It's easy to think of muscle control as a brute force technique for controlling the body. However, muscle control is actually a requirement for proprioception. If we didn't have muscles we wouldn't be able to feel our body. We wouldn't have "proprioception". In addition, muscle control is what helps to protect our joints. It is what can keep them lubricated without causing wear and tear on the joint surfaces.
It might seem ironic or strange, but you can learn a lot about lubrication by reading about marine engines, particularly in regards to propellor shaft lubrication.
Obviously a concern is preventing wear and tear of the prop shaft as well as the bearings, the things that support the prop shaft. Marine engines can be particularly difficult to work on due to confined spaces and dealing with water seals etc (the type of seals that prevent the ingress of water, not the type of seals that live in the water). But with regards to prop shafts, the type of lubrication is important since one type of lubrication in particular results in more wear and tear. Also important is understand the conditions that different types of lubrication occur under.
Without muscle control it's very easy for our supporting joints to rely on boundary lubrication. This is a type of lubrication that involves contact between surfaces. Basically, your joint surfaces rub against each other. This causes these surfaces to wear away over time. And sure, our joints are designed to repair themselves. To an extent. However, why rely on this method of lubrication when there are other options!
In the case of marine engines, boundary lubrication tends to occur at low speeds. You'll understand why this is important after reading about hydrodynamic lubrication.
As for the human body, this could be deemed the fail-safe lubrication method. It is how joints are lubricated when either of the next two lubricating methods are not engaged. The problem with this lubrication mode is that it results in wear and tear over time. And sure our bodies can repair themselves, but why put the body through unnecessary wear and tear (and risk the need for a joint replacement operation) when there are other options!
With muscle control applying tension to joint capsules, hydrostatic lubrication becomes possible. In this case, tension in the joint capsule pressurizes synovial fluid, preventing it from being squeezed out from between joint surfaces. This means that joint surfaces last longer because they aren't being worn away.
This can be especially important for static yoga poses where the joint in question is bearing weight.
How is tension added to the joint capsule? By muscle activation.
In some cases muscles attach to joint capsules directly via tendons and ligaments. Thus when those muscle activate, tension is to the joint capsule envelope via those tendons and ligaments.
Muscles can also affect joint capsules indirectly via bursae. The main example of this is at the knee joints where there are bursae situated between tendons and ligaments. In these cases, tension in tendons is transmitted to ligaments via the intervening bursae (which are sacs filled with synovial fluid). Those ligaments, assuming a connection, can then cause changes in tension to the joint capsule envelope.
In marine engines, hydrostatic lubrication is created by pressurizing lubricating fluid by a pump.
And so you could think of the connection between muscles and joint capsule envelope as acting like a hydraulic pump.
This type of lubrication can be achieved via an effect which is very much like (or the same as) the hydroplaning effect. Hydroplaning tends to occur at or above a particular speed, assuming that there is enough liquid on the road surface.
With hydrodynamic lubrication, the high speed of one moving part relative to another creates a "wedge" of lubricating fluid that helps to keep mating surfaces from contacting and rubbing against each other. So if mating joint surfaces are moving quick enough relative to each other, a layer of lubricating fluid is drawn in between the mating surfaces by the high speed of one relative to the other.
Examples of how this could happen in the body is swinging the lower leg relative to the upper leg at the knee joint or swinging the thigh relative to the hip and the hip joint. If relative velocity is high enough between mating surfaces, lubricating fluid is pulled into the gap between mating surfaces helping them to slide relative to each other without actually contacting each other, like car wheels hydroplaning on a thin layer of water.
In marine engines, this type of lubrication occurs above certain prop rotation speeds.
As with hydrostatic lubrication, hydrodynamic lubrication also results in less wear and tear on the joint surfaces.
Relative velocity just means the speed of one moving part relative to another.
Generally when we talk about speed, or how fast we are going, it's relative to the earth.
With joints, relative velocity means the speed of one joint surface relative to another.
From the proprioception angle, muscle activation is one "quality" that we can feel.
Muscle activation at the back of the thigh and hip in a standing forward bend can give us a feel for our thigh and hip bone. It creates a pull on the ischial tuberosity and the PSIC helping us to feel those points of the hip bone.
If inner and outer hamstrings are active, it will create tension at the back of the knee along both the inner and outer aspects, helping us to become more aware of our knee. And if the deep fibers of the gluteus maximus are active we'll get a sense of the back of the upper part of the femur. If the biceps femoris short head is active then it will give us a sense of the remaining length of the back of the femur.
Muscle activation isn't an isolated event. It creates tension in connective tissue and that is something else that can give us a feel for our body.
In a standing or seated forward bend with the hamstrings relaxed, there will be a lengthening sensation at the back of the legs. If, while in a forward bend, you turn the hamstrings and/or glutes back on, the sensation can become slightly different.
Contracting a muscle while it is lengthened "dampens" the muscle activation signal. And if a muscle is in stretch then this signal can become intertwined with the stretch signal. Both sensations can give you a sense of your body (and what is happening to it).
Exert hip flexors and hip extensors against each other, (and include other muscles of the hip joint as required) and you can get a sense of your hip joint. Do the same thing in a forward bend or back bending hip position and you can feel you hip joint in those two configurations.
Likewise with the knee joint. Activate quadriceps, hamstrings, the long hip muscles, and the gastrocnemius and you can get a fairly solid feel for your knee whether it is bent or straight.
And that's something else about muscle control.
Some people think that just because a knee is straight the muscles of the knee joint are relaxed. Or if the hip joint isn't flexed then the hip flexors are relaxed.
Muscle control gives you an understanding of your muscles that extends far beyond just knowing the names of muscles and their supposed function. It helps you to understand that muscles can work in a variety of joint positions, no matter what their name.
And that is something else you can learn from practicing muscle control.
Muscles don't work in isolation. They have to work against an opposing force in order to activate.
Practicing muscle control helps you to experience all of this first hand.
So muscle control isn't a brute force technique. It's not just something that body builders do to show off their body.
Lots of people can do the splits, but can they be mindful as they do it. Can they feel their body as they do it?
If all they can do is drop into the splits, and not control the way they lower into the splits, then probably not. They've got no sensation to focus on. They aren't like a rubber band because a rubber band provides resistance. Instead, they are more like a rag doll. And rag dolls aren't flexible. They are floppy.
In this case, being tight can be an advantage because you have something that someone who can easily do the splits (but can't control themselves as they go down) hasn't. You have a feel for your body.
And that's a thing about muscle control. If you want to get more flexible, muscle control is one way of working towards it mindfully. In this case flexibility isn't about stretching muscles, though you can think of it that way. It's learning to control them through a bigger range of motion.
And in terms of "stretching", muscle control makes "relaxed stretching" easier because muscle control isn't just about turning muscles on. It's about turning them off and relaxing them also.
And so with muscle control, the door is opened to a wider variety of stretching techniques. With muscle control it is easier to do both active stretching and relaxed stretching. You have flexibility of choice.
Since muscle control includes proprioception, muscle control is also about learning to feel your body. That means learning to feel how your bones relate to each other at any moment in time. It also includes learning to feel how your body relates to the earth. You could think of this as balance.
How does muscle control lead to better balance? Muscle control helps you to stabilize your feet (or your hands or whatever other part of the body is serving as your foundation). That in turn gives your foundation rigidity and sensitivity, allowing you to feel pressure gradients and control them.
Without muscle control you'd be a bag of bones and organs spread out on the floor like a loosely filled sandbag or waterbed mattress. With muscle control you can make your body stable in places. If you stabilize the parts of your body in contact with the ground, that stability, provided it is not excessive, can allow you to feel differences in how your skin is pressed between bone and floor.
Differences in sensation throughout your point of contact with the floor tells you where your center of gravity is in relation to your foundation.
Even in non balancing poses skin contact can tell you when you are lightly touching the floor and can help you feel when a limb or part of the body has completely left the floor. Hair can also be used as a sensor in this regard, particularly when dealing with light or gentle contact. However, to move mindfully between "light" skin contact and lifting or between light skin contact and pressing, you need muscle control.
The muscle control and proprioception workshop sets below all deal with mindful muscle control. Each individual workshop focuses on one particular element of muscle control. This is to make learning effective.
How many workshops have you been to where you actually retained all of the information?
Each workshop below focuses on a single technique (and practicing it in a variety of poses) so that you can build the understanding of the technique into your body. Each workshop consists of about 50 minutes of video. That doesn't seem like a lot but most of that 50 minutes is taken up with simple exercises that you can do while watching the video. The exercises are simple enough that you can practice them without the video. And that in turn is what helps you to become proficient at each technique.
Note, that these workshops are designed as a sequence. One technique doesn't supersede others, instead each technique becomes a mindful muscle control option. Each helps you to gain a better understanding of your body.
And if you are a teacher, each technique helps you to build up a toolbox, options that you can use interchangeably for different teaching challenges.
So these mindful muscle control videos not only help you become more flexible in how you learn your body and use it. They also help you become more flexible as a teacher.
That being said, you can pick and choose. And you can purchase each workshop individually.
All of the workshop videos below include exercises that I use myself and that I teach to my students on a regular basis.
These are the exercises that work the most consistently with wide variety of students.
(If you have problems with any of the exercises you can always contact me.)
Do not expect "amazing or miraculous" changes in flexibility. Do expect to get a better feel for your body. And do expect to become more absorbed in the process of doing poses or working towards better strength or flexibility.
You will still have to do work, but you will more than likely find that with a focus on muscle control, and on body awareness in general, your practices become more fulfilling. You may find that you get into the flow while practicing.
That's not only because of the focus on learning to feel and control your muscles, but because the focus is on repeated slow and smooth and rhythmic repetitions. These actions help you to turn muscle control into conscious habits that you can then use without having to think about how to use them. You can simply turn them on (or off) at will.
If you aren't satisfied with your this purchase you have 30 days from the day of purchase to get a refund. To instigate a refund, use the email address located at the end of any of the included pdfs. (Each workshop video includes a quick reference PDF.)
Package options include some combination of these workshops:
MCP1, 3 and 4
With Action Vectors, you'll learn how to move with less muscular effort.
With Frictional Resistance you can train your muscles and your ability to feel your muscles.
Focused Floor Pressing gives you another option for activating muscles via floor contact.
MCP1, 3, 4 and 5-1
With the addition of Muscle Control 1 you'll learn how to activate leg muscles using a movement intention. You'll also practicing activating muscles directly.
These techniques can give you a little more freedom to experiment with muscle control.
MCP1-4 and 5-1
With Foot Exercises you may find that activating your feet makes it easier to activate other leg muscles.
In some poses, activating the feet may be sufficient for making it easier to do some leg stretches, for example, stretching the hamstrings.
MCP1-4, 5-1 and 5-2
Muscle Control 2 builds up on the exercises from Muscle Control 1.
You'll practice feeling your hip bone and in addition learn to control the long hip muscles. These are the muscles that attach between your hip bone and your lower leg bones.
Since these muscles attach to the corner points of the hip bones they have a lot of leverage for controlling (and stabilizing) the hip bone.
You can also paste this link in your browser to purchase directly on the gumroad site:
For more package options please visit the Muscle Control and Proprioception for Better Flexibility page. (Packages are located near the bottom of the page.)
Note: Each workshop includes a "quick reference" PDF.
Videos are in mp4 format and are downloadable (they can also be streamed using the gumroad app).
Whether on a Mac system or Windows, VLC Media Player is a very handy viewing app that allows you to create playlists so that you can seamlessly play all videos without having to operate any controls.
When making a purchase, remember your Gumroad login details (generally an email address and whatever your password is).
You can always download videos to different devices. You can also download updates when they become available.