One way our muscles can be categorized is large, superficial muscles and small, deep muscles. The superficial muscles are closer to the skin, and they’re job is to help us move quickly, in big movements. When I hear a noise behind me, it’s the large muscles that quickly turn me around, looking to see what it was. When I flow, it’s the larger muscle groups that take me from the front of the mat to the back. They provide more leverage and force to make bigger movements, but with less precision. The job of these muscles is to turn on when we need them, but then turn off when we are not using them. They are not meant to be always on.
The deep set muscles are smaller muscles that are found closer to the bones. Their job is to help us maintain our posture. In general they are always on, holding us in space. They provide very little leverage and force, but they are much more precise. So we have less ability to force ourselves into a certain place, but where we can move to, we can do it with precision.
Part of the problem is that with our lifestyle habits, the deep set muscles sometimes forget what to do, becoming deprogrammed, and our larger muscles have had to step in. When we sit for long periods with poor posture, our deeper set spinal muscles forget how to hold us in space, and the larger muscles have to compensate to ensure we don’t fall over.
Have you ever laid back on the couch at the end of the day and said, “Ahhhh!” feeling relief from your back muscles? Then maybe the larger muscle groups are starting to take over the job of the smaller muscles. Over time, this leads to fatigue of the large muscles, which can lead to spasms and chronic pain.
How does this apply to Flow & Hold®? We’re trying to tap into both sets of muscles, to draw our awareness to them and help them move. In general, when we flow, we are making bigger movements, going through bigger ranges of motion, and activating the superficial muscles to help us get to where we are traveling on our mat. As we settle in to hold our postures, we start to find refinement, asking the deep set muscles to turn on and shift us into better and better alignment so we find comfort and ease in the posture, or so we find ourselves moving further into the asana. Deepening awareness of the smaller muscles allows you to gain more control and precision over your body, and you can take this into any asana. It may feel like an imperceptible movement, but that area is either moving or you are drawing awareness to the immobility of an area, and awareness is key to unlocking the tension or immobility that exists somewhere in all of us. Once you find the tiny, refined movements, you can begin to really refine your asana.
Of course, I’m painting broad strokes to help in understanding – in all of our practice both sets of muscles are on, but our awareness and focus shifts depending on where we are in the practice.