Does Body Awareness Lead to Compassion?

A difficult yoga practice teaches me a lot about my body. Sometimes, I have sore muscles I hadn’t known existed! Practicing and teaching an alignment-based yoga style challenges me to be aware of my entire body in every pose (looking at you, floppy back ankle!). Research suggests that these thoughtful poses have additional benefits: being more mindful of what is happening in one’s body could help people feel more mentally healthy.

Gyllensten, Ekdahl and Hansson (2009) studied the impact of Basic Body Awareness Therapy on 77 people who were getting mental health care services. Basic Body Awareness therapy is a mindfulness practice where people do simple exercises in stillness and movement. Half the people in the study (38 out of 76 people) were picked at random to add 3 months of Basic Body Awareness Therapy on top of their regular mental health services. One year later, people who had improved their body awareness were using fewer mental health and social services (e.g. seeing a therapist less often, getting off food stamps).

Fiori, Aglioti, and David (2017) were interested in body awareness in people who do yoga.   They note that people who are more aware of their bodies are often more compassionate – feeling concern for other people. They took a group of 45 people who did Ashtanga yoga and 45 people who did not do any yoga or meditation and looked at everyone with a statistical program. The program was able to predict who did yoga based on tests of their body awareness and compassion. In this study, people with more body awareness and compassion tended to have more experience doing yoga and practiced more frequently.

Together, these two studies suggest that body awareness may be one way yoga supports mental health. Connecting one’s mind to what is going on in one’s body is a great way to work toward a healthier whole self. Next time I’m in yoga class, if I feel overwhelmed by all the body parts I have to stretch and strengthen at once, I’ll remember that working on that awareness is important for my wellness. The sore muscles the next day are worth it in the end!

Mental Health Spotlight provided by Katie Pizziketti in collaboration with the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities. 

The Temple University Collaborative receives funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number #90RT5021-02-00). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This article does not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.