Knowing your muscles can inform your teaching
In my last article I pointed out the importance of knowing your muscles. In this article what I’d like to do is share some examples of how I use my knowledge of muscles, where they attach and what action they create, to help you understand how to use the same information.
When students or other teachers ask me about a particular problem or technique, my mind starts to process what is being described, what I know about the posture, and what it is the student or teacher is after. In other words, what is it they are trying to fix, achieve, or just understand more clearly?
My mind very quickly asks questions such as:
- What action is being performed? Is it one that requires strength or flexibility?
- If it’s strength, which muscles contract to make that action happen?
- If it’s length that’s needed, which muscles restrict that action?
- Does it look like the strength or flexibility is present in other “similar” postures?
- If there is pain, which muscles are involved in that action that could contribute to it?
Many of the answers to these questions start to create a general picture of what is going on, as well as allowing me to remove extraneous information. In other words, if it appears to be a strength issue and the movement is clear, there are only a certain number of muscles that can contribute to that action. That list pops up in my head and then at least I have a starting point for instruction.
If it’s a flexibility thing, the list is, in a sense, the opposite. For example, let’s say the action is flexion of the hip. I will then have a list of muscles that are extensors of the hip joint, which would be the muscles that would restrict flexion of the hip. That list is useful because then I can point it out to the student, and this will not just inform the posture that is being asked about, but other postures that also need that same flexibility.
This is the same process I use when someone describes an injury. Unless it is a sharp pain in a very small area, I typically default to assuming that there is some sort of muscular dysfunction. This is a topic that could be an article all by itself. For the moment, what I mean is that the muscle is sufficiently dysfunctional (for any number of reasons) such that it is part of a pain pattern or directly causing pain in the person asking the question.
Not always, but a very common cause of muscular dysfunction is overuse. When a muscle gets used repetitively it is possible that it gets hypertonic, lacks sufficient blood flow, or is experiencing other low level dysfunctions that can produce pain. In order to determine which muscles may be dysfunctioning, you need to know which muscles are involved in a particular action. If you haven’t learned your muscles, how would you know where to start with that process?
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David explains why the key to lowering into chaturanga is doing two things at once: maintaining an active serratus anterior and relaxing the triceps and deltoids.