When it comes to physical movement and yoga poses, you can become a smarter person by noticing sensations generated by your muscles and responding to them intelligently.
One way to begin a yoga practice is to focus on body awareness. And one way to improve body awareness is to focus on muscle control.
How does muscle control relate to body awareness?
Muscles are what we use to move our body. They enable us to create change. They are also what we use to stabilize our body, to help it resist change. In addition, muscles are also what we use to sense or feel (or proprioceive) our body.
If we didn't have muscles we wouldn't be able to feel our body. And we need to be able to feel our body in order to effectively control it.
So if you want to improve body awareness, one place you can start is with muscle control. It's a way of helping you learn to feel your body as well as control it.
Say you want to get more flexible. If that is the case then muscle control is a worthwhile starting point. One way that you can think about it is that since muscles control our body, the better you are at muscle control the more flexible you can be.
While a big benefit of muscle control is that, like many breathing exercises, it can bring your into the present, another is that it can also help you to protect your joints (by keeping them lubricated).
My current approach to teaching muscle control is based on experience teaching it in yoga classes at the gym. In a lot of cases I'm teaching it to relatively inexperienced students. So my muscle control workshops are based on the methods I've found to be the most effective. And that's why I've divided my muscle workshops into five parts, and why I suggest learning these parts in the given order. You can read more about those five parts using the links below:
These programs are also available as packages. You can find out more about those using the links below:
Pain is a pretty useful signal. In general, it's your brain telling you something isn't right.
Muscle control (and varying the relationship or "alignment" between bones) is one way of changing the way you do a pose or movement to see if the pain signal turns of.
If there's nothing wrong with your body but your brain thinks that there is, then muscle control can be a way of tricking the brain back into turning the pain signal off.
To combat poor posture (winging shoulder blades, head forwards posture etc), learn to feel your bones and muscles as well as control how they relate.
Whether trying to alleviate pain or poor posture, or simply trying to improve the way you use your body, it helps to have some guidelines. Thats, where the principles of muscle control come in.
Muscle activation creates force. This force can create stability or movement. This same force also creates sensation.
One source of sensation is that generated by the muscle working.
Another source of sensation is the tension created in connective tissues.
Muscles aren't just engines for driving movement, they are how we feel our body.
Muscle tension varies the tension in the joint capsule envelope which in turn controls pressure of the synovial fluid within the joint capsule. This pressure forces fluid between mating joint surfaces, keeping the joint lubricated.
This method of lubrication is called "Hydrostatic Lubrication".
Muscle activation affects joint capsule tension via tendons, ligaments and bursae.
For the most part, ligaments are "active" structures. They are directly affected by muscle activation!
Sufficiently pressurized synovial fluid allows bones to adjust relative to each other which tension to be distributed throughout the joint capsule.
In order for us to have the variety of movement and posture possibilities that we have, muscles overlap. As we move from one posture to another, as we change the shape of your body, muscles hand off to other muscles in a smooth progression.
The brain can use this same overlap to keep joints protected in the case where one muscle isn't working.
This then causes difficulty in some movements (because muscles are being used for other tasks) and over time can lead to pain from overuse.
Muscles not only create force, they need a force to work against for sustained activation.
As an example, if you flex your biceps, you'll notice that your triceps also activates. (You can also notice that your elbow is stabilized while you are flexing your biceps.)
Muscles can work against some external force or weight, they can also work against each other. But in order to create non-momentary sensation, there needs to be some force for a muscle to work against.
Because of the need to keep joints lubricated, and because of the overlap in function of the muscle system, and because muscles need an opposing force to work against, there is a logic to muscle control that is similiar in some ways to "relay logic."
Electrical relays can be set up in a way that certain relays stay on or off until another relay changes state. If a muscle won't turn on or turn off it may be because the "state" of another muscle is preventing it from turning on or off.
Muscle logic also extends to posture. Posture affects muscle control just as muscle control affects posture.
For effective muscle control, one end of the muscle being controlled needs to be anchored. This can include engaging muscles in the same "muscle train.". It can also include "fixing" or stabilizing one of the bones to which the muscle attaches.
Muscles are effective when they are "lengthened" just the right amount. If the distance a muscle spans is too short, or too long, it becomes that much more difficult to activate a muscle effectively.
And so a part of effective muscle control can include giving muscles room to move.
Muscle control is one way of becoming mindful within your yoga practice or any other physical activity. Muscles not only resist change or create it, they give us a "feel" for our body. They help us to proprioceive it. Without muscles we wouldn't be able to feel our body.
One of the most common mindfulness techniques is focusing on "feeling" your breath. But breathing is a result of muscle control. And when you focus on feeling it what you are actually feeling is your respiratory muscles activating and relaxing. Focusing on muscle control in general is just an extension of this technique with several advantages.
Read more about Mindful Muscle Control.
If you are going to try and fix any problems of pain yourself, I'd suggest that part of that process includes learning to feel and control your body.
The feeling/sensing part is how you try to diagnose what is causing the problem. The controlling part is what you do to fix the problem.
Learning to feel and control your body is a very long process. And you may find yourself going in circles, till you figure out what you need to do in order to go deeper. But if you deal with problems in other areas, the same process applies. In either case, the better you understand what you are dealing with, the easier it is to fix problems, (or redefine problems so that they are fixable.)
If posture (or a lack of good posture) is the problem, the same thing applies. Practice feeling your body and controlling it so that you can then find good posture with minimum effort.
Most breathing exercises are actually exercises in muscle control.
Bar focusing on the actual passage of breath through your nostrils, throat or mouth, most breath control exercises ask you focus on feeling the sensations generated by your respiratory muscles.
And so one way to think of muscle control is that it is like a breathing exercise, particularly if you practice activating and relaxing muscles slowly and smoothly.
Muscle control is what allows you to consciously feel and control your body.
It's via muscle control that you can develop proprioception (a fancy word for "feeling your body".)
With respect to the posture, movement, muscle control and proprioception, tensegrity is the state where you've optimized tension throughout the body so that you can sense and respond simultaneously.
You could think of it as being tuned, like a guitar or violin.
The better you understand consciousness, the easier it can be to apply what you learn in yoga to other aspects of your life.
I'll suggest here that thinking, and ego, aren't bad things.
They are handy tools to have.
Thinking (and ego) are how we create limits, or definitions. Limits are tools that we can use to make learning more effective. The trick is learning to get rid of limits when they no longer serve.
Being present is a state of consciousness where we aren't thinking, but we are aware. It's the state of mind where we become fully immersed in the present moment so that time seems to stop.
You could think of being present as the equivalent of expanding your consciousness into the space of your immediate environment while when thinking your consciousness is expanded across time in "imaginary space".
How does this relate to yoga?
The more you focus on feeling your body and controlling it, the more present you become, and the less you think. And that's one reason for the focus on sensation, particularly tension and pressure. These sensations give you something to pay attention to in the present moment.
Thinking, or analyzing is also important because this is how you look back on your experience of your body from another point of view.
Both points of view help you to better understand your body.
All of my yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you have a better experience of your body. Currently you can find a list of them on my Neil Keleher page.
Sensational yoga poses are a way of Learning Your Body.
The easier it is then to improve strength, improve flexibility, coordination, or simply the ability to "be present" in your body.
When I first started doing yoga I learned and then practiced the Ashtanga yoga primary series of yoga poses.
It's a set series of yoga poses that I learned by memorizing little bits at a time.
Create a stable foundation.
Feel and control the muscles you are trying to stretch (and the muscles that oppose those muscles).
In meridian stretching you can focus on relaxing the muscle being stretched so that you stretch the connective tissue within the muscle itself.
Although you are trying to relax the muscle you are stretching, the goal isn't to relax completely. You still need to stabilize or anchor one end of the muscle being stretched.
One advantage of meridian stretching is that it can leave you feeling refreshed.
Balance is about feeling and controlling your relationship with the earth.
As you get better at feeling and controlling this relationship you can apply the same ideas to feeling and controlling the relationships within your body, at least at the musculoskeletal level.
And that's where the anatomy and biomechanics section comes in.
The study of anatomy and biomechanics can be used to help guide how you explore your own body.
The idea here isn't just to talk about, say, the insertion and origin of the biceps muscle (I would just say attachment points) but to actually feel those end points and the muscle that pulls them towards each other in your own body.