I’ve been using the expression ‘muscle memory‘ in my yoga classes to explain how students remember to do certain movements. People learn to embody certain movements over time. ‘Neuronal pathways’ is another term for what links the brain to the body’s ability to do activities.
I decided to check out my word use with Dr. Google. I was surprised to find information which said that muscle memory is a myth, that muscles don’t have memories.
So, what is it exactly that lets you remember forever how to ride a bicycle? Or, in yoga, how to free balance in headstand when you were so wobbly in the beginning stages.
Apparently there is something called procedural memory. The brain keeps a stockpile of often enacted tasks and the repetition of them helps reinforce how you do any activity.
The body/mind also learns to develop a memory that relates to whether we are muscularly fit or excessively fat. The longer we carry muscle mass or excess fat, the more the body learns from that reality to recognise that state as ‘normal’.
This information reminds me how important it is to have a good teacher so you learn skilful movements and are observed doing them. Procedural memory helps you become good at something through repetition, but it can also cause you to reinforce bad habits. Taking in and responding to feedback from an experienced teacher means you get the most out of your yoga practice. You will build good foundations and use them to go on to intermediate and advanced poses.
The key to building skilful procedural memories is to focus on the quality of what you do. Work on breaking movements down into small chunks when you notice they are too complicated or difficult.
Doing yoga classes and regular home practice is an unbeatable combination. Then, the postural tips, flexibility and strength you learn in class will spill over into your everyday life.
They will become muscle memories.