In the fitness world including yoga, it is common to hear teachers urging students to engage their muscles in one way or another. Mostly, they urge you to engage your core muscles. But what does that really mean? What do you do when your teacher encourages you to engage your muscles? Are you using your will power to tighten your muscles further expecting to feel and get stronger that way?
Have you considered that tightening muscles may not be the best way to “engage your muscles”?
Could it be creating as much body stiffness as it creates strength?
What about building the flexible strength of the cat instead?
Obviously, no matter how strong your muscles are, if you had no bones, they would turn into a puddle on the ground? That is because your skeleton has a lot to do with your strength. Your bones are the structure and firmness needed by your muscles for you to stand, sit. walk or jump.
Watch or re-watch this easy to view 7 min video by Kathleen Porter
about how the skeleton works as your primary support system!
Your skeleton does need a certain amount of necessary muscle tension to work with; however, as long as skeleton and necessary muscle tension work together as part of an integrated movement, your strength develops itself to support the movement with no need for unnecessary muscle tension, the source of much of your body stiffness. Your bone strength makes up for it. Using your will power is more about the mind choosing to sustain a challenging integrated pose or activity than to muscularly force the body to stay in it. The more you use your skeletal system strength, the easier it is to not use unnecessary tension and the stronger you are building your core strength. Only then, you are building the flexible strength of the cat!
In integrated movements, all your body parts work in harmony together.
Tightness gets in the way of this harmonious functioning of the whole.
The woman in black displays Poor Use of her Skeletal System, notice her muscular straining in the upper back and neck.
The woman in white displays Good Use of her Skeletal System with her skeleton and muscles working more together.
While exercising, necessary muscle tension is a whole body feeling of power or stability rather than a tight feeling in a specific muscle group. Your body-wisdom does work some muscles more than others as needed yet it also knows your natural limits of the moment and will not let you go in an injury promoting zone. Children and animals trust that process. Just touch the muscles of a cat, so soft! And yet they certainly can jump up or down with powerful strength and accuracy in a beautiful integrated and fluid motion!
Maybe it is Time to Learn to Be Strong Using Brain and Bones & No Longer Overworking your Muscles. Besides, it feels easier simply because gravity becomes your ally and you can work out smart instead of hard! The only thing you will loose is body stiffness, not strength. Check the humorous 2-minute video below, you’ll see what I mean!
Dynamic posture does not require you to remember to check in and position yourself to sit upright. It is an integral part of good and fluid functioning, not a holding you go back to when you think of it. Look at young children! No effort whatsoever, and it is also your birthright!
Modern life offers challenges for sure with time spent at desks and computers, or standing for hours. Yet is it those activities that are the problem or how you use yourself while engaged in them?
You know that you cannot force a horse to drink water but you can salt his oats to make him choose to drink. And when thirsty, he’ll go the extra mile to satisfy his thirst. In the same way, you cannot strengthen your inner core muscles by sheer force but you can challenge your whole body with a specific pose or exercise and let it engage your inner muscles which will strengthen them in an organic way. They will go the extra mile if and when they have to!
So you can learn from children and animals how to reclaim an efficient and integrated way to use yourself on and off the mat where all your body parts work harmoniously together to benefit all of who you are! .
Till we meet again, be well!
Incoming workshops in Boston, MA:
Integrated Motion for Mind/Body Flow on March 26, 2015 6 to 8pm
Strain-Free Yoga/Strain-Free Body on March 29, 2015 1.15pm to 3.15pm
For more detail and registration, go to: https://offthematyogablog.com/schedule/
Working with an Alexander Technique teacher is a short cut to changing the habits of a life time. Call me to schedule and appointment or sign up to my workshops and classes. And I am working on an online workshop or class for those far away who want to work with me. Will keep you posted!