There's more to staying fit than exercising and eating right. Being aware of your body, or Body Intelligence, is a crucial component.

The concept of an individual being judged for his intelligence based only on his IQ level has been questioned and replaced by the hypothesis of “Multiple Intelligences” as proposed by Psychologist Howard Gardner in the 1990s. Other “Intelligences” such as Spatial, Mathematical, Musical, Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal and Kinesthetic Intelligence have been enumerated by him. The theory implies that human beings may or may not excel at any one aspect of “Intelligence”. In essence what it means is an individual can be extremely musically talented and completely incapable of doing math or vice-versa. Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence was popularised by Daniel Goldman. These are different from, and not necessarily connected with, the other forms of intelligence.

From Kinesthetic Intelligence evolved what we call “Body Intelligence”. This is the capacity of an individual to understand and interpret his body and the signals it sends to indicate; for instance, its position in the environment, in relation to its surrounding, experience of pain and pressure and so on. It is not the understanding of anatomy and physiology as taught in medical school. Far from it! Neither does an understanding of anatomy/physiology automatically bestow Body Intelligence.

All of us perceive our bodies in a specific way. Some are instinctively aware of their body, its position, centre of gravity, optimum ability to function; while some are quite clueless. This becomes quite evident when one teaches fitness.

Body Intelligence is composed of three main “pillars” as they are called. They can be described as Body Awareness, Knowledge and Engagement.

Body awareness

This is the ability of an individual to be acutely aware of the signals his body is sending him to alert him. For example, let's say a client has injured her knee. She feels discomfort; sometimes acute pain. She chooses to ignore it however and continues to workout. It reaches a point where the ankle gets worse. When she finally sees a doctor, she finds a fractured bone requiring prolonged rest, perhaps, even surgery. Discounting the signals your body sends you, therefore, can be detrimental to your wellness.

Body awareness is the recognition of one's own energy levels and how much one is capable of. Ignoring this can lead to clients pushing beyond their own limits to destruction. Adages like “No pain, No gain” have lead to the deliberate dampening of body awareness among clients where they believe they must push ahead, despite the imminent danger of injury.

Body awareness is also the ability of an individual to be attentive of where and how his body is positioned in relation to the environment and the other parts of his body while exercising, moving and so on. It may seem like common sense to be able to mimic a Shoulder Press by watching the trainer execute one. Not all clients however can do that. They may need to be instructed repeatedly, made to duplicate the action with several hands-on corrections and so on. “Flatten your Back”, “Stabilise your Core”, “Drop your shoulders” may seem like an innocent and simple commands in class. It is quite amazing, however, to realise most beginners of exercise have no idea how to do that. They are unable to isolate and work their muscles even if shown where the muscle is located, how it works and so on. They may execute potentially dangerous movements without being aware of the risks involved. Most of this however is learnt with time and effort (and a patient and understanding instructor!).

Body Awareness can be improved by putting clients through awareness practices like ‘Body Scans', contraction-relaxations exercises, progressive relaxation techniques, exercising in front of a mirror, meditation and so on.


There is an over abundance of information on fitness available online, in the media and from all kinds of (sometimes undesirable) sources. Information, however, is not always knowledge. The source of the information has to be questioned. Reading reliable and authentic sources of information is important to keep educated. Be wary of falling prey to mere advertising as opposed to scientific facts. In the never-ending search for the ‘perfect body', individuals are keen to resort to anything, the quicker the better.

Knowledge also refers to learning more about one's own body, its workings and failings in order that you are relatively well educated about it. It would mean paying visits to your doctor for screening protocols like the pap smears, diabetic screens, thyroid screening tests and staying abreast with your own follow-up. It would also mean educating yourself about food. No, you don't need a degree in nutrition, but you certainly need to understand enough about food, food groups, serving sizes to be able to engage in a life-long healthy eating plan for yourself and your family and not be lured by bizarre diets and unwise advice.


This refers to the ability of the individual to put into practice what is required to gain a healthier body. It requires some amount of commitment and dedication. Many clients have Body Awareness and/or Knowledge but are unable to actually put to practice what they know to be true. The reasons for this are varied. Most excuses border around lack of time and motivation. Whatever the reason, just having Body Awareness and Knowledge but not putting into practice what you know to be beneficial is not exhibiting good Body Intelligence.

A working mother, for instance, struggles to find time to fit in a workout. She may have a very high level of Body Awareness, knows her knees are protesting with her weight gain, is aware she isn't getting enough sleep and is certainly not eating vegetables/fruits. She also knows what to do about it. But getting down to actually doing may be the dilemma.

An individual with high level of Engagement but no Body Awareness and or Knowledge poses an equally difficult problem. Such individuals are more prone to injury. Their enthusiasm may make up for their lack of Awareness and Knowledge, but it also puts them at risk of self-sabotage!

It is important, therefore, to improve Body Intelligence along with your fitness routine. A higher level of overall Body Intelligence tends to keep clients more likely to adhere to their fitness plans, or at least get back on the saddle every time they fall off. While teaching fitness trainers and instructors need to be aware of these components of Body Intelligence and improve them individually to educate clients and keep them healthy.

Dr. Sheela Nambiar M.D., is Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant NAFC (US) and Director, TFL Fitness Studio, Chennai. E-mail


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012