It can range from feeling balanced and well to going totally astray.
Individual experience and self-observation are of utmost importance to drive our body perception to an effective reliable sensor for fitness and well-being.
My thesis is that, when the gap between the goal - in the case of an athlete the performance level - we envision, and the actual condition we find ourselves in closes, our body perception should signal us a condition of wellbeing.
To achieve this state requires motivation and practice.
Let's take an example.
As a child we learn to ride a bike, because we would like to move faster and more independently, or because others do so.
As an athlete the relation to our bike changes. We want to ride quicker with the least possible strain. The bike and all its technical details are therefore analyzed and deconstructed and so is the process of riding itself.
Wheels, pedal position, frame size and handle position are all given their own importance. The motion cycle is analyzed and the perception from the child age is taken apart and put back together and improved until a new perception emerges - a new oneness between us and the bike has then developed.
This procedure does not always work. It requires a lot of training and experience.
In the best case you melt into one with your bike. You move as safely as on two legs. You do not even notice it anymore: the bike becomes a part of you.
But if the structure of your bike changes, this process begins anew. The changed incoming stimuli patterns change your perception of the bike and interrupts the movement pattern, that run automatically, until a new balance is emerges through practice.
The same applies to such simple objects as the shoe. Whereas shoes are especially stubborn companions. A shoe that does not distort your body perception is worth a lot. The smallest changes to the sole, a body part very sensitive to wellbeing and body perception, can give you the feeling of being impaired and in pain.
Therefore: be careful in changing a winning team. This applies to things as well as humans. One can hardly believe it!
We should listen to our body for optimizing the performance, a process that initially is very demanding as it needs self-observation.
But what, when and how to observe?
And how to interpret the observations? Over time we find the cues and collect enough data from our observations that may allow us to draw conclusions and initiate the required change of behavior, lifestyle, movement pattern or technical devices to reach the next performance level.
The new will turn familiar and will unconsciously be converted into action. Body and mind and in fact the respective device form an entity again. Until this point is achieved keeping the body in balance can be a tricky task. Devices interacting with our body and mind may be socks, pants, shoes, bikes, saddle, pedal positions, watches, watts, water etc...
Despite all scientific efforts we are still left to our own devices, if it comes to finding out, what it is like to be in a state of balance with our mind, our body and the devices we use.
Patterns of stimuli or signals trigger our movements and behavior. That happens all the time. What we do, happens first and foremost unconsciously. Only if we face a problem, if the intended actions do come to an halt due to an obstacle we were not aware of, then we start analyzing on a conscious level. Then we start looking for a solution to our problem.
After this analysis that makes us assume we found the cause-effect relation for our problem we do the next step. We initiate the change of a certain habit that obviously didn't lead us anywhere anymore. The scary thing about this may be that we can't tell in advance whether we drew the right conclusions from our analysis and therefore took the right choices.
Have we been 'practicing' the proper technique? Did we choose the right nutrition and training scheme? Nobody can tell us until we have practiced the new approach for a while and got our return on investment confirmed by an improved performance level or improved well-being.
I chose this picture to avoid confusions originating from the different perspectives mingling (biology, psychology, naturopathy, sport science, exercise physiology, sport medicine, nutrition science, personal experience) on this blurry subject. If applying the computer for explaining the body, then it may appear in somehow a little bit clearer what signal-processing and changes of signal patterns mean for the body.
Signals from the outside are processed inside the computer following the languages of the programmers who have been at work to define the rules for the special tasks, and thereafter the machine executes the input signals accordingly. Of course, a computer is far more rigid than an organism. Nevertheless, living organisms too have in-built programs that outlay behavior and movement patterns.
Computers are processing the input signals they get. They are run through a multilayered matrix. If nothing goes wrong, the result is the required output. Otherwise, if collisions and misunderstandings occur the system crashes and needs adjustment. The same procedure can happen in an organism. This kind of break-down forces us to think and consciously change our way of doing things.
The bigger the difference between a body state we are used to over a long period of time and the condition we wish to obtain, the more demanding are the processing efforts of the body. Training is nothing less than practicing these processing operations. Exercises must be repeated until for example the paths of nerve connections are established which then enable a stable channeling of the impulses.
Whenever well trained signal constellations (sensory stimuli, impulses from our senses to the spinal cord and brain) are existent, they are automatically processed into the desired movement pattern without even touching our consciousness, and that occurs even under extreme stress.
It might sound rather trivial to those, who had to relearn the skills of speaking after a stroke, to a child that had to learn eating by the spoon, or to an athlete who wanted to improve his/her running or cycling performance by changing either technique. It is all about reiterating and spacing a stimuli pattern.
Chris McCormack - IRONMAN World Champion 2010 - says that the whole trick is to know what it means to feel really good. Only under such circumstances it is possible to peak on time and remain uninjured. Training and becoming tired, reaching limits without wrecking yourself, is an art that only few can master. We still cannot measure the body perception of feeling perfectly well, even though we got so many devices for measuring.
There are tools that can guide our way to wellbeing such as heart rate, lactate, urea, creatine kinesis, oxygen consumption, electrolytes, micronutrients, inflammatory parameters etc., and there are the indirect methods such as being healthy, not suffering from injuries, sleep disturbances, mood swings, pain or infections etc. But in the very end, we have to decide by experience when we are really feeling well.
Body perception is the result of all stimuli processed in the body, an emerging phenomenon most complex including all senses.