The central nervous system (CNS) controls movement by using signals which it receives from muscles.
When we move, our brains constantly receive information about our body’s current state and surroundings. Based on this information, commands are created, which travel to the muscles via the motor part of our nervous system. This sensory-motor feedback loop allows us to move our body and perform the desired/needed movement. We learn to perform moves with more complexity and efficiency (mainly through playing) by investing our time and attention. Gradually we develop motor intelligence, which is dependent on the surroundings we live in and the habits that we gain and develop through the demands of our environment.
A person living in an environment where disorder is high (wilderness), the possibility of multitasking is lower, and dependence on one’s own body for survival is high will have significantly higher motor intelligence and flexibility. His joints are less worn and suffer from less chronic pain, unlike a person who lives in a tidy environment (city) and is torn between multiple tasks but doesn’t have to fight for survival.
We can increase motor intelligence by training our senses to detect signals that our movement gives us, which can be pleasant (pleasure) or unpleasant (pain). Through learning, we can become increasingly motor-skilled. Our movement becomes better (the coordination of shortening and lengthening muscles in movement is higher), usually to the degree required by the environment’s orderliness.
The role of unpleasant sensations (pain) is to send information about the insufficient regularity of movement for painless performance to the consciousness; pain means that the movement is too demanding, too fast, too strong, or takes too long for our current motor intelligence and abilities to be able to perform without feedback that we feel uncomfortable and painful. We can accept this sensation and make changes based on it or overlook it and, in the name of saving time, continue into an increasingly large disorder.
This educative function of pain doesn’t get the attention it deserves in a modern environment, which demands a faster life pace. Pain is unwanted in such an environment, and that’s why we have to eliminate it or push it aside as fast as possible so that it won’t slow us down. Progress is achieved primarily through effort and raising the ability to tolerate pain rather than through learning through the sensation of movement and changing movement patterns. And with this approach to pain, it starts as early as elementary school or even earlier.
In such an environment, there are various options on how to alleviate and eliminate the pain without first discovering the causes and taking the time to make appropriate changes. Although pain reminds us of inappropriate movement and life, it requires us to change something, which requires time and attention. We know that there is always too little of both in the modern way of life.
Pain reminds us of a lack of time, which is why we pay too little attention to bodily sensations. The body tries to achieve two things with pain and congestion. To attract the attention of consciousness (which is the only thing that can change the functioning of the neuromuscular system) and to limit and impede the movement with which we cause damage to ourselves through pain and constriction (constantly increased muscle tone). This leads to the body’s defensive reaction to an irrational and uncoordinated mind. When the body is unable to meet the mind’s demands due to physical limitations, we are talking about an underdeveloped neuromuscular system. Because we are constantly running out of time, but we have an abundance of energy and live in an orderly environment, the system has neither the time nor the need to mature to the level it once was. That level is where the human body has achieved high coordination of the control system and the body that supplies the control system with sensory sensations and accurately executes the control center’s commands.
Our lifestyle, despite the immaturity of our soma offers, allows and demands more and more from our body. Our mind isn’t following the warnings of overcoming our body’s physical limitations and is stubbornly committing to beating itself. Such behavior is commonly rewarded and celebrated. That’s why the body contracts and hinders the mind’s exaggeration. Similarly to how a speeder finds more and more obstacles on the road, he tenses up and then slows down and becomes more careful. The mind accepts the contracted state of the body and adapts to it, but it doesn’t adapt its demands but instead invests even more energy to make up for the inefficient movement. We have enough energy in today’s society, which allows us to maintain the illusion of balance for a long time. But this is causing an increasing divide between the mind and body, along with miscommunication, which leads to conflicts, increases pain, and causes injuries, wear, and depression.
Understanding the factors that cause our body to become sore and rigid allows us to better perceive the actual impact and usefulness and need for stretching and other often painful and routine approaches used today in heating, eliminating asymmetries, inadequate ROM, and muscle and joint stiffness.
Static stretching is the most commonly suggested method for eliminating tense, painful muscles, and sports injuries. It is generally known that athletes should stretch before and after training to loosen muscle hardness and tension. Stretching is an integral part of the training of athletes and recreational athletes. Yet opinions are divided on the actual effectiveness of stretching; there is no real evidence that this prevents injuries, eliminates overexertion, and contributes significantly to muscle relaxation. The purpose of this article is to clarify the reasons for this.
The basic characteristics of static stretching
We start with a movement, then move into a stretch in a controlled and smooth way. We achieve this with gravity or other external forces, concentric contraction of the antagonists, or a combination of both. At the end of the stretch, we maintain this position for a certain period (static position), after which we return to the starting position and repeat. It is recommended to stretch again after the effects of the previous stretch begin to cease. Most stretches have to be repeated from up to 3-5 times, with each taking from 10 to 30 seconds. We force the muscle into increased flexibility while making the consciousness turn a blind eye to deal with the pain the stretch reflex causes.
This way, we do not increase the ability to expand muscles but stretch them. This also does not reduce the energy consumption for movement, as stretching does not increase movement complexity and coordination. The body constantly warns us of the lack of efficiency with pain and problems. The same goes for rolling and using balls, elastic bands, electrostimulation, and painful massage. These approaches have some utility in specific cases, but not broadly and generally, as is commonly understood and generally applied.
Stretching is necessary and appropriate only when our natural mobility, resulting from the shape of the bones and body, is not sufficient to perform certain movements. This is often the case in gymnastics, dancing, and martial arts. The movements are adapted to the different mobility and shape of the pelvis and femur of Asians, and we have to forcefully increase our mobility. Simultaneously, those who need to increase mobility beyond naturally given abilities should be aware of the consequences of such behavior and long-term negative effects on the pelvic floor muscles, hips, spine, and knees, and accordingly, increase the ability to feel and control the body.
The AEQ method
The AEQ method allows for the gradual increase in sensing feelings and controlling the muscles by consciously performing AEQ exercises, sensing and eliminating inconsistencies, and increasing conscious control over the body’s movement.
Basic characteristics of AEQ exercises
We begin by consciously tensing muscles or muscle groups beyond their normal tone, but only to the point of pain. We focus on the movements and the feeling of these. Let’s ask ourselves why and what we should change to make the warning go away if it hurts. Exercise pain does not mean “stop” or “ignore” but “notice, think, and change.” When we feel the pain, I think and change, or temporarily stop/slow down (if there isn’t enough necessary attention) and thus allow a return or increase of attention to the necessary level of difficulty for what I am currently doing. From tension, we pass a marked, slow, and conscious release of muscles or muscle groups. In this way, we enable the consciousness to obtain feedback and thus improve the awareness of the body’s actual state. By carefully repeating the exercise, we increase the amount of information (feelings) and become more aware of our well-being and improve it. This eventually leads to a change in our patterns and habits that we gained throughout life and by performing an uncontrolled, uncoordinated movement. With the new way of movement, the length of the muscles and their average tone will change. Therefore, muscle changes are fueled by learning and altered nervous system function, thereby increasing and changing them in the long run for better sensation, control, and motor coordination. AEQ exercises make it easier to relax muscles by increasing the conscious feeling and control over them. Only the conscious part of the brain (cortex), i.e., our mind, can increasingly relax (lengthen) the muscle through learning.
In contrast, prolonged stretching does not encourage learning to move properly. Static stretching has no long-term effects since it doesn’t teach our brain how to relax an entire area of muscles; instead, it triggers a stretch reflex in the muscles repeatedly, causing the muscles to fight against stretching, thus reducing sensation and control over them.
AEQ exercise is an active learning process that allows a person to reset and relax his muscles at the level of changes in the nerves’ commands against the muscles, resulting from a better sense of the state of the muscles in the conscious part of the mind. Feedback received by our brain allows us to reset our muscles’ length, which leads to a more relaxed and efficient functioning and cooperation between muscles. When stretching, we move the limit by fighting with force, which causes resistance and pain. However, when learning to expand our muscles with movement, we have to stop at our limit. This stimulates the brain to move this limit on its own because such a movement does not cause pain, or it learns from what isn’t good, and the brain, therefore, has no need to maintain the boundary where it isn’t needed.
A few more facts for thought
Muscles perform orders given to them by the brain. If we have tense muscles even when we aren’t doing anything, then it means that our brains are sending out the wrong orders. We aren’t changing them with stretching, and that’s why we don’t eliminate the cause of the pain while at the same time progressively worsen our mobility and efficiency. It is not possible to successfully and painfully eliminate pain with pain. This is the same as putting out a fire with flames and hoping the house will stay intact. Our muscles ache because they are too tense and too tired, and pain only tenses them up more (which is the actual purpose of pain, to protect the muscle from injury). The feeling we get after stretching is usually described as relaxation; what we actually feel is relief, which only offers a short-term feeling of progress. But the problem returns since its cause wasn’t eliminated in the central nervous system. When performing AEQ exercises, we actively and consciously lengthen the opposite muscles by shortening others but be careful to stop when it begins to hurt. When stretching, we passively stretch the opposite muscles by shortening certain muscles, which usually causes pain and the opposite effect than desired.
Today, the most common reaction to pain is thinking about what medication or help we need to get rid of the pain as soon as possible, rather than taking the time to change and change what is needed to eliminate the cause of the pain.
Aleš Ernst, author of the AEQ method and AEQ breathing