Frustrated With Your Body Awareness? Here’s why.

homunculus-front

Credit: Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

I regularly hear clients say, “I just don’t have good body awareness,” and “It’s very hard for me to feel what you’re talking about.”  Sound familiar?
Well, don’t worry. You’re not alone and, furthermore, it’s not your fault! Let’s take a look at the Cortical Homunculus to help explain why we often have trouble finding our own bodies.  

The Homunculus, meaning “Little Man” in Latin, is a representation of how the brain maps the body. This Little Man represents how our body would look if each body part grew in proportion to the amount of sensory or motor receptors that are associated with them in the brain. In other words, bigger parts equal more receptors. While our Little Man is not attractive, he is definitely informative.  Look at his enormous hands, eyes, nose, mouth, and tongue. They’re represented as very big because they have a higher density of associated sensory or motor inputs in the brain. Now, compare that to the relatively little trunk, arms and legs: smaller parts = fewer brain receptors.

Without getting too complex, there are two basic parts to the Homunculus:

  1. The sensory side. This is the ability to feel or perceive a specific body part.
  2.  The motor side. This is the ability of the brain to activate and coordinate the muscles involved in moving a particular body part.

Our bodies and brains must first find sensation before motion. Sensory information is what determines the appropriate set of muscular forces and joint activations to generate a desired movement. This involves both the central nervous system andthe musculoskeletal system working together. So, parts of the body with fewer sensory and/or 1421_Sensory_Homunculusmotor receptors in the brain are harder for us to “feel” and therefore activate. That’s where the Homunculus and Pilates come in.

As the Little Man illustrates, the sensory information throughout our bodies is not equal. Hopefully it helps you understand why it’s hard to feel things. And hopefully, by practicing Pilates, you can take that understanding and build on it. We hope that by working on things that are hard to “feel”, Pilates can create a sensory awareness that translates into engagement and movement. In Pilates, the focus is training the torso and core. In doing so, we’re also improving the brain’s ability to perceive the body and therefore move. This ability is crucial to interacting with the world. To staying fit. To maintaining balance. To developing as an athlete. To staying healthy.