The skeletal muscles can be lengthened in three ways: stretching, elongation, and relaxation. All three processes lead to muscle lengthening, which is a crucial process for efficient movement. Shortening and lengthening of muscles work together and enable coordinated movement. However, in practice, more attention is given to muscle shortening, as it is a process that is easier to feel. Lengthening of muscles often does not receive enough attention, leading to less effective movement and increased muscle tension.
While writing the article, I found a study online that discussed the sensory theory for increasing muscle flexibility.
This theory explains how stretching muscles can increase muscle flexibility without the muscles actually structurally lengthening.
This theory suggests that improvements in muscle flexibility and range of motion observed after stretching may not necessarily be the result of structural changes in the muscles or tendons. Instead, these improvements may stem from changes in our sensory perception—that is, our ability to sense stretching and pain.
When we stretch a muscle, various sensors are activated, including mechanoreceptors such as muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs, as well as nociceptors, which perceive pain. Stretching can stimulate these sensors to a point where we begin to feel pain or discomfort.
The theory of sensory adaptation suggests that through regular stretching, we can become less sensitive to this stimulation, meaning we can stretch the muscles further before feeling pain or discomfort. This decreased sensitivity can enable us to achieve a greater range of motion without the muscles actually structurally lengthening.
This theory is supported by some studies showing that improvements in flexibility can occur without visible structural changes in the muscles or tendons. This doesn't mean that structural changes never occur, but rather that flexibility can improve even without them.
Stretching is the simplest and most painful way to lengthen muscles. It can be performed unconsciously or consciously. Stretching muscles helps relieve tension and is often the first method people use to relax their muscles.
Elongation is a combination of stretching and relaxation. Its main purpose is to restore proper connectivity between the muscle and nerves after a prolonged period of inactivity. This process enables the effective functioning of sensory-motor loops and maintains the functional integrity of the neuromuscular system. Elongation is performed by almost all animals, and humans can do it both unconsciously and consciously.
Muscle relaxation is a completely conscious process. Only the conscious part of the nervous system can reduce muscle tone to a low level. This process requires access to sensory information about current muscle tension, which can be hindered by conditions such as sensory-motor amnesia (SMA) or sensory-motor alienation (SMO).
Lengthening muscles through relaxation can contribute to a higher level of self-awareness and enable a more authentic expression. These changes can cause unrest in the surrounding environment and affect relationships with others.
Stretching muscles is a popular practice; most people equate it with relaxation. Scientifically speaking, stretching muscles does not cause relaxation, but only temporary relief. When we consider the sensory theory again, this becomes clearer. This is also because stretching converts accumulated potential energy in the muscles into a different form.
A stretched muscle also allows us to maintain a certain degree of separation between body awareness and internal perception. This is why people often mistake stretching for relaxation. Tense muscles create negative feelings that alert us to imbalances in the body, and stretching reduces these feelings. I would say that it creates an even greater sensory motor illusion. This is a constant separation between body awareness and internal perception, which can limit personal development and emotional maturity.
The relief created by stretching enables the continuation of inefficient behavioural patterns and the maintenance of chronic tension.
Stretching muscles triggers the stretching reflex, which causes muscles to resist stretching. This reduces the feeling and control over the muscles. Stretching is a natural process necessary for stretching acutely and overly tense muscles, but it should not replace actual relaxation.
Stretching muscles and yawning are two forms of physical responses that often occur simultaneously. Yawning, a specific form of stretching, involves the activation of muscles in the mouth, respiratory pathways, and upper spine. Physiological functions are heightened during stretching, as the central nervous system is awakened from a resting state, preparing the body to interact with environmental stimuli and enabling the ability to perform coordinated and integrated movements.
Stretching changes the sensory-motor state, allowing for better self-awareness and increased control. This helps the brain learn to perceive and control movement patterns more effectively. Stretching promotes a sense of pleasure, which enables easier and longer maintenance of attention in movement. This improves the perception of reality and increases the desire for movement.
Stretching has several potential benefits:
Increased circulation: Stretching can help increase blood flow to the muscles, which may contribute to reducing feelings of fatigue.
Improved flexibility: Stretching muscles can improve flexibility and range of motion.
Reduced tension: Stretching can help reduce muscle tension and feelings of discomfort or tightness.
Heightened awareness: Stretching can also lead to heightened levels of awareness or alertness, particularly when we are sleepy or tired.
Relaxation of skeletal muscles is crucial for maintaining optimal body function. The ability to relax muscles relies on the information the brain receives about muscle tension. When the brain recognizes excessive tension, it can trigger relaxation, reducing the strength and frequency of signals from the brain to the muscle, thereby reducing energy consumption. This process is essential for body regeneration. Muscle relaxation or elongation is crucial for a person's vitality (compression-expansion).
However, sometimes this relaxation mechanism does not work optimally. When we are overly tired, muscle relaxation requires energy that may not be available. Additionally, excessive work or exercise can cause muscles to remain tense, preventing the body from utilising the benefits of relaxed muscles, including optimising the conversion of ATP energy into kinetic energy.
Emotional stress, especially in childhood, can also affect the ability to relax muscles. If children experience intense emotions in an environment that does not support or even suppresses such expressions, it can lead to chronic muscle tension. This tension can reduce a child's ability to relax muscles, leading to long-term issues with relaxation and tension in the body.
In this context, it is important to understand that muscle relaxation is a complex process that depends on numerous factors, including our physical condition, emotional well-being, and environment. The loss of the ability to relax muscles is often associated with a loss of the ability to stretch, which can further impact our overall health and well-being.
AEQ® and muscle relaxation
The AEQ® method enables muscle relaxation through active learning and awareness. During this process, the brain learns how to reset the length of muscles, leading to a more relaxed and efficient function. This method does not push and force, which cause pain, but rather encourages the brain to move these boundaries on its own. This allows for a greater influence of the actual physical condition and interoception on consciousness, increasing the accuracy of intuition and reducing the influence of the subconscious.
The AEQ® method is particularly beneficial for enhancing emotional maturity, as it reduces the fear of relaxation and gradually eliminates anhedonia. This leads to relaxation without side effects and without the need for fatigue or chemical substances, while maintaining mature behaviour and self-attitude.
Viewed through the lens of the AEQ® method, we can understand why modern humans stretch rather than relax. To withstand external and internal pressures while maintaining the pace of life, one must stiffen the membrane, create a thick armour, and at the same time create the illusion that their life is fine, or at least not so bad... it could be worse.
Relaxation, or elongation of skeletal muscles, leads to greater sensitivity and a more realistic perception of the present, the state of the body, and the surroundings. What bothers, obstructs, threatens, or limits us. However, due to insufficient overall emotional maturity, people are afraid to truly feel how things are. They might not know how, or be allowed to address problems at home, at work, or in the environment they live in. At the same time, muscle contraction allows the ego to follow the pace of the surroundings and violates the physical laws that the mind can break but the body must follow. It progresses quickly, achieves admirable results in work, but does not feel satisfaction or happiness with these successes, and does not know how to relax. It loses basic liveliness, and that is "being". Being means being aware of our feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and being open to experiences happening in the present moment. Being means being in touch with our inner truth, being authentic, not hiding behind masks or roles we play in society.
Chronic muscle contraction prevents us from "being", so we seek elsewhere, in "doing". The more we "do", the more we lose ourselves, our inner feelings, identity, spontaneity, authenticity, and slide into greater separation of consciousness and body and stronger muscle tension...
Learning the AEQ® method allows us to rediscover our "being", our essence, authenticity, liveliness, and self-expression. Although reality is harsh, it is ours, and we are responsible for it. We can change it ourselves so that it is no longer so cruel. And as we change it, we become more alive, there is more pulsation, we feel more and express more. We become better at problem-solving, and greater efficiency gives us a greater right to relax - muscle elongation.
AEQ Method Level 2 teacher, AEQ Breathing Level 2 teacher, AEQ Method Level 3 student 2/6