What causes pain in your body? You might guess that tight muscles are to blame, but where does the tension come from in the first place?
Among the clients I see in my office, the single greatest cause of pain is a chronic and habitual dysfunctional movement pattern. Whoa, those are some big words. In short, people are moving badly, and doing it a lot.
From improper use of a computer mouse by your average keyboard jockey to a slight, almost imperceptible torque in a dancer’s knee, tiny variations to normal movement build up over time to create physical deterioration.
The Development of Human Movement
In order to understand why we have suboptimal movement patterns as adults, we have to travel back in time to take a look at how you learn to move your body as a baby and toddler.
Humans are innately programmed to move. We have the capacity to breathe, digest foods, sleep, and wiggle around from the time we’re born, but neurological functioning becomes much, much more refined as children grow to adulthood.
While there are certain stages in the normal development of human locomotion — rolling over, sitting up, crawling, standing, walking — people aren’t computers. We don’t just run a software program that gets every single body up and running (literally) in precisely the same way.
Something greater is affecting our movement patterns. If you’ve ever watched a child walking with his or her mother at the playground or mall and really looked at the two together, you’ll see how similarly they move.
Some aspects of movement are genetic (your musculoskeletal structure plays a role, for example). But have you ever watched adopted children with their parents? They also tend to mirror the movement patterns of their caregivers. There must be some other effect at work here.
The Mirror Neuron Effect
Fifteen years ago in Parma, Italy, scientists connected electrodes to the brain of a monkey. They hooked the electrodes to a computer to record neurological impulses that correlated with the monkey’s physical movement. The researchers wanted to identify specific brain regions related to movement.
Every time the monkey shifted around, a computer recorded data about the corresponding active brain regions. One day, a researcher walked in holding an ice cream cone. As he stood observing the monkey, he took a bite of ice cream. Weirdly, the computer logged activity in the monkey’s brain.
That didn’t make any sense because the monkey hadn’t moved. He had only observed the researcher eating his ice cream through the glass window. Thus began some revolutionary discoveries around what are now called mirror neurons.
Following the ice cream cone event, researchers found that the brain’s movement-related neurons fired when the monkey was eating peanuts, when he saw others eating peanuts, and when he heard the sound of another monkey eating peanuts.
The real revelation, though, was that humans have a class of mirror neurons that are far more sophisticated than those of other primates.
Mirror Neurons: The Basis for Empathy?
So then the question becomes: why do we have so many mirror neurons? What purpose do they serve in human development.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti:
“Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking. We are exquisitely social creatures. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others.”
Humans have extremely sophisticated and highly refined mirror neurons. Some of these cells are responsible for recognizing shapes and lines. Others plan movements, and still others detect frequencies, sounds, and directions of movement.
Mirror neurons allow us to fill in the gaps in the world around us, and they help us predict situations. Participants in a study accurately intuited when they saw someone else reach for a cup of tea on a table whether the person was going to drink the tea or clear the cup away.
So, What Does This Have to Do with Pain in Your Body?
Research done by the co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington Dr. Andrew Meltzoff shows that human kids are hard-wired for imitation. Babies repeatedly stick their tongues out to mirror human adults doing the same thing, even mere minutes after birth.
The fact that our mirror neurons fire when we observe an action taking place explains why we resonate so fully with certain sports and dance. It’s also why watching violence, unhappiness, and destruction on television is highly detrimental to our cortical health.
Also, since our thoughts and emotions are so intricately interwoven in our tissue structures, it means that we will tend to have similar movement, thought, and emotional patterns to those around us. Your movement is a type of broadcast tower communicating through body language. It signals all kinds of things about confidence, sense of personal power, and emotional state to the people around you.
But it also communicates to your own brain. That’s why smiling when you’re having a down day will lift your mood.
So, if you hang around people with stiff, achy, limited movement patterns…you’re going to find yourself getting stiff and achy, too.
(Of course, the opposite is also true. If you spend time around people who move better than you, you’ll probably notice quantum shifts in your own body. #truefacts)
You Are the Average of The 5 People You Spend The Most Time Around
The long and the short of it is something psychologists have known for decades: the people you spend the most time around will affect your physical and mental well-being. People who move with pain in their bodies – aching backs, stiff shoulders and necks, arthritic knees, etc. – will activate similar movement patterns in your own body even if you are not suffering from the same pain…yet.
Fans of a sport experience mirror neuron activation while watching a game or match, but someone who has played the sport has a firestorm of activity in the brain area that initiates the movements. The athlete also predicts what will happen next more accurately than the person who has never played.
Additionally, if you are experiencing anxiety, depression, fatigue, or other emotional disturbances, you might want to examine your social group. “The ability to share the emotions of others appears to be intimately linked to the functioning of mirror neurons,” said Dr. Christian Keysers, group leader of the Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. “People who rank high on a scale measuring empathy have particularly active mirror neurons systems,” Dr. Keysers stated.
The Bottom Line
The bad news here is that you may have subconsciously learned some movement patterns that are less than ideal. But on the up side, it’s actually relatively easy to change out those dysfunctional patterns for new, more agile ones — when you know how.
The crux is that most people go to the gym, work out, and stretch for years or even decades without ever developing new neural patterns. I did it myself as a high school equestrian and college rower. Exercise and stretching alone didn’t touch the deep muscular restrictions I had in my body. And I was only 20 years old!
Once I learned how to use slow, intentional, non-threatening movement to essentially reset my muscles (and my brain, because that’s what controls your muscles after all), I developed more comfort, mobility and even strength in my body. Movement felt good for the first time in my life.
These neural-based practices are the foundation of my Posture Rehab video course. It’s not yoga, it’s not exercise. It’s an entirely new take on life.
When you enroll, you get immediate access to thirty-one targeted practices designed to dissolve tension in your neck, back, shoulders, hips, legs and feet. Each practice is personally led by me with unique cues for visualization that circumvent your body’s habitual armoring and guarding.
You won’t find practices like these anywhere else. Check out the course details and enroll here >>