feel in vrkasana or tree pose. With practice, you begin to feel more stable in the pose, and build an awareness of which muscles can help you stabilize. At first this takes practice, but over time, you find this balance naturally.
Interested in exploring your proprioception? Try these simple movements with eyes closed to challenge and assess your awareness.
- Sit in sukhasana and close your eyes. Bring your right pointer finger to your nose without opening the eyes. Notice if this is challenging for you, and how quickly or slowly you make the movement. Practice 3-5 rounds, and repeat on the left side. Monitor your ability to do this over a 1-week period. Does the movement become easier or more fluid? Monitor any change and note your observations.
- Lie in savasana and close your eyes. Point the right toes and bend the knee, guiding the toes to touch the left shin. Practice this movement 3-5 times, and repeat on the other side. Note the challenges and ease of each side, and if this changes over time.
- Stand in tadasana and close your eyes. Bring the sole of your right foot to your left ankle. If this feels comfortable, move it to your calf, and then your inner thigh into vrkasana. Find your balance and hold the pose. Release and repeat on the other side, observing challenges and differences on each side.
How was exploring these movements? Did you learn anything new? Keep your mind open- proprioception improves with practice!