Retuning Muscles

Another copypasta from here, and the final post in this series.


What do you get out of it?

  • The good.
    • You feel extremely relaxed and comfortable in your body.
      • The effect above is not slight; it is rather staggering, to the point that it’s hard to believe until you experience it.
    • Surprisingly many health issues are outright fixed.
      • Many cases of back pain, recurring headaches, tinnitus, carpal tunnel syndrome etc. are directly caused by the brain mismanaging muscle tension.
      • Because muscle tension is a very likely cause and can be fixed with homemade methods, it makes sense to try this approach before seeking out more invasive medical treatments.
        • If the cause is really muscle tension, other treatments might be frustratingly ineffective.
    • Your body can handle stress much better, and recovers quickly with no lingering tensions.
      • You don’t suffer from any stiffness or persistent muscle pain (e.g. in shoulders after sitting).
      • Your sleep might be more restful, and it might be easier for you to find a comfortable position (possibly, you’ll even need less sleep than before).
      • You find it easier to relax around other people, and enjoy spending time with them more.
    • It is effortless to maintain correct posture while sitting, walking, exercising etc.
      • Your breath is deep and easy regardless of whether you pay attention to it or not.
      • Even when using a lot of strength, only the muscles necessary for executing the movement tense up, and the rest of the body remains naturally relaxed.
    • You take body sensitivity to the next level.
      • There are two reasons for not feeling extremely fine sensations on your whole body:
        • One reason is that the neural connections are missing or weak, and you need to simply make them grow as in Sense Your Body with Extreme Clarity.
        • The other reason is that tense muscles send a strong signal, which blocks out everything else. If they are permanently tense, you stop feeling it, leaving only a vague sensation of dullness in that area.
      • After fixing these problems, activities which stimulate the body will take on a new life.
      • Weak anecdotal evidence suggests a range of interesting mildly pleasant side-effects, ranging from vivid dreams to sharper eyesight.
    • It’s worth noting that these effects are definitely not something that happens to modern humans by default.
      • If you have no strong experiences that suggest otherwise, it is safe to assume your body is abused and in pain even though you aren’t consciously feeling it.
      • Muscle tension that is a result of motor cortex inefficiency doesn’t go away even when you sleep.
  • The neutral.
    • You might feel, or in fact even be, a little bit taller than before.
  • The bad.
    • The process is quite time-consuming, though it might be used as a replacement for some other forms of rest.
    • In the initial period after you make the skill work for the first time, you might have a tendency to live in your head and neglect other aspects of your life.
    • When intense rewiring is in progress, the coordination and precision of your movements might get temporarily worse (before it gets better than ever).
      • This shouldn’t be noticeable during everyday activities, but you might take a hit if you do e.g. acrobatics.

How to tell if you have it?

Note: performing the tuning consciously is a difficult and uncommon skill. Working a lot with your body moves you in the right direction, but fails to reach the same quality as doing it purposefully. Good quality of tuning tends to be achieved as a side-effect by experienced yogi and meditators, though they take a rather roundabout way to get there.

  • During tuning, you feel clear tingling/prickling sensations in the specific muscles that are involved.
    • They should be easily told apart from other sensations that you might have felt before.
      • The feeling of body hair on the surface of very sensitive skin can be vaguely similar, so be careful not to confuse them.
    • The sensations can be very pleasant!
      • Kind of like a mix of mild electricity, orgasm, and being in a bubble bath?
    • If skill is learned to the level where it becomes automatic, these sensations might sometimes be felt during normal activities.
  • You experienced intense relief from muscle tension.
    • E.g. a person with a sitting lifestyle will probably experience extreme relief from shoulder stiffness (much more than what is possible with any type of massage).
  • You got a strong kick of happiness for the first time you succeeded.
    • This might last for a few hours, up to a few days, depending on how much tuning you managed to do.
  • You discovered which pairs of muscles in your body had become spuriously connected.
    • E.g. a person with a sitting lifestyle might discover that their subconscious control of shoulder muscles became wired together with some back, arm or leg muscles.
  • You went through a stage of muscle pains.
    • Before you get the hang of it, instead of smoothing out neural noise, you’ll likely be pushing it around the motor cortex (see the explanation below for more details).
    • In that case, output levels of some neurons might become abnormally and persistently high. This makes some particular muscles very tense, and they start hurting acutely.
    • It’s not dangerous, and your brain will gradually deal with this even if you stop consciously making progress at the skill.
    • This problem will disappear completely when you learn to include all of your body in relaxation (while focusing on some particular muscle or group of muscles, you still keep the rest of your body in your background awareness, and prevent it from tensing up).

How does it work?

  • First, consider what happens by default.
    • Your motor cortex automatically learns to execute complex movements by putting together simpler ones, all the way down to control of individual muscles.
    • Because the process of learning happens organically, the resulting architecture of neural connections (you can think of them as “hidden layers” in machine learning terms) is not always perfectly suited to the task.
      • Some local optima of those neural configurations are hard to get out of, and constantly reinforced by using them.
      • There is some pressure for muscle control to be efficient, and the motor cortex is doing a “good enough” job at it, but tends to stop a fair bit from perfection.
    • By repeating certain movements and positions over and over again (e.g. during sitting work), we involuntarily strengthen connections between movements and muscles that don’t make much sense lumped together.
      • E.g. control of shoulders might become spuriously wired together with control of thighs (both are often tense during sitting).
  • Second, the intervention.
    • It is not possible to directly fix how the motor cortex is wired inside.
    • However, it is possible to grow/enhance neural connections to feel exactly what is happening to the muscles in one’s body.
    • Using this, we can put pressure on the motor cortex from both sides (top-level conscious controls, and individual muscle outputs).
      • We teach the motor cortex to reach a configuration where the tension of all individual skeletal muscles is set to zero with very high precision.
      • This forces the motor cortex to internally smooth out any noise and spurious neural connections.

How to learn it?

  • Before you start.
    • Make sure you learn to Relax All Your Muscles. This is a relatively simple skill, which you can treat as an introduction to the real deal.
      • However, it should be noted that by itself it’s not enough to achieve the benefits listed above, and that there is a very real difference in quality if you follow the full instructions.
    • Go on the journey to Sense Your Body with Extreme Clarity. Unless you are an advanced practitioner of meditation, yoga, etc., this will take a long time, but be persistent! The final effect is definitely worth the effort.
      • Proceed when you reach this level:
        • You are able to separately focus on and feel sensations coming from each 3-5 cm patch of skin, on 50-80% of your total skin area.
        • Naturally, some places will be easier than others. For example, you might reach accuracy of 1 cm on your mouth, while still having 20 cm on your back.
        • Take into account that your accuracy will strongly depend on your current mind and body state (e.g. the radius decreases when your body becomes more alert).
      • Feeling minute sensations on the skin (as specified above) should be enough to get started, but what you really want is to feel your muscles.
        • Warning. After you manage to successfully execute the skill, do not stop strengthening the neural connections used to sense your body with extreme clarity. Tuning your motor cortex is reaping the fruits of your effort in that area, but will not by itself be enough to replace it.
  • Preparation.
    • If you are trying it for the first time, you’ll probably need to become very alert and calm. Later, you should have no trouble executing the skill casually.
    • If you are new to this, it is very helpful to get mild exercise or massage before you start.
      • This helps keep you awake, and also makes it easier to feel your muscles.
    • Use the toilet and make sure you absolutely won’t be interrupted for at least a few hours.
      • You might be surprised by how enjoyable the process is when you start getting it to work, and how much you will regret having to interrupt it!
    • Lie down comfortably. If you got the state of mind right, you shouldn’t feel sleepy even when lying on your bed without moving for many hours.
  • Step 1.
    • Slowly go over your whole body multiple times, relaxing it more deeply with each pass (this part is just like Relax All Your Muscles).
    • At some point, it will become clear that no matter how many times you repeat the process, tensions remain in some areas (before, you didn’t have enough fidelity of sensations to realize this).
    • Since you already know what it’s like to feel minute sensations on some area of your skin, you should be able to detect muscle tension as a conspicuous lack of sensations.
      • If some muscle is permanently tensed up, your brain corrects for this and excludes the sensation of pain and tension when processing input signals. However, in this case, all other sensations are dwarfed by the pain and lost.
    • Or even better, if you have reached the level of being able to feel your muscles directly, use it as much as you can.
  • Step 2.
    • Focus on some area of your body that is not yet completely relaxed. From there, pick out something that feels like a single muscle.
      • At the beginning, you might not be able to tell exactly which sensations correspond to which muscles, but try your best anyway. The process gets easier in proportion to how well you are able to isolate individual muscles.
    • Focus on that single muscle, while holding in your mind a background intention to relax it.
      • Do not use effort! It will just cause your body to tense up, and undo all the work you’ve done so far.
      • Make sure your breath remains easy and smooth. If it isn’t, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re doing it wrong.
      • Try to keep the rest of your body in background attention, so that it stays in the same fully relaxed state.
    • While relaxing that one muscle, observe the rest of your body, and try to notice if some other particular place tenses up as a reaction.
      • This should be a consistent connection. E.g. every time you relax your right bicep, your right buttock will “want” to tense up. Often, the opposite relation will also hold.
  • Step 3.
    • If you managed to identify two places that are “wired together”, include both of them in your attention (while keeping a background intention that you want them to be relaxed).
      • You can imagine this as making the muscles “push off against one another”. If you only try to relax one at a time, the other one will come up to compensate. However if you relax both, the useless connection between them will have to break.
    • If you get it right, you will feel very clear tingling/prickling sensations, and both muscles will relax without making any other parts of your body more tense.
      • Congratulations, you are rewiring your motor cortex!
      • Don’t break the flow. Move on to other muscles and repeat, until you learn exactly what it feels like to “get it”.
  • Additional tips for dealing with stubborn places:
    • Try to make your attention very narrow and pointed, and then move it back and forth along the muscle.
    • Try feeling the pulse of blood as it flows through the muscle.
    • Try feeling clearly the minute sensations on the outside of your skin, in the area that covers the muscle.
    • Try alternating the intention to relax a particular muscle with an intention to tense it up (advanced, be careful not to make the rest of your body tense).
    • Try moving on to some other parts of the body, and coming back later.
    • Investigate your reflex reactions. If you still have trouble after trying all the other methods, it is likely that you have some subtle reaction that makes you tense up just about when you get to the point when the tension would be released.
      • You need to become aware of it, and learn to keep that part of your body relaxed no matter what.
      • E.g. it’s common to have a subconscious reflex that tightens belly muscles, the jaw, the neck, or the forehead.
  • Note: if at any point you feel that the process is no longer pleasant, you are moving too fast!
    • Take a break. If you push through with force, you’ll just hurt yourself, and become unable to make long-term progress.
    • The same goes if you experience muscle spasms or shivers. Your body is telling you that it’s too much. Continuing will make you more tense, instead of less.
  • You will probably find that the process is so pleasant and satisfying that you will have no trouble practicing regularly (it’s best to do it every day for the first week or so).
  • If you are like most people, it will take many multiple-hour sessions to iron out all spurious neural connections that you’ve accumulated over the years. Take it easy.
    • Clear benefits should still be apparent after one successful session.

Further progress

  • After you go through the initial baggage of accumulated tensions, the work will become easier, and you’ll get better at it.
    • You will be able to do it while listening to music, thinking about something else, or even in light sleep.
    • At some point the skill will start to work automatically in the background, as you go about your day.
  • There is a higher-powered version of the skill, in which you feel an overpowering “river” of those tingling sensations mentioned above going through you.
    • It happens when you manage to request relaxation from all of your body at once with sufficient precision.
    • This is very fast, but be careful not to overdo it! If you do, your brain might develop aversions to the process.
  • It’s pretty difficult to reach perfection, and might take months of practice even with a lot dedication.

Next post: Tune Your Emotional Processing

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