Muscle As Nexus between Body & Mind
and Inner & Outer Reality
Is Muscle Tension the NEXUS
of Physical / Mental Yoga
Does The Resistance in Your Musculo-Fascial System Serve As A
Meditative or Mindful FOCAL POINT For Your Postural Yoga Practice?
In an Ideal World, muscles are invisible to your mind. Your mind comes up with an intention, and instantly, the muscles produce the necessary action, in just the right amount, at just the right speed, and you don’t even feel their function … at all.
Yoga is a Process of Merging Mind Into Musculature,
Such that the Distinctions Between Them Dissolve.
~David Scott Lynn
Yes, you’ll feel the results of their function, but not the actual contraction or DE-contraction (relaxation) of the muscle units.
(That’s in interesting topic in itself, and we discuss that in more technical pages of this website and related publications. But beyond the scope of what I’m talking about today, in this article.)
You don’t even have to think about it either. … The Action Just Happens! … Smooth & Effortlessly. It might take energy, but not effort, if you know what I mean. But you don’t have to “tell” your muscles to act, They Just DO It.
This is especially useful if you subscribe to the point-of-view that REAL Meditation Lives in ACTION, not just in the musings of the mind. … That’s what Leading Edge Thinkers like Joel Kramer teach and, before him, the late Jiddu Krishnamurti taught.
Krishnamurti pointed out that if one has a thought that should result in a Complete Action, yet that action is not undertaken or completed, then a “residue” is left in the mind. And in many cases, that “residue” can manifest as stress & tension in the physical body.
Likewise, Alfred Korzybski, founder of General Semantics, said that improper mental & emotional activity can lead to negative changes in the nervous system, eventually working their way into the “colloidal tissues” — what we commonly call fascia — of the body.
It’s no random coincidence that Ida P. Rolf, founder of Rolfing® (Structural Integration), was a student of Korzybski’s, and her higher level of focus on fascia was an understandable result of his influence.
In Reality, Behind the Scenes of Yoga . . .
So Yes, the DSL Approach to postural yoga focuses a lot on muscle tension. … WHY?
This musculo-fascial tension — driven, of course, by your nervous system & brain — is in this view The Nexus, the Convergence, of the various forces & conditions showing up in any particular moment in any particular yoga posture or asana, in any particular part of your bodymind.
There is, of course, much more to it than “just a tight muscle.” (And yes, you can certainly have other points of focus. This is just one of them. I just feel that for particular objectives, this is an ideal focal point.)
On the “internal” side of the Nexus are all the physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual systems, experiences and issues contributing to our levels of muscular tension. These must all in some way — directly or indirectly, as the individual case might be — be addressed or accounted for in the healing, maintenance and growth processes.
Included in that Inner Reality — even further behind the scenes — are your Metabolic Functions of Diet, Nutrition, Detoxification and various environmental inputs (such as the weather or toxic chemicals).
Then, there are the outward expressions & functions of how muscle tension manifests in its various functions, movements & actions.
Here is a partial illustration of where and how the individual neuro-musculo-fascial units operate in the DSL View of how it all fits together. It shows much of what goes on inside our skin, in our internal experience, of what we feel and do:
[ ILLUSTRATION ]
Please Note that in reality, a musculo-fascial unit is not just some piece of meat pulling your bones around or pushing blood through your arteries. It is actually a highly refined Structural & Functional Organ of SENSORY as well as MOTOR activity. And together, they produce Sensory/Motor—Feedback/Response Loops comprising a HUGE part of our day-to-day existence — our productivity & creativity, as well as self-maintenance.
In other of my writings, I call the muscle cell itself The Vehicle Of Self-Expression.
Muscle is literally what makes things move, from the greatest to the tiniest efforts. From a blinking eye or facial expression to the pulsing of your heart or lungs to pushing a broken down car back into your driveway, they all take some degree of muscle power. It might be just a few minute muscle fibers to blink you eye, or many relatively large number of much larger fibers (which are still microscopic in size).
And, when you sink into a yoga posture, most of the time, the very first thing — at the physical level, at least — keeping you from getting in as far as you might like is … You guessed, it MUSCLE TENSION. …
ON THE OTHER HAND: At the mental level, you might first run into a psycho-emotional fear of, say, falling over from a standing balance posture. Or, you might be embarrassed that other people might judge your lack of flexibility. Or you might be feeling sick. All of those are legitimate, and each require their own level of focus.
I am on this page referring, however, to the actual resistance of the physical body to sinking deeper into the postures. Even so sometimes your deeper, less conscious mental fears might be showing up in as muscle tension, and that tension can become a focal point allowing you to follow it down into the deeper recesses of your mind, your feelings, your personality, or whatever is manifesting at that moment, for whatever reason.
I am not attempting to pose a rigid framework that you “must” follow to “do it right.” I am only attempting to expand on an aspect of yoga I feel is not delved into deeply enough.
SO … from another point-of-view . . .
Mental Elements . . . of our stresses and tensions are not all “psychological,” either. Many, if not most, of what appear to be mental functions are actually non-conscious, more-or-less automatic functions of the physical brain, such as the limbic system.
The limbic system is in a different (older and lower) part of the brain than what we usually associate with our thinking minds. (This depends, of course, on how you define thinking, which we do more thoroughly on other pages and in the DSL Yoga e-Courses.) Addressing stress and habit patterns of the brain is, at some levels, different than those of the Mind. …
On the Philosophy, Psychology & Science of Being Human pages and e-Course we’ll look at the significant differences between the subjective mind and objective brain.
On the Other Side of the Nexus . . . (to the right in the illustration above) are the outward physical expressions of the internal drives and states of the psycho-neuro-musculo-fascial & organ system. All of the internal drives and reactive mechanisms are, at any given instantaneous moment-in-time, holding our bodies in a particular posture, producing a specific range-of-motion, or initiating or restraining action. That moment might only last a split second, then move on to another configuration, but that;s what;s happening.
Even in so-called Static Yoga Postures, if done with any real Awareness & Responsiveness to Your Inner-Reality, while there might be little or no noticeable outward motion to a casual observer, there is MUCH activity going in within and behind the scenes.
All of this background activity produces a mosaic of conditioned behavior. And of course, the functions of our organs are affected by this background, as well.
We “See” or Observe the state of the neuromuscular system by our posture, movement and action or inaction, and organ function, such as how slow and deep or fast and shallow we breath, or how often our eliminative organs operate, or not. At the deepest level, these processes and behaviors reveal, to varying degrees, the inner-workings of the mind, emotions and brain.
* Here, my use of the words SEE and Observe implies a deeper, more complete sense of Awareness and Attention, rather than just a visual stimulus.
Yet, with all that going on, the actual internal functioning of the muscle cells are, if everything is “normal,” supposed to remain “invisible” to you!!!
Unfortunately, being a yoga/bodywork therapist, most of the people I’ve worked with over the last three decades, being older and/or more therapeutically challenged or injured, had NOT-normal muscle cells. I had a lot of NOT-normal muscle cells in my body, too, due to all my stresses and injuries earlier in life.
Let-Go Yoga, therefore, is geared quite a bit toward people with NOT-normal conditions. Yet most of them suggested if they had know the principles I work with much earlier in life, and applied them, they might have gotten through without so much trouble.
That’s why I believe the Principles of Let-Go Yoga, as well as my FUNdamentals of Physical/Mental Yoga programs, are valuable for people who have both normal and NOT-so-normal muscles conditions. Even uninjured athletes can improve their performance before ever getting injured, and maybe reduce the likelihood of future potential injury.
One Objective or Opportunity of Postural Yoga
One of the things Postural Yoga is, therefore, is the opportunity to study how that little thing, the muscle unit, works. We learn about each one individually, and how groups of them work together with each other, and how the entire neuro-musculo-fascial system orchestrates complex and complete actions.
No, you can’t actually directly self-examine the muscle cells. One reason is they are so darn tiny as to need a microscope to even see one.
The other reason is the vast majority of sensory nerves within muscle and fascia terminate in the lower parts of the brain. So they do not deliver any information all the way to your cerebral cortex, the conscious part of your brain and seat of what we generally call the conscious mind.
You can, however, indirectly feel, experience and learn about it’s functions, however, by feeling and observing what your body does, what gets in its way, and how you work with it to achieve more of what you want, less of what you don’t want, and opening doors to knew possibilities you never even knew existed before. Or you knew about them, but they seemed out of reach.
One of the things you’ll learn about in The Simple Steps to Let-Go Yoga, and more in depth in the 12 Principles for Maximum Results While Minimizing Injury in Yoga, is this idea:
One of the Primary Focuses of the DSL Approach to Yoga is that Muscle Tension becomes a Meditative Focal Point within your Yogasana, your Postural Yoga Practice.
One of the Big Issues, however, is WHEN does regular, day-to-day muscle tension become C.E.M.&.N.T. or Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension? … This is an important question, and helps answer another question:
When Does a Regular Practice of Yoga Need to Become “Therapeutic Yoga”? … And to what degree? And what are the real differences in how you practice?
Thank You Very Much for Reading & Take Care,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net*
* Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System