Thursday, January 29, 2009

Muscles in life

Niggling shoulder pains, have often elicited disparaging comments about what are euphemistically called advancing years. Many moons ago, this would have been treated with a great massage with a special ayurvedic oil, baths with some special leaves or oils added to your bath water, and wise suggestions from concerned family folks, on what actions needed to be discouraged , as well as encouraged, to accelerate the healing process. Someone, with great experience would have suggested imbibing foods prepared out of certain resins, to bring strength to the bones, and offered to make some delicious stuff for you to eat.....

Today with an amazing rate of turnover of "knowledge", nuclear families, and great mobility, not too speak of missing greenery,trees, and sometimes even sufficient clean water, we need to look elsewhere.

Sometimes , the question is, of accurately describing what's happening.

I spent almost a month trying out various things to reduce the pain, as well as find out whats going on.

I did R and D . R on the Internet. D was all about development, but of my pain.

It would come and go depending on certain actions. But whenever it came, it would take its own time petering off, showing the sort of unwillingness a child shows when asked to come away from someone distributing free chocolates....

It was almost as if the muscles had a memory, and were unwilling to forget the troubling action.

Which got me on to something called Muscle memory. There actually is such a thing.

And it has nothing to do with disgusting pictures of folks with such extra-bulging muscles, that they cant stand straight in (try doing that with super bulging leg and arm muscles and see), and need to take certain "poses" to prove their mitochondrial richness, curves and all.....

Turns out that we have several types of muscles. Some are totally under our control - like our skeletal muscles. We decide whether to run, walk, stop, bend, raise arms, slap someone and so on. Then there are some muscles , that are not so much under our control, like eye muscles, and the chest diaphragm. We unknowingly blink sometimes. But should someone tell us to close our eyes, we can do that at will. The diaphragm is involved with every breath we take, whether we are aware or not. But should we need to hold a breath, it is under our control too.... So these are muscles that have two masters. And then there are many muscles, located inside us, like the heart muscle, which , very clearly has a will of its own, and is never under our control. It has its own life, its own rhythm, throughout our life.

Turns out that muscles can be taught to remember.

Certain actions that we try again and again , say in an exercise class, make it easier for us to perform the particular action. Its not a huge surprise for our muscles the next time we try.... Muscles remember that action A is followed by action B, then action C, and prepare. We feel things are getting easier. Like when you learn to cycle and learn to hop on one pedal before getting on. Like when I learned math tables as a child, tables of 29 got easier as the repetitions continued. Because something somewhere developed a memory or habit.

And while we feel the muscle is getting smarter its actually the brain which is making things fall in line.

Apparently, the tongue is also a muscle. And various actions of our tongues, as we enunciate the various inflections in our languages, teach this muscle, how easy it gets with practice. So someone who speaks Marathi, my language, will have the tongue muscle habituated to the inflections of the language. Say, as compared with someone speaking French, German, or some new language. That's why learning a new language is difficult initially.

I wonder if within a language itself, the tongue has memory.

Abusive words exist.

Some people cannot speak a sentence without uttering an expletive. Whether the motivation is shock value, or a sense of revulsion towards the object of the words, is debatable. But it is clear that a tongue muscle habituated to performing swirly movements, to mouth words, hitherto considered objectionable, will remember the activity. Every time a situation demands action on the part of this speaker, typically, the first to emerge, by default, will be this expletive or expletives.

Sometimes you don't have to be so bad. I know several folks, who use the word"like" , like a comma; when you have a sudden pause, like, say, in , like, a sentence, you throw in, something, like, a like....People have been known to have consciously "de-liked " their vocabulary, by participating in games in a pair, where you thump/nudge each other every time you say "like" , in redundant situations, and people have been known to stop this ridiculous habit.....

There is also other facial memory. Your lip muscles and eye muscles, obviously learn, from previous sneering and raising of eyebrows. That is why, even the mention of a particular person, who may be physically miles away, makes you disapprovingly sneer, or raise your eyebrows questioningly. because the memories associated by your brain and learnt by these muscles, with the mention of this person, are such. Sometimes the tongue muscles too participate. An abusive person, is never abusive to everyone, His thrill in the abuse, pertains to maybe only certain people. And so we have people whose tongues fly into abuse configuration at the sight of specific folk.

Its possible, that parents who inadvertently hard wire their brains with these kind of muscle memories, will pass it on to their offspring in the form of an abusive DNA string. And so many times, you see alcoholic abusive folks carrying on the stuff in successive generations of the family, making life hell for everyone else...

So when our parents tried to instill in us, sometimes successfully, certain standards of behaviour,conversation, and interfacing with the general public and or family, it had a reason. It was so that the tongues would develop a constructive memory pattern, suited for a society where there are units of humans that live together. Abuse was punished. Expletives were penalized.

And the tongue muscle. hopefully , learned.

Lifestyle , too , was encouraged in a similar sense. Rules of diet, recreation, quiet contemplation, and interpersonal in
teraction were there, without being thought of as rules. You cleaned the house everyday, had a bath before you prayed and started the day. At least in my childhood, there weren't machines for housework. You bent, you stretched, you extended and you twisted. Your recreation as a child had to do with playing in the outdoors. And so each of your muscle groups got the sort of training that the muscles remembered, and you got into a habit of doing these things. Today's technology , labour saving though it may be, has encouraged no memories, except in a left brained way. And we try and substitute by overdoing the gym stuff, which is mostly brawn and hardly brain.

No one then knew anything about muscle memories, or how the brain makes the muscles do things. Unnecessary evil and abusive talk was remembered , not by the tongue muscle of the originators, , but possibly by their facial muscles which may have contracted after getting a stinging parental slap. And those memories must have lingered.

And so one doesn't go by the look of a muscle. It is much more than fibres. Striated , red or white. It is much more than mitochondria. There is a part of all muscles that build character of an individual.

As early as 1907, a gentleman by the name of
Granville Stanley Hall, who was a psychologist and educationist had said, "
Muscles are in a most intimate and peculiar sense the organs of the will. They have built all the roads, cities and machines in the world, written all the books, spoken all the words, and, in fact done everything that man has accomplished with matter. Character might be a sense defined as a plexus of motor habits."

I cant agree more. Dont know about the motor habits , but the pain in my brachial plexus is killing me......


  1. I'm so sorry you are in pain. Prayer sent that you feel better soon.

    Thank you for sharing this entertaining post! I remember reading about muscle memory regarding exercising. It's supposed to be akin to riding a bike ~ easier to remember and do again (but it's a bad example for someone who doesn't have good memories of riding a bike - speaking from experience).

    The tongue is often described in biology texts as the strongest muscle in the body, maybe so in proportion to size and strength. As the strongest muscle, the tongue is a mighty thing to wag about with words and hurtful, ugly phrases. You penned it well.

    Now you have me pulling up a memory, *like* a file in a cabinet drawer (don't slap me, I used it correctly).

    When I was a little girl, my cousin told me, "I am the only one who can raise just one eyebrow at a time. Just me and Spock." I was determined to do the same. Come to find out ~ one can teach the eyebrow to raise just one at a time, if you practice.

    Again, I hope you feel better soon and wish I could offer wisdom on healing...

  2. I'm so sorry you're feeling badly! I've been having a variety of aches and pains lately, but I'm afraid most of them just go along with having a 75 year old body. Hope you feel better quickly!

  3. I want to add my sympathy on your having sore muscles and other aches and pains. I do find that different remedies work on different people. Some get relief from Ibuprofen, others from OTC remedies like Excedrin.

    With tongue in cheek (and that's where I should keep it) I will say that rest works best for me - sometimes.

  4. That was a nice post.I really wish that the use of expeltives even in small conversation be punished.Then there are those who address their two year olds as 'dogs' and 'donkeys' out of affection and the child grows up believing it to be complimantary.We have relatives in the interior south who don't even realize that the words they use are not considered decent in my vocabulary.No harm intended but objectionable all the same.
    Sorry about your pain.But it will take its time to go.All the best for its hasty retreat.

  5. Hi, am actually reading your blog from Chennai where I am right now for a wedding. Sorry you're in pain. I was told by an elderly Gujrati lady that raw turmeric ( the wet gingery yellow kind) grated and had as a salad with a small dash of salt and lemon for taste every day ( about a tablespoon full) at mealtimes will help reduce muscular and joint pain. I've tried it and it doens't taste as bad as we might think. Won't do any harm for sure.

    Cheers and hoping u feel better soon!

  6. I am sorry to hear about your pain. That muscle sounds familiar. Have you carried heavy things lately ?

    I am not good in medecine but I am interested in psychology. Sometimes body pains can be related to the mind. Tipically back and shoulder pains.

    Also I Know that people who spend much time in front of a computer may develop some specific body discomfort.

    I do hope there is somebody near you to give you a good massage and pamper you.

  7. Aleta Thank you . And the muscles in the arm are sure confusing. Taking a long time to heal it feels... And yes, I've been trying tp practice the one eyebrow stuff. Totally unsuccessful :-) maybe , children do it better .

    Sylvia Thank you.

    Darlene Thank you. You said it ! Rest. They've told me that is what I need to do besides some physio. Hopefully it will work.

    Hip Grandma Thank you. And about this expletives stuff, some people think they are being smart talking such rubbish language. Dont know where their misconceptions come from. ...

    A. I. Thank you. I already eat the stuff you mentioned in a more complicated form. And apart from its therapeutic value , its just wonderful as a side pickle/salad thing. Cant resist giving you the recipe.

    You take longitudinal thin strips of ginger, raw turmeric , and also raw ambehaldi (its more orange). Add some longish cut slivers of tondli( kovakkai to you). Add salt to taste, a bit of hing and a generous dash of lemon juice. Let it sit for a while.Wonderful!(My m-in-law lived in Gujarat, and she used to make this !)

    Helene H Thank you . Yes, I am aware that sometimes these pains arise from mental tensions.(Read a book called Mind over Back pain by an 80 year old orthopedic surgeon in the US). Those are always present, and yes, i have been carrying a bit of heavy stuff recently.

    I guess I have such wonderful wishes from all the ladies here, that things should get better soon ! Thanks again !