Think You Have Tight Muscles? Think Again...
What we often call muscle tension is usually more (& less) than we think. We may spin our wheels spending hours each week on the foam roller or lacrosse ball. In theory we're doing "myofascial release". But this emphasis on muscle as the culprit is misguided and counterproductive. If you really want to find release from tight shoulders, achy hips, and more, it's time to understand what tension really is and how to make it work for you.
Muscle tension is inherently a protective mechanism. It keeps us safe and upright, protecting our vulnerable joints from moving past a safe range. It's how we manage force.
And it's almost totally governed by your nervous system.
See, any movement & muscle activation--voluntary or not--needs a signal to occur. That signal comes from the nervous system. It sends little electro-chemical messengers through the body, telling which muscles to fire, and when.
Now by and large this is a good thing. It's how we maintain basic function in the body and interact with the world around us. Without regulated tension, we can't survive.
Ok, So Why Are My Hips So Tight?
When we see excess tension in the body, it's often a sign that you can't quite control those tense areas. A lack of control is inherently dangerous, so the nervous system will put your muscles on lockdown. Nobody move, nobody gets hurt. So the nervous system tells those muscles to stay in one narrow range of safety.
If we want to truly find release from excess tension, we need to demonstrate control over tension. When we show the nervous system that we have control (think: demonstrate safety), it will give us a bit more wiggle room. We tend to avoid voluntary tension and effort day in and day out, which ironically leads to more involuntary tension. Again, the nervous system is looking out for you even when you aren't...and it often goes above and beyond the call of duty.
I want to introduce you to a favorite drill of mine for an introduction to tension mastery. You'll need a mat (or a sticky floor) and a wall, nothing else. Then do this:
1) Make Your Way Into Constructive Resting Position
Rest on your back with feet toward the wall. Your knees will be comfortably bent. Try to be close enough to the wall that you could rest your feet on it. Without trying to "fix" anything, tune into any physical sensations you are aware of. Notice the curves of your spine. Pay attention to where you feel contact with the floor. Notice any areas of tension. This is simply a time to tune in.
2) Bring Feet To The Wall
From CRP place your feet on the wall. Begin to gently press into the wall. Release. Repeat, and notice how your legs begin to tense up to generate force. Repeat, and begin to spread tension through the body. Brace the midsection (think: punch in the gut), pull the shoulders in, squeeze fists. If you can tense it, tense it. Then release.
3) Kick It Up A Notch
Repeat Step 2. Press your feet into the wall. Spread tension from that point. Maintain full-body tension and begin to ramp up the intensity. Expect to shake. Tense as hard as you're able, and then release.
4) Check In
Return to your Constructive Resting Position. Begin to scan through the body, noticing any subtle shifts in your awareness. Have the curves of your spine changed shape? Do your shoulders meet the floor differently? Get a sense of your new internal architecture here.
What Have We Learned?
Tension is a powerful mechanism in the body. We can control it, or it can control us. Demonstrating control to the overprotective nervous system is critical. You can do this through our tension drill. Mastering tension is the first step to finding better movement & more freedom in the body. What are the next steps? Sign up for my free newsletter to find out! You'll learn my most effective techniques and be the first to know about upcoming trainings & courses.