Muscle Control and Proprioception for Better Flexibility

2018 11 04
Working towards front splits, one thing that you can work on is learning to feel and control the muscles that you are stretching and the muscles that support those muscles. This is covered in the Muscle Control and Proprioception set of workshop videos.. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Reasons for working on muscle control and proprioception include:

  • Dealing with pain
  • Improving body awareness
  • Increasing flexibility

For myself I accidentally discovered one particular muscle control technique in the process of trying to work around knee pain. It required me to be aware of what I was doing but in the process I discovered that this same technique can also help improve flexibility. The trouble is, it doesn't work for everybody.

And so when teaching muscle control for flexibility I've found it best to teach a wide variety of muscle control techniques so that you can pick from among them.

Choosing What Muscles To Activate

To get flexible using muscle control, you don't just turn muscles on or off, you have to choose what muscles to activate and in what way. And rather than arbitrarily choosing, it helps to feel your body so that you can get a sense of what you need to activate.

Luckily, muscle control not only helps you to control your body, muscle control is what gives you a feel for your body also.

Looking for Dead Spots

And so when trying to figure out what you need to activate, sometimes all you need to look for are the "dead spots" in your body. These are the regions that lack sensation and the reason that they lack sensation is that muscles aren't active enough in that region to give you sensation.

If you aren't sure about "dead spots" or your ability to discern them, the practice of muscle control can help you to learn. It's a little like having a bunch of light switches that operate different lights. You try different switches to see which lights they turn on. With some practice you learn which switches operate which lights. In addition, if a light is off, you know what switch to operate to turn that light on.

A Systematic Learning Progression

One of the challenges with teaching muscle control is that some people haven't got the basic awareness required to feel when, say for example, their hips are moving relative to their feet. In other cases, some students are so loose, and so light, that they can't feel their muscles activate using the usual muscle activation exercises.

I've consistently found that I have to teach students with these problems particular techniques first to help give them a feel for their body. Then over a period of time (that can vary depending on how regularly the student practices and how good they are at learning (and how good I am at teaching)) they can progressively work towards the more advanced muscle control techniques.

And that's how this series of Muscle Control and Proprioception workshops is designed. It's designed to make it easy for you to learn muscle control no matter what your starting point is. Then you can use muscle control to help you improve your flexibility.

Learning Options for Muscle Control

Note that all of these workshops can help you to improve your flexibility in some small way. The advanced techniques aren't necessarily better. They just give you more flexibility in how you practice feeling and controlling your body. So for example, even though I know the advanced techniques, I still use the basic techniques from time to time, and if you are present in your body while doing basic techniques, the experience can be just as rewarding as when using advanced techniques. The more important point is that they are all different ways of controlling and experiencing your body.

The Muscle Control Workshops for Better Flexibility

Action Vectors

Action Vectorsis one way of doing "relaxed stretching". It also teaches you how to lift or move parts of your body with minimal effort. One reason for including this as the first workshop is that by first learning to recognize when, for example, your hips are moving relative to your feet, it is then easier to keep your hips still when the need arises.

Frictional Resistance

Frictional Resistance is a good way of strengthening muscles. Plus it helps you to feel particular muscles activating depending on your direction of push. These are generally the sort of exercises I use for people who have difficult feeling their body, or who have difficulty getting their muscles to activate.

Focused Floor Pressing

A technique that is similar to Frictional Resistance is the one taught in Focused Floor Pressing. This technique not only strengthens (or can be used to strengthen, particularly when using "maximum effort") it too helps some people improve their flexibility. However, it can be tricky for some people to learn, hence teaching it seems best left till after Frictional Resistance has been learned.

Focused Floor Pressing also offers a nice contrast to the technique used in Muscle Control Part 1, A Flexible Approach. You could think of the two initial techniques from these two workshops as opposites.

Muscle Control Part 1

Muscle Control Part 1, A Flexible Approach focused on one of the first muscle control techniques that I learned. This was the same technique that helped me to avoid knee pain while doing yoga poses. It's also the same technique that I used to increase my flexibility in stretching poses like Forward Bend and Front to Back Splits. However, as mentioned, this technique doesn't always work for everybody. However, the new instructions included in Muscle Control 1 should make it a bit more useful for more people.

Part 1 also includes a brief introduction to activating all four sides of the thigh at once as well as showing you how to activate (or stabilize) the knee and hip joints.

Muscle Control Part 2

As a compliment, and as a continuation of Part 1, Muscle Control Part 2, (A Flexible Approach to Better Flexibility) looks first a learning to feel and control the hip bone via the four corner points of each hip bone.

Incidentally, these are the four points that the long hip muscles attach to. The long hip muscles are the muscles that connect the hip bone to the lower leg bones. Once you've got some basic awareness of the hip bone, Part 2 then goes on to teach you how to activate these long hip muscles.

Part 2 also teaches you how to activate muscles at right angles to your direction of stretch. This is a way of teaching you to explore your body with "out of the box" thinking. Or you could think of this as "creating new boxes to think within". One of the keys to using muscle control to improve flexibility is to not limit yourself to trying to control the hip flexors and/or extensors when working on, for example your forward bend.

Foot Exercises for Proprioception

One other workshop that is included in this series is Foot Exercises for Proprioception. This is actually the second workshop in the series, after Action Vectors and before Frictional Resistance. Foot Activation can be a challenge for some people to learn, hence including it early in the series so that you can get practicing it as early as possible. However, another reason for teaching foot awareness and control as part of the Muscle Control for Better Flexibility series is that some people have found that activating the feet can help then in certain leg stretches.

One reason for this is, if you activate the feet you basically stabilize the feet, ankles and lower legs. You make these joints resistant to change and as a result, the thigh and hip muscles which are anchored by the lower leg bones then have a stable foundation from which to act on the thigh bone and/or hip bone. This can make it easier to then lengthen those muscles.

Videos and a Quick Reference PDF

Each of the workshops described above is in the form of a set of videos with an accompanying quick reference PDF. You can do the exercises while watching the videos. A better approach may be to watch each exercise and do it along with the video, then pause the video and practice the exercise by yourself so that you remember each one in turn.

Because each workshop focused on a particular technique for muscle activation, you may find that the muscle activation is easy to remember. All you then have to remember is the poses that you can practice that activation in.

Workshop Design

The courses have been designed to make it easy for you to learn the material.

Rather than bombarding you with information, the exercises are simple and easy to remember. You can then focus on doing the exercises (ideally, without the video) so that you can then turn each action into muscle memory.

Making Muscle Control Easier to Practice and Quicker to Learn

Each workshop focuses on a specific action or type of action. You learn the action by practicing it in a number of different poses. In so doing you gain the ability to use the action in poses not included in the workshop, helping to make you a little bit more self-sufficient in your practice.

You do have to do the exercises to learn these actions though. Rather than reading the pdf or just watching the videos and "thinking you can remember it all" you have to physically do the exercises while focusing on feeling your body at the same time. However, the short-smooth-rhythmic nature of the exercises can make them engaging. The practice of these exercises, if you find the right slow and smooth rhythm, can be "enjoyable".

You may find also that practice of this relatively short and simple, but clearly instructed exercises can reduce the time needed to learn these movements, in part because you are focusing on only a small number of movements or “activations” at a time.

Becoming a Smart Practitioner and/or a Better Student

These workshops ideally help you to become a smarter yoga practitioner, less dependent on other teachers, or at the very least equipping you with the tools to evaluate what other teachers tell you to do. (That includes questioning what I tell you!)

Another way to look at these workshops is that they help make you a better student of anything. Why? Because you already know your body (or at least parts of it) making it easier to see what is happening in movements that you are trying to learn.

It also exposes you to an efficient way of learning: breaking things down.

While the work has been done for you in these workshops, one thing that to understand is that if you these exercises easy to learn, and in the process you find that you quickly learn to feel your body, that is in large part because of the way things have been broken down.

Learning Made Easier

In these workshops the work of breaking things down into meaningful pieces has been done so that you can focus on learning these techniques. And while the techniques or actions might not come straight away, they are easy enough to remember that you can practice them even when “off the mat” making it easier to learn these movements.

Another part of making learning easier is that all of the exercise steps are clearly defined. You don't have to wonder what you are trying to do. You can instead focus on learning to feel and control your body.

And that is in part why the workshops have been organized in the given order. For people who have difficulty feeling their body (or have never learned) the organization of the workshops is designed to make learning the body as easy as possible.

Practicing Turning Muscles On and Off

Overall, these workshops teach you a series of techniques for activating muscle. And the basic methodology is to turn muscles on and off repeatedly so that you can practice both feeling those muscles and controlling them.

The rhythmic turning on and off is part of what makes it easier to zero in on the location of whatever muscles are turning on and off.

Learning to Self Adjust

An important action for use in any of these techniques is Self Adjusting. Rather than just turning muscles on or off, self adjusting allows you to find the sweet spot when turning muscles on. In some cases it can make it easier to turn muscles on in the first place. And in some cases it can be used to alleviate pain or discomfort.

You could think of it as “tuning” the way you operate your body.

So what has all of this to do with getting more flexible?

You may find that you can suddenly go further forwards in a forward bend just by activating your feet. However, after the first time, you may then find that even with active feet your forward bend is back to the way it usually is. So you need to try another technique.

The better you get at feeling your body, the easier it is to feel what "technique" or muscle activation your body needs in order to go deeper into whatever stretch you are doing.

Sometimes it can be a case not so much of doing a different technique but fine tuning or adjusting the way that you do the technique.

Dealing with Problems

So what about when you come across muscle control problems? None of these videos are scripted. As a result, on occasion I'll come across some problems in activating my muscles while doing the videos. In the process you'll see how I deal with particular problems. And ideally this helps to give you an idea of how to approach and fix "muscle control problems" when you encounter them.

More Material

The workshops described above all focus mainly on the legs. However, if you are interested in working on your shoulders, the Yoga For Your Shoulders ebook includes a whole array of exercises (and stretches) for your shoulders.

Yoga for Your Shoulders is included in Options 2 and 3 below along with the Muscle Control For Flexibility and Active Stretching.

Muscle Control for Flexibility is the very first "flexibility" program that I offered. Its a set of videos along with an ebook.
Active Stretching is an ebook only and offers a slightly different view of the material in Muscle Control for Flexibility.

Package Options

This package has three options.

All options (1, 2 and 3) include:

  • Focused Floor Pressing MCP4
  • Muscle Control part 1 (a flexible approach) MCP5
  • Muscle Control Part 2 (a flexible to flexibility) MCP5a

$68.00

Options 2 and 3 also include:

  • Yoga for your Shoulders (ebook: pdf/epub/mobi)
  • Muscle Control for Flexibility (the original muscle control program which includes video and ebook: pdf/epub/mobi)
  • Active Stretching (ebook: pdf/epub/mobi)

$98.00

Option 3 also includes:

  • Action Vectors MCP1
  • Foot Exercises for Proprioception MCP2
  • Frictional Resistance MCP3

$108

Buy Muscle Control and Proprioception
for Better Flexibility $68/$98/$108

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30 Day Guarantee

It can be tricky buying stuff online. To that end, you have 30 days to try out the material. It might not be what you expected or thought. If that's the case then you can email me. My email address is included in the pdf's that accompany each package. And if you have any problems with any of the exercises in any of these programs, you can also email me, and I'll do my best to answer your question.