Updated: Jan 13, 2019
Imagine being without sight. How might you recognize your body and interact with the world around you? “Proprioception” is defined as “where the body thinks it is in space”. In movement, proprioception refers to the sensory, cerebral, and motor mechanisms involved in keeping us balanced. Good proprioception generally equates to functional body-awareness, subconsciously and consciously. Poor proprioception leads to a lack of balance, dysfunctional directional movements, habitual bad posture, and ultimately injury. The proprioceptive loop is always running to keep you oriented in space. Its functions are broken down into three distinct components.
Every step we take is a more/less controlled fall. Sensory functions receive incoming information, where the brain (in its perpetual search for clarity) dictates to motory, engaging muscles driving forward into the unknown. Every movement, conscious or subconscious goes through this closed loop. For example, walking on dry, level ground is generally performed subconsciously. However, standing on a balance board with one foot while blindfolded, may require more attention.
A common example of a proprioceptive exercise is the use of a balance or wobble board after an ankle sprain. The unpredictable movements of the balance board re-educate the body to quickly react to the wobbly movements without having to think about them. Here, the proprioceptive reactions we are attempting to retrain make the transition from a conscious to a subconscious state. The dynamic space between conscious-incompetence and subconscious-competence is where these exercises live. In the absolute center, where all functions sync just right, a very special place exist - Flow-State. It may get scary in there sometimes, and that's a clue.
Muscles function out of memory, not amnesia. So consider when we’re first born as a proprioceptive “clean slate”. Every movement learned thereafter is built upon and reinforced (such as being left or right handed). Now, visualize your proprioceptive Range of Motion (PROM) as a heat-map of your movement patterns. Typical patterns and injury affects proprioception over time. Understanding planes of motion, and how the body moves through them is essential to improving proprioception and body-awareness.
The brain cultivates an image of the body's location through these 3 planes of motion and time. Proprioceptive movements synchronize end motor-control, with the edge of sensory-awareness. They allow you to fluidly traverse all planes, with actions just in-and-out of control."Training utilizing both passive and active movement with/without visual feedback tend to be most beneficial" (source). Tempo plays a key roll here as well.
Just as muscles play supporting roles to each other, so do senses. Getting to know them may help provide clarity through times of sensory alteration, or stress. The inner ear (Vestibular) plays a critical roll in maintaining equilibrium. To challenge this is really to challenge the perception of gravity. A few ways to do so are inversions, playing with buoyancy, and freefall. And for when/if you get lost and need to reorient, take advice from astronauts. “The best way is to provide consistent visual cues. For example, to paint one surface brown and get everyone to agree to orient with that as "down".source