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Joints and muscles

How joints, muscles and connective tissue allow our brain to sense and create change
elements of the thoracolumbar fascia: transverse abdominus, middle layer of thoracolumbar fascia (MLF), quadratus luborum, sactotuberous ligament (not labelled), long dorsal sacroiliac ligament (not labelled.) Neil Keleher, anatomy for yoga teachers, sensational yoga poses.

This page focuses mainly on joints and muscles and how they can be used both to create movement, and sense it.

The idea here is that muscles, in particular, are an important proprioceptive component. And one reason they are so important is that they not only move joints, or stabilize the, they also help to keep joints protected.

Connective tissue is also important in terms of sensing movement and transmitting forces so that it can be created or resisted, but it's been given it's own page.

The brain uses the body to sense change and create it


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Muscles of the Torso, waist and spine

Shoulder, Elbow and Arm muscles

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!.

Published: 2020 10 27
Updated: 2020 11 04
Clearly defined poses, exercises and stretches for improving stability, body awareness and flexibility.
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