Muscle Memory: Can Your Muscles Remember Things?

It’s something that almost all of us do. Remember the last time a friend told you about an accident that happened to them? Like maybe how they may have burned their hand while cooking, or slipped on a wet surface and fell. When they describe it to you, your muscles tense up, and you “remember” when an instance like that has happened to you. That is muscle memory in action!  As living organisms, we human beings remember not just with our minds, but with our bodies as well.  “Muscle Memory” is something that we are coming to understand more and more about. This shows that there is very little, if any separation between mind and body. The wider meaning of this is that both the mind and body can remember both pleasurable and painful events.  This also means that what is good for the body is also good for the mind!

Muscle Memory” at its core is essentially motor learning—so our muscle’s ability to remember is what allowed you to learn how to walk as a child, what allows us to remember how to ride a bike, and other complex actions like playing a piano, or doing different yoga positions.  Every time we start to repeat a movement, it builds neural pathways in the brain, which in turn give the cells a type of “muscle memory”. So repeated actions or actions that we are learning, or even a sudden event like slipping on some ice can create a memory in our brain that also lives in our muscles at the same time.

Just like it’s possible to have good memories, it is possible for muscles to remember “bad memories”. So this means the memory of a particular trauma could be locked away not just in your mind, but in your muscles too. Different problems can arise from these “bad” muscle memories, from being too tense in the shoulders to having bad posture, and a whole variety of other possibilities. By doing yoga and other therapeutic movements, the muscles get stretched and this can facilitate a release of memories and other emotions that may have been locked away for months or even years. So don’t be surprised if while learning to do yoga or other therapeutic movements you feel different emotions, or if different memories come to your mind! This is healthy!  You are actually helping to release those emotions that are trapped away in your muscles. That is why healthy movement is so essential. Just like we all would go crazy if we could not talk about our different emotions and thoughts with people we trust—muscles can in essence “go crazy” and become tense and locked up, because of not purging and releasing different negative memories and emotions that get trapped inside of them.  So yoga and healthy movement have an incredible range of benefits, including emotional as well! So next time you are in “downward dog” and you start to feel something, don’t be afraid to let that emotion out! You are in the middle of a very beneficial and healthy process!