Getting A Grip On Letting Go
We like to group ourselves together, don’t we? I mean, yes, we like to put things into categories and organize the crap out of anything and everything. But we also like group our actual selves. We like our teams, our friends, our clubs, our political affiliations, our style choices, and our sides in a movie love triangle. We buy the shirts, create the hashtags, and rest well at night knowing we are a part of some
As humans, we like the familiarity of belonging to a group that is like minded or of a similar constitution. We are, after all, social beings. Some of us may spend a lifetime trying to find our groups. But others are born into them and never leave. This latter category is how I like to think about our muscles. They are stuck in place and don’t get the luxury of traveling around, exploring different bony landmarks and trying out various movements. They are born into their crew and will never leave the bones they are attached to or the muscle groups they belong to.
In either scenario, whether you stay at home or travel the world, becoming too immersed in your group can have a negative effect. The upside is that the safety that comes with these communities allows us the freedom to be individuals. But the downfall, if you become too absorbed, you can lose your identity and begin to betray yourself and your people. With muscles, perhaps because they don’t get the freedom to roam and discover themselves, they can become consumed by the group. Pulling their weight, so to speak, becomes problematic and defining their boundaries becomes essential.
Let’s take, for example, the flexors of the forearm, wrist and hand. Here are a group of muscles that work together as a team on the medial side of the forearm. As a whole, without getting too specific, they originate on and around the medial epicondyle of the humorous and insert onto various aspects of the medial wrist and the palmar landmarks of the hand. Their job as a group, with some variations when looking at them individually, is to flex the wrist and the fingers, or to bring the hand into a fist position and then bring that fist towards the inside of the forearm - as if your hand was a sock puppet and you are making it nod yes. (The chin to chest part of the yes, specifically).
These muscles work together to make this possible. And although they may be asked from different neural pathways to fire separately and move individually, there can come a time when they are so entangled with each other that their ability to free themselves is limited, if not gone altogether. Looking at dysfunctions like Trigger Finger or Dupuytren’s Contracture, we realize that the more engrossed a coalition of muscles is in one task, the more likely it is to get stuck. Of course it’s not quite that simply translatable. But you get the idea. A healthy individual involves a steady balance between doing things with others and some carved out alone time.
When it comes to bodywork approaches towards muscles that can’t quite separate themselves away from their party, try focusing on the facial boundaries that help to offer each muscle a sense of identity. With your client prone on the table, situate their arm next to their body so that their palm faces up toward the ceiling. Begin with a nice steamroll, using your forearm or a soft fist, to open up the enmeshed flexors of your client’s forearm. Start at the elbow and slide all the way down to the wrist, lightening up on your pressure over the carpal tunnel, and then sinking back into the palm all the way through the fingers. This sets the stage.
Then you can dive in. If you don’t know your forearm muscle anatomy to the letter, that’s ok! With specific thumbs, fingers or knuckles, given your preference and good body mechanic tactics, slide down each of the sections of the medial forearm that correlate to each finger on the hand. Having your client wiggle their fingers while you do this gives you a strong sense of where the muscle is located. Fall to either side of that and begin to create a divide. They may be a little unhappy at first, like two kids pulled out of a fight and then placed into different corners of the room. But offering them a little space also offers them time to think. And this gives them back their identity.
Asking your clients to engage in the work you are doing doesn’t only give you a sense of where things lie, but it also helps them to understand their own anatomy. If we allow the muscles in our bodies to get lost among all the other soft tissues that surround them, the ability to articulate dissolves. Look at it this way: Belonging to a group is an active practice and not a passive state of existence. Healing the muscles that are adhered and limited involves the same focused awareness that would be helpful for the many aspects of how we, as humans, can get lost in the shuffle.