The Quiet Cause of Your Chronic Muscular Tension

You’ve got a death grip on your body.

You might be aware of some tight muscles or stiff joints, but you’re probably not aware of that death grip. It’s got you from your very core.

The death grip is subtle. Extremely subtle. And it’s tricky.

It will lead you to believe that you, not it, are the problem. This is how it maintains its survival.

And in a way, it’s true. So long as the death grip exists, you are the problem. When you have enormous power over a situation, and you choose inaction, then you, my friend, represent a huge problem for that situation.

My man Dub-C said it best:

courtesy of Lifehack Quotes

Your body is here to teach you these things. Fundamental truths. Pay attention.

“So, what is the death grip, and how do I take action?”

First off, sorry for using such a morbid term as “death grip”. But it literally sucks a huge amount of your energy—it is exactly what causes you to say and feel “Wow, I’m getting old”. It’s what causes that slow degeneration of your body from a springy, youthful organism to a hardened, twisted goblin.

The death grip is the habitual contraction of entire muscle groups in your body. We all do this to some extent, and it is severely detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing.

If you carry a backpack for a long enough time, you will forget that it is there. If you carry it too long, it begins to feel cumbersome.

This is exactly how the death grip works. You don’t notice it’s there until it has really settled in. You start to feel “sluggish” more and more frequently. Before you know it, you’re that person who pulls a muscle in your back while picking up a baby.

Don’t be that person. Take action.

“OK, I’m ready to take action.”

Great! Here’s the catch:

In order to free yourself from your own grip, you need to practice the “art of inaction”.

(Hang tight Dub-C, it’s not what it seems…)

The “art of inaction” is not actual inaction—it is the deliberate practice of inaction in situations where direct action is not appropriate. This in itself is an action, albeit a subtle one. But subtle action is exactly what is required, because the death grip is subtle.

“Why is it subtle?”

Because it starts in the nervous system.

Here is a relatively simple article about how the nervous system works to create a muscle contraction.

Put simply, your brain sends signals to your muscles via the nervous system, and these signals trigger the process of a muscle contraction. That’s how you move. This gap between the brain and the body is clearly apparent in infants as they try to learn new motor skills. After years of practice, that gap becomes imperceptible—the movement of your body seems to be automatic.

In much the same way, our habitual muscular contraction becomes something that we are completely unaware of. After years of cultivating certain habits of mind, we become blind to the very physical effects that these habits have on us. The death grip is this quiet thing that is just constantly happening “in the background”.

And it causes very real problems. It’s no secret that chronic stress can cause back pain. When you live in a perpetual state of low-grade anxiety, your nervous system is continuously sending stress signals through your body, many of which cause involuntary muscle contractions. This is basic science.

This unrelenting state of involuntary muscular tension is truly nothing less than a bonafide death grip.

photo courtesy of

So, how to release ourselves from this grave affliction?

Start watching. Watching is the fundamental skill in the art of inaction.

I’m not going to tell you to sit down and meditate. Meditation is a process that each person must develop at their own pace.

What I am strongly suggesting is that you start observing your body. Make it a habit to check in with your nervous system throughout the day. Ask yourself these questions:

“Am I furrowing my brow?”

“Am I clenching my jaw?”

“Am I contracting my tongue?”

“Am I straining my eyes?”

“Am I sucking in my belly?”

“Am I clenching my butt?” (Seriously, this is a big one)

“Am I gripping my hands?”

“Am I sticking my chest out?”

“Am I holding my shoulders?”

“Am I breathing shallowly?”

Keep asking yourself these questions, and just watch how your body reacts as you live your life. Notice when you start to move into a state of constriction. Try to recognize the exact moments where you move from a state of lightness to a state of heaviness.

As you continue this practice, you will slowly become aware of the ever-elusive death grip. You will begin to feel just how subtle and deep this general state of contraction really is. You will realize that you are literally holding your body in a warped position for no reason at all. When I began to discover my own death grip, the recurring question was “why on Earth am I doing that?”

Eventually, you will recognize the general “quality of thought” which lies behind your habitual muscular tension.

This alone is a great accomplishment. From this place, you stand a great chance of releasing yourself from the insidious death grip. It is not enough to simply work on the body with physical movement. Nor will it suffice to only focus on improving your quality of thought. Both are equally critical, but mind and body must merge in order to bring lasting change.

You need to be able to relax your body as you deliberately watch the death grip in action—no matter how uncomfortable, frustrating, or futile it feels.

This is where the “art of inaction” really comes in to play—actively fighting your deep-seated muscular tension will only make it stronger.

With practice, you will discover that it is impossible to participate in negative thought habits while consciously relaxing your musculoskeletal system. With more practice, the nervous system gets re-trained, slowly releasing its grasp on the body.

So, that’s how it works. If you can just sit through it, you will know what to do with it. It’s sort of like reading an instruction manual—you have to get through the whole thing before it is of any use.

This is just one example of how our body is our greatest tool for self-understanding, and, ultimately, self-transformation. Your body is your personalized instruction manual. It is your most reliable guide on the path to a peaceful, fulfilling, and healthy life.

Use it!

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