For my initial draft of this article I wrote that the three most important elements for movement where the brain, muscles and joints.
The brain is important but in terms of feeling movement and controlling it (and actually allowing it), the three elements are those that I've already listed. The brain is the thing that takes information from muscles and connective tissue and from that information figures out how joints are currently configured, whether relaxed, active, being compressed or pulled, bent, or rotated.
While it is important to understand some aspects of how our brain works when dealing with movement, (particularly in how to program and reprogram it) here the focus is on the elements that actually allow the body to move and create forces and deal with them.
A more general term is change. Muscles, joints and connective tissue are what allow our brain (and whatever impulses drive it) to sense change and create it.
And here, when I say brain, I use that to include all the related computing and connecting systems that relay control and sensitivity back and forwards between whatever part of ourselves it is that does the controlling of our body.
If you look at wiring in an electrical circuit, that wiring conducts electrical current through the circuit, providing there's voltage and a closed circuit. So that electricity remains within wires, wires are coated with insulating material. Wires transmit electricity while also preventing it from goint where it shouldn't.
In the same way, water pipes, (or pipes for any other fluid), allow water to be transported from one point to another without allowing it to leek out.
The quantity or "thing" that connective tissue transmits is tension.
Connective tissue connects and transmits tension between the parts it connects.
So that tension is transmitted cleanly, without "leakage", connective tissue "slides" relative to other structures, where required.
In an electrical circuit, if there is a defective component, wiring can be put into the circuit to bypass the defective part. Said part can be replaced when a replacement is available.
Connective tissue can be used in a similiar way. It can become sticky or bind to other connective tissue structures to bypass "faulty components".
One challenge is how to unstick connective tissue when the bypass is no longer required.
Joints can be viewed as relatively simple structures. You can look at them and classify them via how they allow movement. But a more important point is understanding how they are lubricated.
Note that most joints that allow movement between adjacent bones are synovial in nature. There are joints that are not synovial and while they allow movement, it is more movement due to growth or movement that allows for bones to adjust relative to each other to distribute forces. this mainly is limited to the suture joints in the skull.
Where movement of one bone relative to another is driven by muscles (as opposed to growth) in general these require synovial joints to act as a medium for connecting bones and allowing their relationship to be controlled via muscles.
Can joints act as shock absorbers
Related to the idea of joints distributing tension is the idea of them acting as shock absorbers or rather, shock distributors. Imagine, if a joint capsule is sufficiently tensioned so that lubrication pressure is maintained, that same tensed connective tissue can be used to transmit shocks between the parts of the body it connects. So for example, if the knee joint capsules are sufficiently tensioned during the impact of running, the impact shock could be transmitted past the knee to the hip. And assuming the hip joint capsule is sufficiently tensioned, it can pass the impact shock to the upper body.
Of course this would also require that the joints of the foot and ankle be sufficiently tensioned.
For more on this check out the barefoot running heel strike article.
Synovial joints in general are meant to be lubricated. Lubrication is important because it allows these joints to function without creating friction. And this in turn is important because it means that muscles on opposing sides of a joint can share and distribute loads the way a pulley system does.
An important question you could ask is How to know if your joints are lubricated. Hopefully this article explains it.
For more on this (and this relates to having agency) you can read muscle control for proprioception and joint lubrication. Here the idea is that muscle control gives us proprioception. Not only that, if it also gives us joint lubrication, then because it also gives us proprioception we can learn to feel (or at least get an idea) for when our joints are lubricated or not.
For more on the mechanics of joint lubrication and how muscles and joints work together you can read: how muscles and joints work together.
When looking at the body, in particular with regards to feeling and controlling muscles, we can focus on muscles themselves and the joint or joints that they work on or we can focus on the joints themselves.
Both can be felt. Both can be controlled. And both of these offer slightly different ways of controlling, and experiencing our body.
For more on learning to feel and control your body check out Anatomy for muscle control.
If you want to know some of the benefits of muscle control (and thus why you should learn it) read why learn muscle control.
One possible answer to this question is to gain agency. And you can read about that in gaining agency through muscle control.
Another possible answer is so that it is easier to experience your anatomy and via that experience gain a better understanding.
To make learning muscle control more useful it can help to have some principles for learning and applying muscle control. For more on this you can read Muscle control basics and muscle control principles.
Looking at muscles can be important because these along with connective tissue are the main drivers of proprioceptive information within our body. Muscles create muscle activation sensation which is inversely proportional to how much stretch a muscle is undergoing and proportional to effort or output.
For more on this (and related articles), read sensational anatomy. At the very least you can get an understanding of why this website is called "sensational yoga poses".
Perhaps one of the biggest points about muscle control, and actually about muscles in general, is that in order to activate, muscles need an opposing force to work against. Sometimes that force comes from something outside the body, something you are working against. Sometimes it comes from the weight of body parts being moved or stabilized. And failing that it can come from the activation of opposing muscles. Read more about this in muscles are force sensors.
As for fault finding and problem solving, you might find some of the ideas in motor control for yoga.
Connective tissue, when subject to stretch or tension creates connective tissue stretch sensation which is proportional to stretch.
Both signals together give our brain information on how the parts of our body relate. But, except for in limited cases, you can't have connective tissue tension unless you first have muscle activation.
Connective tissue tension can "register" the weight of body parts hanging from it. So for example, lifting hte arms to the front with minimal effort, connective tissue can register the weight of the arms. Even with arms hanging down, connective tissue stretch can be registered. Note that in this latter case, even though the arms may be relaxed, other muscles are required to keep the torso upright. Even if bones are stacked, muscle activation is still required to maintain that stacking.
With smaller, thinner or less numerous muscles, muscle activation sensation is harder to percieve. In cases like this, the more dominant sensation is connective tissue stretch.
Note that muscle activation sensation also tends to diminish when the muscle in question is lengthened, such as when stretching. And so when stretching the more dominant sensation can also be that of connective tissue tension.
An exception to this is with active stretching. In active stretching where the muscles that oppose the muscle being stretched are active, then those muscles will be in a shortened position. As such the active opposing muscles will create a strong muscle activaion sensation. And so with active stretching you can get a combination of muscle activation sensation as well as connective tissue stretch.
For more on how stretching ties in with proprioception you can read can stretching improve proprioception.
For another look at how to tune in to connective tissue tension you might enjoy concepts of tai chi. I should point out here that a large part of how I learned to improve joint and muscle control and overall body awareness was through the practice of tai chi (which I normally write as tai ji).
In order for any muscle to activate, it needs a force to work against.
This can come from working against external weight or force, say lifting weights or carrying groceries. It can also come from body weight. And in the absence of either of these, it can come from opposing muscles.
So without an external opposing force to work against, muscles can work against each other. This is generally easier to achieve in static positions but it can also be achieved while moving slowly or non-ballistically.
While it's generally called isometric contraction, I'll say that that term is limiting because muscles can also oppose each other with slow movement and with slow and repeated (or rhythmic movement).
An important point to note is that when opposing muscles work against each other, they stabilize the joint (or joints) they are working across. This generates sensation, generally connective tissue tension, at the joint itself, but muscle activation sensation also either above or below (or above and below) the joint.
And so an option when feeling and controlling the body is to focus on the sensations generated at the joints when using "muscle control".
Rather than saying one is better than the other, I'll suggest that both are options and the better you learn both, the better you can understand, feel and control your body.
The articles below mainly focus on joints and muscles from an outside perspective This is important so that you have a framework for understanding these elements.
To fill that framework with actual understanding when you then experience the sensations generated by muscles and connective tissue in your own body and learn to control them.
For myself, I've used it to solve various joint and muscle pain problems. I've also used it to improve flexibility, (including side splits). And I've used it for more effective handling while lifting weights.
In general it allows me to directly experience my body while I am using it.
Another benefit is that it has allowed me to optimize how I use my body. Note that this has taken a lot of time. But the benefits are that I can now use my body more effectively while at the same time having a better understanding of it. For more on this you might like optimal performance in yoga.
Some of the articles do include exercises for feeling and controlling the muscle or joint in question. But for more detailed and systematic approach to this check out my courses on learn 2 understand. These are called "driving lessons for your body" in that each focuses on isolated msucle awareness and control so that you can learn to feel and control the muscle(s) in question without having to think about how to do it. You can then use the awareness and control in the service of whatever it is that you are doing at the time.
These articles focus on (or have links to) joints as well as recognizeable regions of the body that might be important for purposes of improving strength and/or flexibliity or for dealing with pain.
Note one idea that can be especially important to the hip joint but is also relevant to joints in general is the idea of centration or centering. Read about that in Joint centration.
Also for general suggestions on how to approach joint pain take a look at joint pain yoga.
The articles on muscles below are grouped roughly according to category but their may be overlap.
Most of the anatomy that is focused on in this website is anatomy that is related to movement and posture (and in some cases, pain). Some ideas that can be dragged from "traditional" anatomy (i.e. that used by doctors and others working on bodies that aren't their own) bear mentioning here. This is so that we can retain what's useful for us.
One idea for getting more familiar with anatomy is learning to draw it. It forces you to look at the relationships between parts (and between reference points on parts.) Even if all you are trying to do is get a better feel for your own body, drawing anatomy can help you better visualize your own anatomy, giving you better "built in tools". For more on that, read learn anatomy for yoga by drawing it.
Note that even if you suck as an artist, learning to draw is pretty much the same as learning to control your body. The better you can control your body the better you can do art like drawing. And while these days lots of anatomy books rely on computer generated drawings, in the old days, anatomists drew their own pictures.
If you are going to be looking at anatomy texts as a reference for learning your own anatomy, be aware of the anatomical position.
While it's very important for doctors and surgeons (and massage therapists), particularly when working on a body that is supine on a surgery table, it's more of a hinderance for ourselves. We don't need the anatomical position as a reference to figure out movement. We just need to know how the parts of our body relate now (and how we want the parts of our body to relate.
And as we get better at feeling and controlling how the parts of our body relate, our bones (and the earth) become the reference system we can rely on.
For more on why yoga teachers don't need the anatomical position when studying anatomy read the anatomical position article.
One thing that I've struggled with as a yoga teacher on occasion is the importance of anatomy. How much do my students need to know? Actually, they don't need to know. What they need to be able to do is feel and control their body and that's what I teach them. That being said, if they want to become better practitioners, anatomy can serve as a road map to helping them learn their bodies. I'v written a bit more about this in anatomy as a road map.
For an index, of sorts, to articles on this site that are anatomy related (and sorted alphabetically), check out: Anatomy, biomechanics, muscle control and proprioceptionnot updated!.
- Activating the Latissimus Dorsai Muscle: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Alternatives to the Anatomical Position
- Anatomy and Biomechanics of Low Back Stability: How is the lower back stabilized? Why does it matter?
- Anatomy as a Road Map to Experiencing Your Body
- Anatomy for Muscle Control: Improve muscle control, proprioception and understanding of your body
- Barefoot Running Heel Strike, Good or Bad?: Figuring out for yourself whether or not heel striking is good or bad for your knees when running barefoot
- Biceps femoris and outer hamstrings pain: Understanding the actions of the biceps femoris so that you can work towards alleviating hamstring pain
- Dealing with Anterior Hip Pain Near the ASIC
- Dual SI Joint Stabilization: In Spinal Forward Bends and Spinal Backbends
- Elbow Joint Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Stabilizing the Shoulders from the Ground Up
- Experiencing Your Anatomy Helping You to Better Feel and Control Your Body While Doing Yoga
- Finding Balance, Concepts Of Tai Chi Applied To Yoga and Life : Finding Balance by applying concepts from the practice of tai chi to Yoga and Life
- The foot: Foot, ankle and shin anatomy and biomechanics
- Gaining agency of our body via muscle control and connective tissue tension control: Muscle control means being able to feel your body (as well as control it)
- Gentle Series of Yoga Postures for Back Pain Relief
- Glute and Hamstring Anatomy for Yoga: Yoga Anatomy for Back Bending and Forward Bending the Hips
- Gluteus Maximus Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: (Back Bending And Using it to Help Stretch the Psoas)
- The hip crease: A proprioceptive reference for improving hip awareness and hip control
- Hip Joint Anatomy: Muscle groupings that can help keep the hip hip joint centered
- The hip joint:: Understanding its anatomy, how to feel it, use it and keep it lubricated
- How muscles and joints work together: How frictionless joints make it possible for muscles to share loads
- How to know if your joints are lubricated
- Intercostal Muscles : Feeling and Controlling Them for Better Ribcage Mobility and Control
- IT Band Anatomy and Bio-mechanics: Helping to control the hip or helping to control knee rotation
- IT Band Knee Pain, Pain Along the Outside of the Knee while Squatting
- Joint Centration: : The Position of Balanced Space and Tension
- Joint Pain Yoga: One Possible Approach to Alleviating Joint Pain While Doing Yoga
- Knee Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Controlling (and stabilizing against) knee rotation
- Knee Joint Stability: Controlling Knee Bend and Shin Rotation (Relative to the Thigh)
- Learn about your knees: (So that you can use your body more effectively and deal with problems like knee pain)
- Learn Anatomy for Yoga by Drawing It
- Learning to Feel And Control The Respiratory Diaphragm: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Levator Costarum: Improve Thoracic Awareness and Mobility, Learn to Feel and Activate These Back Muscles
- The long head of the Adductor Magnus: Your Backbending Friend
- Long Hip Flexor Muscles: Adding Tension to Take out the Slack For More Effective Forward Bending
- The Lumbar Multifidus: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Motor Control Basics for Yoga,: It's Not Just Contracting Your Muscles
- Muscle Control for Proprioception and Joint Lubrication: If we didn't have muscles we wouldn't be able to feel our body
- The Obliques and Intercostals: Shaping and Controlling Your Ribcage and Your Waist
- Obturator Externus: Anatomy for Yoga Teachers
- Obturator Internus: Stabilizing the Hip Joint for Increased Mobility and Control in Standing Forward Bends
- Pectoralis Minor: Flipping the Shoulder Blade with
- The pelvic floor muscles: Helping to stabilize the SI joints (whether nutated or counter-nutated)
- Peroneus Brevis: Anchoring the fibula or stabilizing the outer arch of the foot
- Peroneus Longus: Helping to anchor the fibula and shape the foot
- Psoas Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Hip Flexion, Active Psoas Stretches and Preventing Lumbar Shear in Reclining Hero
- Psoas Major Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Learning from Richard Freeman how the Psoas connects to the kidneys and the 12th ribs
- Psoas Muscle Anatomy:: Stretching the Psoas, The Psoas as a Lumbar Stabilizer, A Tip for Using it to Transition from Upward Dog To Downward Dog and more
- The Ribcage: Improving ribcage stability and mobility for better arm strength in a wider variety of positions
- Sacroiliac Joint Exercises: Practicing nutation and counter-nutation of the SI Joints while noticing the muscles that cause these actions
- Sacroiliac Joint Stability during forward bending: Adding tension to the sacrotuberous ligament so that the SI joints can resist Shear forces during forward Forward Bends
- The sacroiliac joints: Alleviating Sacroiliac Joint Pain
- The Sacrotuberous Ligament: How Adding Tension to the Sacrotuberous Ligament or the Long Dorsal Sacroiliac Ligament Helps to Stabilize the SI Joint
- The Sacrum: and the Muscles that Connect it to the Legs, Spine and Pelvis
- Sartorius and Inner Knee Pain while Running
- Sensational Anatomy Yoga Anatomy you can Feel and Control
- Serratus Anterior Muscle Awareness: for Improved Body Awareness while doing Yoga Poses
- Serratus Posterior Inferior: A Potential Anchor for the Lats and a Co-Stabilizer for the Lower Ribcage
- Shoulder Anatomy: , The Rotator Cuff, Anatomy Trains and Tuned Tension
- Shoulder Anatomy for Yoga Teachers: Shoulder Blade Landmarks
- Shoulders and arms: Learn to distinguish anatomy and actions of the shoulders, arm (and ribcage) so that you can use them more effectively together
- SI Joint Stability in Marichyasana: and Other Seated Yoga Poses
- The Single Joint hip flexors: A look at the hip flexors that work solely on the hip joint
- Spinal Anatomy: The elements of the spine and the muscles that affect it, an overview
- Spinal Erectors: Learn to feel them and control them
- The Thoracolumbar Fascia (TLF): Wifi for Your Spine, Arms and Legs
- Tibialis Anterior: Rotating the shin relative to the foot (or stabilizing it)
- Tibialis Posterior: Lifting the arch of the foot or turning the soles of the feet inwards
- Transverse abdominis Exercises: Training All Three Bands of the Transverse Abdominis
- The Trapezius Muscle: Using it in Lifted Arm Yoga Poses (And Controlling it with the Arms Down)
- Upper Back Exercises for Yoga: Increase Body Awareness and Strengthen Weak Upper Backs
- Using Clearly Defined Problems to Reach Optimal Performance in Yoga: Working towards optimal performance through Clearly Defined Problems
- Vastus Muscles: Knee extensors and tensioning devices for the overlying hip flexors
- Why Do We Have SI Joints?: So we can do movements like the splits...
- Why learn muscle control: I've used it to deal with pain, improve flexibility and to "be present"
- Your Spinal Column: Learning to Feel the Individual Vertebrae And Learning to Control Them