Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is an interesting thing. We may not have a conscious definition at the ready for it, but we know what it means when we say something like, “It’s just like riding a bicycle.” As a musician I rely on muscle memory to do in a moment of stage fright what my fingers and brain together cannot do -  play the right notes at the right time. As a dancer, the same concept applies. When the stage lights come on and you can only hear your own heartbeat and rapid breathing, muscle memory is what makes the feet start moving and doing the right thing. The brain goes into a sort of paralysis and the muscles calmly say, “I got this. Stop thinking and let me do the work.”

Those muscles though, don’t know how to do what they do without a lot of practice and hard work. I’ve never known anyone who’s just hopped on a bicycle, for instance, and started riding without ever falling or fumbling or needing training wheels. Sure, once you’ve mastered that skill years can pass without ever being on a bicycle and those muscles will immediately recall what they learned that long time ago. The core tightens to help balance, the legs pedal to help momentum, and the arms know how to steer and help balance the bike – all working in a masterful display of teamwork.

Playing a musical instrument and dancing – they all require tutoring, the desire to learn and the fortitude to keep practicing, even when that act is tedious, monotonous and repetitive.

Yet it is those aspects that make the muscles know what they’re supposed to do even when under stress or duress and there is no hope that the brain will properly function to lend any help.

The heart is a muscle, did you know that? It can be trained to love another person. Sometimes it takes practice and perseverance. In Greek there are four terms for love – agape (charity); eros (romantic love); philia (friendship); and storge (natural affection such as parents/offspring, though it is also used to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations).

Just as surely as the heart is as muscle, it too experiences the phenomenon of muscle memory. Having once loved, it knows how to get back on that metaphorical bicycle and ride again.

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