Getting in touch with your muscles
No (despite what is suggested in the picture above) I am not going to suggest that you start caressing your body in a loving fashion, well at least not in public anyway.
What I am going to talk about here relates to mindfulness and creating the mind body connection.
Most of this will most easily be relatable to what we do here at Movement Co in terms of exercise, movement and mobility/flexibility work but this also can and should spill over into your everyday life.
It has become very commonplace in todays society of Phones, Laptops, Tablets, Social Media & so forth to become disengaged from our self and our bodies, let alone engaging with the surrounding environment.
In most modern gyms we cannot escape media invasion into our lives as there are Television screens on the walls, treadmills, bikes etc.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people in a gym staring at a TV screen mouth agape, mindlessly squatting or at a cable machine phone in one hand cable in another, pulling a cable towards them whilst they stare at the phone screen.
Completely oblivious to what they are doing with their bodies and at least to my mind extremely unlikely to create any meaningful improvement in their lives whatsoever.
But why should we get in touch with our bodies, what purpose does having a strong mind body connection serve and how can it benefit you?
For a start many of us without even knowing will suffer to some degree from what is called ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’ a term coined by Thomas Hanna the inventor of Somatics
‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’ describes habitual patterns of muscular activation that are inefficient such as the inablility to relax particular muscles (sore necks or lower backs anyone?) or the inability to activate muscle groups when required – a common example here is the glute’s also referred to as ‘dead butt syndrome’ or ‘saggy glutes’ (sounds great doesn’t it)
How do you diagnose whether you suffer from ‘dead butt syndrome or ‘saggy glutes’?
Coach Mat has a simple way to diagnose this with the help of a friend be warned you will have to get a bit up close and personal 🙂
Have a friend squeeze one of your glute’s and maintain the hold, tense the muscle. Squat down as low as you can all the way trying to maintain the tension in your glute whilst your friend has hold. If you lose the tension at any stage throughout the squat it means that the muscle in your glute’s is not activated the whole time.
So how does this all start?
Quite simply we don’t move enough anymore.
We are designed by our very nature to squat, jump, lunge, lift, pull, press …..
We weren’t designed to sit at a computer for 8 hours a day typing on a keyboard to then go home and sit on a couch for another 2-3 hours and then spend another 6-8 hours lying horizontally in a bed.
The more we move the better our bodies function, not just our muscular system but also the greater the responses those muscles will receive from our nervous system.
We have all heard the common analogy “Use it or you lose it” never is this more evident than with our bodies – Movement – it’s important people.
Injuries are another common starting point for ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’ the body will develop patterns to protect itself and even though we may recover to an extent from our injuries often we will still unconsciously maintain some of the pattern that was developed.
Therefore we never truly fully recover from the initial injury or we then overcompensate & potentially create further chances for re-injury or new injuries throughout that particular chain.
This will probably start to ring bells for anybody who has had one of those injuries that always comes back to haunt them.
So how do we get more in touch with our bodies or overcome ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’
There are some specific practices which deal with ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’ such as ‘Pandiculation’ by Thomas Hanna or ‘Feldenkrais’ by Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais.
However as I am not a practitioner of either of these approaches I am not going to delve into those practices but instead I will provide you with some common sense approaches to help kickstart that mind body connection or mindfulness if you will.
First of all we need to ditch the devices whenever we are doing any sort of physical activity and pay attention to what we are doing at that time.
Secondly when doing any form of exercise, whether it be Calisthenics, Gymnastics, Weightlifting, Yoga etc. you should always find out from your coach or trainer exactly what muscles you are strengthening, lengthening and engaging with and concentrate on utilising those muscles. The more you can understand the greater your capacity to engage with your body will become.
If you don’t have a coach or trainer, simply use Google (before we engage in the activity of course) – we do live in the information age.
Thirdly do some Yoga, Meditation, flexibility or isometric holds (think hollow body) or indeed any other movement that requires you to move either slowly or tensing either your whole body or specific muscle groups.
Generally the longer we spend in positions the more aware of our body we become. The more aware we become the more capable we will become at being able to activate muscles on demand.
*If you have seen the Terry Crewe’s muscle activated drum commercial for Old Spice it’s a great example of somebody with an amazing mind body connection. If you haven’t seen it or just simply wish to view it again I havethe video below:
What are the benefits to being able to create a active mind body connection?
Well we have already discussed those injuries that we never seem to be able to get over. If you have a strong engagement with your body and you understand how it moves currently and how it should, you will have the capacity to understand when you are utilising compensatory movement patterns. Once you can understand this you can start to deal with it, it’s impossible to overcome what you don’t know. The first step is understanding.
The capacity to engage or disengage muscles when required will also help further prevent the chance of injury. Quite simply because you will be using the muscles in your body correctly when you need them. For example utilising your glute’s throughout your whole squat will help prevent damage to the knee joints.
It also means that you will actually be developing strength (or length as the case may be) in the correct places rather than compensating in another way.
Ever wonder why you just don’t seem to be getting stronger at a particular exercise – it could very well be because you are not engaged in the right areas so they never actually get utilised to their fullest and therefore don’t get stronger.
A better functioning nervous system – The greater the engagement between our mind and our body, the more we utilise our nervous system to send signals to our muscles to activate them. Like anything the more we utilise the nervous system the stronger it will become. The stronger the nervous system becomes the greater the signals that are sent to our muscles and around it goes.
You will have better form during exercise, movement and flexibility work – People who have a good mind body connection will be able to mirror what another person is doing without having to be cued in multiple ways or put into the position physically.
They will also be able to take verbal cues such as ‘tilt your pelvis forward’ or ‘retract your shoulder blades’ and be able to move into these positions with little very little thought required. They know where these spots are on their body and how to automatically engage with them.This makes moving or exercising so much easier as they summon the strength through contraction and/or have the capacity to lengthen those areas when required.
If any of the examples that I have provided here strike a chord or sound like you then it’s quite likely that you would benefit greatly from any or all of the suggestions given.
Even if it doesn’t sound like you, there is always room for improvement we could all benefit from putting aside the distractions for at the very least 30 minutes everyday and spend that time doing something mindful instead.
The world that we now live in is a demanding one make sure you take some time to look after number one, your body and mind will thank you for it.