Mind on Our Muscles (Chronic Muscular Tension)

Article excerpt

Mind on our Muscles.

Chronic muscular tension. It is one of the most common side effects of stress, manifesting itself in stiffness and varying degrees of discomfort and pain.

In my work as a yoga teacher, I am dismayed by the number of people experiencing chronic muscular tension. Even people who think of themselves as relatively happy and stress free experience some level of chronic muscular tension as a result of their work habits, postural habits and lack of stretching exercises. Of course, the greatest pain is felt by those who have experienced a traumatic event or other high levels of stress.

The `experts' have not paid sufficient attention to this condition, its debilitating effects on peoples' lives and its relationship to stress. When people develop asthma, ulcers or high blood pressure, we pay attention. But the painful build-up of stress in our muscles goes unheeded or worse is discounted as the result of getting older or not being `in shape.'

Myofacial pain is the medical profession's concession to the existence of chronic muscular tension, and the pain and debilitation that results. Myofascial pain exists on a continuum from stiffness and soreness that is easily relieved through simple stretching and exercise, to intense pain that is referred to other areas of the body and requires more than simple stretching and exercise for relief. One of the `symptoms' of myofacial pain is the presence of knotted areas in our muscles that feel hard and lumpy, and may be painful when massaged. They are called trigger points.

Many physicians still concentrate on joints, bones, nerves and other structures, such as bursae, and overlook or minimize the problems in the muscles themselves. This often leads to either no help for the beleagured musculature or the prescribing of inappropriate exercises.

Obvious causes of myofascial pain are insufficient exercise, poor posture, harmful body mechanics (lifting a load incorrectly or typing at a desk that is too high), repetitive movements and stress.


Poor self-image and depression are two common psychological causes of poor posture. Culturally speaking, there are masculine and feminine ways of standing, walking and holding oneself, and even fashion plays a part in dictating posture. For example, shoulder pads create a geometric image that is in stark contrast with the look of a relaxed body.

The result of all these factors is that we lose control over our muscles. The skeletal muscles are supposed to be voluntarily controlled, but under stress or in certain postures, the contraction of specific muscles or muscle groups becomes so habitual that it becomes unconscious. …