Over-Coupling: The Surprising Way Your Body (and Mind) Malfunctions

While preparing for the Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Training I will be leading next week at Kripalu Center in the Berkshires, I’m digging deep into the Master Classes I will lead each day. While reacquainting myself with the Day 1 Master Class, I am very excited about one particular aspect of what the trainees will be learning.

The Day 1 Master Class, called “Total Body Tune Up”, is all about directions of movement in the major joints of the body. But it also provides specific embodied education on the issue of over-coupling in human movement… Which doesn’t just relate to movement.

As I’ve learned in my studies in trauma resolution through Somatic Experiencing® training, these over-coupling lessons translate directly to your personal life as well. And they can be equally problematic in both!

What is Over-Coupling?

“Over-coupling” is when you’ve joined two things that don’t necessarily need to be joined. When two actions, or ideas get bound together. For instance, when you try to “sit up straight”, bringing your spine back to upright neutral alignment, you might also retract your shoulder blades (squeeze them together), causing your chest to pop out.

You have likely coupled these two movements subconsciously, without your ever even deciding to put them together. Maybe you saw your mom “sit up straight” that way. It’s not entirely wrong – by squeezing your shoulder blades together you do get a more “upright” appearance. But in actuality, it’s a totally different anatomical action than axial extension (lengthening your spine).

Now, if we dip into your relationships, we might easily find issues of subconscious over-coupling as well. For instance: perhaps you have coupled the idea of romantic partnership with an inability to express yourself. This could be so if you had a father who showed you love when you “behaved” in the way he wanted, but was rejecting if you behaved in ways he didn’t like.

Or it’s possible that you associate kind-hearted warmth from a partner with being smothered, because your loving mom was overly attached to you while you were growing up. In order to move forward with a healthy adult relationship, it is important to be able to uncouple these over-coupled dynamics.

(Ironically, while in partnership, it’s often through conscious un-coupling of our over-coupled issues, that we can remain healthily coupled with our partner!)

Why Should You Care to Un-Couple?

When I repeatedly ask a classroom of students to rest their elbow on their knee in a side-angle pose without squishing their shoulder up into their ear and they don’t, I sometimes want to throw yoga blocks at them.

It’s rare that I feel angry towards a classroom of students. But when I see them repeatedly not following my instructions, it can be really frustrating. (Probably because I have over-coupled the the idea of them respecting what I say with them doing what I say.) As a yoga instructor, understanding how deeply unconscious peoples’ over-coupled movements are, has helped me turn my frustration into compassion.

The fact is, they don’t know that they aren’t doing what I ask. The coupling of bearing weight on the elbow and elevating their shoulder is totally unconscious. They likely think they are doing what I ask – or perhaps that I’m asking something ridiculous or unnatural. So instead I need to take the time to educate them, not blame them.

As they become more conscious of their over-coupled habitual body patterning, they are becoming more conscious, period! This is very exciting. This is what yoga is all about.

The process of uncoupling various body movements will also help prevent repetitive strain injuries. For instance, an extremely popular over-coupling in yoga is medial rotation of the shoulder joint while bending the elbows to lower towards chaturanga. By rolling the shoulders in and down, the yogi could be repeatedly impinging soft tissues in the shoulder, causing wear-and-tear that could lead to inflammation and chronic degradation of the joint down the road.

That’s just one example, but there are enumerable examples in all kinds of movement practices.

Giving Yourself Every Possible Option

When it comes to your body, learning how to un-couple habitually coupled motions will tremendously enhance your freedom of movement. You will be able to consciously choose how to use your joints and move your limbs, instead of always bringing extra movements along for the ride. This will enhance your dexterity, agility, and efficiency in daily life.

One of my favorite things I hear newer yoga students declare as they get deeper into their practice is “I feel so much younger!” They might be a member of AARP, but they are finding that as they gain mastery over their body, more daily activities are becoming available to them.

People often associate this enhanced body intelligence and freedom of movement with youth, because the world opens up again. They are gaining greater possibility of movement throughout their life. They feel empowered with so much more choice every day.

How to Get the Un-Coupling Started

Well, first keep an eye on yourself! When you are in a movement class, like yoga, keep your ears perked for specific cues, then look at your own body parts to see if you are actually following them. Look at others bodies to see if they are following them too. Or even better, go home and try it all in front of a mirror.

In the yoga classes I have created for AmazingDayYoga.com, I specifically spend the first 36 videos breaking down the mechanics of movement in yoga practice based on all your major joints. If you’re curious about this, do the Foundation Series I’ve created. Do it in the buff and video yourself so you can really see what your body parts are up to!

If you’re a movement educator, or hope to be, get yourself into the Yoga Tune Up® training to find these blind spots.

And when your personal relationships are inflamed, get your magnifying glass out and see if you’ve over-coupled some of the issues that are coming up with your partner, boss, kid, sibling, or lover with other things from your past. You very well might be unnecessarily “over-reacting” because something is seriously over-coupled.

The first step in any kind of transformation is always your own curious care. Get curious. Care about yourself. And the world will surely give you the opportunity to find some answers.

Talk to Me

I’m so very curious what this topic has brought up for you? Are there certain body movements that you realize you have over-coupled? What about stuff in your personal life? Tell me tell me tell me in the comments below! Let’s free ourselves together!

xoxoxo

Ariel

3 Comments

  1. Awesome article! This over-coupling is a HUGE issue when teaching people to ride horses, especially younger kids who don’t have a lot of body awareness. Since riding uses muscles that aren’t used for almost anything else, they often compensate for that lack of strength by coupling other movements. For example, when I ask them to post (go up and down) at the trot, they can’t hold themselves up with their inner thighs and calves as they are supposed to, and end up coupling it with using their arms to steady themselves. Unfortunately, that means pulling on the horse’s mouth, which means the horse stops and/or gets annoyed with them. And then they get frustrated with the horse. I spend the majority of my lessons teaching kids how to uncouple movements like this, and you articulated the concept so well that I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more examples! Thanks!

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    1. What an awesome response Jess! I had such a sense memory of learning to post while reading this. You are right. There are so many counter-intuitive un-couplings that need to happen while learning to ride horses. One that was particularly hard for me to figure out was how to get a horse to jump over an obstacle you must look straight ahead between their ears. If you look down at the jump they will shy or avoid it (this resulted in me tumbling off the horse many times!). It felt so unnatural to keep my eyes on the horizon, but it was imperative to direct the movements of the horse!

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      1. Oh yeah, that’s basically the most counter-intuitive feeling in the world. By all means, don’t look at the thing you are trying to convince a thousand-pound animal to jump over with you on its back! I was having that exact moment with my students the day I read this. 😀

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