3 Exercises to Increase Self-Awareness

By Karrie Osborn

Movement and body awareness offer great pathways to tap into our best physical selves. In her new book, Stack Your Bones (The Experiment, 2017), author and structural integration practitioner Ruthie Fraser offers 100 simple exercises anyone can use to heighten their movement and awareness of self. Following are three of our favorites.

Your Body is a Collection of Stacked Segments

In a concept made famous by Ida Rolf, creator of Rolfing/structural integration, you can look at the body as a tower of boxes, segmented as a result of the various stressors, injuries, and dysfunctions each of those segments has experienced.

Imagine the placement of those boxes when it comes to establishing the body’s best, most efficient foundation. If the boxes all skew forward, it’s hard to imagine a strong foundation or center of balance. If the top two boxes have forward alignment, they put a certain amount of pressure on the box that follows beneath as it attempts to maintain equilibrium (see “Your 30-Pound Head”). It’s easy to see how this misalignment could play havoc with our bodies.

This simple exercise asks you to merely stop, come into your spatial awareness, and hear what your body tells you.


1. Feel the stacked segments of your body. Feel your feet, shins, thigh bones, pelvis, abdomen and lower back region, rib cage, neck, and head.

2. Do any segments feel too far forward? Too far back? Right or left? Twisted, shifted, or tilted? If one segment goes forward, another is likely to go backward. If one shifts to the right, another is likely to shift to the left. Body segments need support from underneath. It’s easier to rest with a reliable foundation.

3. Play with gentle adjustments to restore natural relationships in your body.

Tracking: Practice Elemental Movements with Healthy Alignment

When we think of movement, our minds often go big—my mind always recalls the superhuman leaps of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. But sometimes the movement we need most for our bodies is small and quiet. In this exercise from Fraser, awareness, patience, and slow fluidity are key.


1. In a standing position, bring your attention to your pelvis and legs.

2. Organize your feet, ankles, shins, knees, and thigh bones under your pelvis.

3. Slowly bend your knees slightly. Notice where they are headed. Are your knees tracking straight over your feet? Are they parallel? You may feel your knees’ tendency to go off center. You may feel resistance in your ankles or hips.

4. Reset and try again. Bend your knees a little bit, tracking them straight forward over each respective foot.

5. Simultaneously reach your sitz bones straight back—just a little. As much as your knees lengthen forward, lengthen your sitz bones back.

6. Track your knees back to straight legs. Repeat the exercise. Move slowly and smoothly.

Undulate for Spinal Health

Touch and movement practitioners have long used undulation with their clients as a way to free stuck connective tissue, make joints more mobile, and improve core muscle function. Much like the motion of a wave or a whip being cracked, this movement through the body is a natural rhythm, but that doesn’t mean you might not feel awkward at first. Quiet your mind, focus on the movement, find your rhythm, and let it go.


1. Come to your hands and knees. Lengthen your spine.

2. Extend your elbows. Bring your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders.

3. Gently begin a wave motion in your spine. Don’t rush. Let an undulation pattern emerge and develop. Be slow and subtle at first.

4. Continue to explore undulating your whole spine as you breathe deeply. Allow the undulation to move in many directions. Let it slow down to stillness and then start again.

5. Let your mind surf the waves of your body.

A constructive movement practice requires certain strategies to be successful, Fraser writes, including reducing movements to their most basic forms, strengthening what’s weak and opening what’s tight, and consciously extending the various segments of your body—from your neck and back to your fingers and toes.

And remember, a movement practice is more than just physical movement—it’s also contemplative. Quiet your mind as you do these exercises to really hear what your body is telling you. Once you stop to listen, it’s amazing what you might hear.

For more of Fraser’s 100 lessons on movement and body awareness, check out her book at www.theexperimentpublishing.com/catalogs/spring-2017/stack-your-bones.

Your 30-Pound Head

Experts say that for every inch of forward-head posture, the weight of the head on the spine increases by 10 pounds. So, our normal 12-pound head easily tacks on another 20 pounds when it sits forward of the shoulders by 2 inches, a posture frequently seen in those with desk jobs. This extra weight can pull the spine out of alignment, cut lung capacity, and even affect digestion.

Look around you. How many people can you see who are carrying a much heavier load on their shoulders than they should be? And you? Pull that head back over the spine, focus on alignment, and leave the weightlifting for the gym.

Karrie Osborn is senior editor for Body Sense magazine and Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.