Notice where your body is in space. Without looking, estimate how far apart your feet are, the curve of your low back, and the relationship between your cranium and tailbone. This is proprioception: the ability to sense where your body is. We’re learning that proprioceptive ability has important implications for health.
First of all, proprioception is essential for balance. As we get older, our balance often diminishes. This is partly due to muscle weakness (see the article on the Single Leg Stance), but another factor is the ability for the body to sense where each part of itself is in relationship to the ground and up.
Proprioception is also a factor in pain perception. Proprioceptive nerve endings sense the body’s location. Nociceptive nerve endings sense pain. Scientists are finding an inverse relationship between proprioception and nociception. When proprioceptive nerves are not functioning optimally, the nociceptive nerves become more active and pain is perceived more easily. It’s worthwhile to improve your proprioceptive abilities; if you’re in pain, it’s essential.
There are several ways to improve your proprioceptive abilities. The field of rehabilitation uses balance exercises; wobble boards have been found to be very effective. Bodywork is another option, especially bodywork like structural integration where the client stays aware and involved while the practitioner is manipulating tissue. Yoga and Pilates are also helpful, since attention is maintained on how parts of the body relate to each other during the exercises. Undulations also have the same effect. Since undulations focus on the relationship between one vertebra to another, it is helpful to improve proprioception in that area.
If you have signs that your proprioception is waning, you might want to use multiple techniques to improve it. We don’t necessarily need enough awareness to do gymnastics, but we all need appropriate proprioception to walk (which includes standing on one leg with each step), balance and accurately perceive pain.