Most of us have a basic understanding of the anatomy of our muscles. How the nervous system and the skeletal muscles work together is less well understood. Adult bodies have about 46 miles of nerves, many of them inside our muscles. The nerves are embedded in muscles, as the images in the Appendix illustrate.
This aspect of the nervous system—that nerves are embedded in muscles—is key to cultivating an awareness of the body. The term neuromuscular identifies the functional connection between nerves and muscles. Together, they function as a single network to transmit information necessary for movement. “Neuro” refers to the nervous system which is made up of: the brain and its cranial nerves; the cord that runs from the brain through the spine; and the nerves that branch from the spinal cord. Visualizing this network is a roadmap for exploration. The nature of that exploration and the nuances of our perception are discussed below.
Until recently, “fitness” focused on muscle—training it, conditioning it, building it. For many years a general attitude prevailed in physical culture: “Use your muscles to move bones; the nervous system will follow your instructions.” Physical culture and fitness have changed dramatically in recent times, but vestiges of this old attitude remain.
Body awareness cultivates the opposite perspective on fitness: developing and refining awareness of the neuromuscular system gives us access to information that allows us to move efficiently, in a healthy, natural way, without harm. (NB: movement may also refer to holding the body still in a balanced, stable position.) Having an awareness of how muscles and nerves work together allows us to make an informed choice about how we use our bodies.
Body awareness is a tool that can be used to build fitness from the nervous system out.