by Kayleigh Miller
In the last few years I have moved from being a yoga teacher to becoming a human movement enthusiast, meaning that I am interested in the function and structure of the human body as related to movement, even beyond yoga asana. One of the most powerful concepts I’ve been exposed to during my studies is this idea of mechanotransduction, or “you are how you move.”
As words go, it may not be familiar in the yogic space, but as a concept, you will certainly understand it. We all know on some level that the way we “exercise” affects the shape and function of our bodies, but mechanotransduction refers to the “the conversion of movement input to biochemical processes” as defined by biomechanist Katy Bowman.
All of your movement choices—i.e. choice of shoes, how you walk, how you sit, which asana you practice, how you stand, how often you exercise—these are cellular inputs into the body, meaning that your body is constantly responding and adapting to this information on a cellular level. We know some of this from experience—chair-sitting forces our body to adapt to certain shapes and habits, whether or not we intend them. So does playing an instrument, wearing high heels, wearing ill-fitting shoes, constantly leaning to one side, and so forth. We usually think of this in regards to exercise, which for many people means five hours a week of intense vigorous activity, compared to 107 other hours a week that people are often stationary. (Assuming the average person sleeps eight hours a day and is doing things the other 16 hours a day…times seven, minus five). Yet, what about those other 100 plus hours a week of movement or lack thereof? It’s important to not just look at exercise or yoga asana, but at the sum total of one’s whole week of movement to see what habits lie within.
Katy Bowman discusses all of this eloquently and efficiently in her book, Move Your DNA, and really delves into load science, but here are some of the factors to look at when thinking big picture about your movement on and OFF the mat:
- Frequency: how often a certain shape is adopted
- Magnitude: amount of force applied
- Location: where force was applied, what structures are most affected
- Duration: how long action was assumed
So for example, when we talk about practicing a specific posture or asana or beginning a new workout routine, these four factors are essential in understanding the body’s input. If someone has been sedentary for an extended period of time and then suddenly decides to do a “yoga every #@$& day challenge,” that’s a huge increase in frequency, magnitude, and duration, meaning that the tissues won’t have much time to adapt in a healthful, sustainable way. When yoga related injuries are addressed, one of the more common ones is wrist pain and discomfort, because the practitioner goes from rarely bearing weight on their wrists to suddenly choosing full weight bearing upper body positions for a significant portion of a yoga class, often many times a week.
Many of our modern ailments are diseases of lack of movement and mechanotransduction. A lifetime of constant chair sitting will cause certain muscles, fascia, and bony structures to adapt in ways that we may not want, which can result in long term consequences to the body. Many of the ailments I’ve faced in my own body are simply a result of my body processing the movement input I’ve given it: chair sitting, head forward position, and a lack of awareness about the shapes I put my body in. This process of converting mechanical input into cellular adaptation is precisely why moving better, gaining awareness, and self-care is so important, especially if yoga is your primary form of movement.
By the time your body is injured, you’ve sent it years of poor movement patterns and habits, so why not retrain earlier and make positive adaptations to your structure, even if pain or injury isn’t limiting you? If someone practices yoga one hour a day every day, that still doesn’t fulfill the quota of necessary human movement needed in a week.
Yoga is a wonderful practice, but there are many areas of the body neglected by primarily practicing yoga and ignoring other movement disciplines. None of this discussion has to do with the current mass media model of fitness, which is work out hard+burn calories=great looking body. This model of mechanotransduction is looking at how your body moves, not just how it looks, but how you feel in your body.
For those of who are yoga instructors or have a regimented sequence/workout process, how are your choices affecting your tissues and what about the movement habits you adopt for the rest of the day, week, and life? What are the body parts that are neglected, misused, or overused in your daily life and your movement choices? And above all, how do you move?
Kayleigh Miller, a recent addition to the San Antonio Symphony viola section, enjoys a varied career of performance, teaching, and yoga instruction. As a yoga instructor, she initially trained with David Vendetti and Todd Skoglund in Boston, and has completed additional trainings in working with children, anatomy, and modifying a yoga practice for cancer. With over 500 hours of training experience, she is committed to learning as much as she can to support her students. As a professional musician, she has a particular interest in preventing musicians’ musculoskeletal issues, which include overuse syndrome, tendonitis, and pain, many of which apply to non-musician folk as well! She believes that a musical career can be pain-free, and that the methodology of Yoga Tune Up can help musicians to play without pain. For her personal website click here.
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