Muscle Tension and Imaginary Numbers

Two 16th century mathematicians are chatting at a water cooler. One says to the other “hey, what do you suppose the square root of -1 is?”

In a neighboring room, two modern-day bodyworkers (or yoga teachers) are standing at a slightly more modern water cooler. One says to the other “what protection does a tight muscle provide you? What purpose is it serving?”

Both receive blank stares.


Let’s start at the first water cooler.

For a long time, mathematics was based entirely in measurement of physical world, in reality as we could empirically sense it. It was considered by many the language of God, so precise and pure and unwavering.

A concept, then, like imaginary numbers — the square root of a negative number, which you could never point to in physical reality because two numbers multiplied always yields a positive result — was not only foreign, it wasn’t even a thing to be entertained. It was not.

If the question arose at all as to what the square of a negative number would be, it was likely from a rambunctious student who was quickly put in her place.

“Does not, could not, exist. Silly question. Next.”

It took millennia for the idea to be entertained enough that enough mathematicians said, “okay, we know the square of a negative number isn’t anything like anything we know. Just for fun, just to see, what if we map a portion of the infinite universe of ideas and look towards these non-existent numbers. We can sort of play and see what happens.”

Here’s the amazing kicker: these imaginary numbers became foundational in the development of electronics, and the age of computers. We wouldn’t have this technology without the math of imaginary numbers.

Did the mathematicians of the 18th century know they were mapping the precursory knowledge to build enormously complex electronics?

Crystal balls aside, probably not.

What they did know they were doing was answering questions that seemed important to them, and had been written off by others as entirely unimportant, if not a bit sacrilegious to even entertain.


Back to our two chatting bodyworkers.

One has just talked about how hard he worked to release his clients very tight levator scapulae, trapezius and probably even semispinalis cervicis. (Those are all neck muscles, for you non-massage-pros out there.)

His client left, happy, the tension gone from their neck.

“Did you know what role that tension was serving before you released it?” his co-worker asks.

Blank stare.

Why would she even ask that?

What would that mean? In what reality is a ton of tension a “good thing,” an intelligence and not an aberration to be relieved?

Don’t we want freedom of movement, of ROM and the ability to live a pain free life?

These questions may seem antagonistic to the choices and rationale of the first practitioner, but they’re not.



(Quick shout out and story cred here to Michael Hamm, former guest of The Body Awake, a co-teacher of mine, and someone who knows history — and anatomy — like no one else I know. I need to have him back on the show!)


Let’s remember two things about emergence of the mathematics of imaginary numbers.

One is that it didn’t negate at all the mathematics of real numbers. It just pointed to a section of the universe that was thought to be previously uninhabitable, even unmappable.

There was no threat to reality or to any mathematical truths discovered previously.

Two is that the math pioneers 🤓 were charting territory that would be *pivotal* for human civilization centuries later. And had no idea. And followed a question that seemed utterly ludicrous to the status quo.


Whatever your work is, keep going.

Wherever your heart calls you, keep going.

We can get better at reading maps other people have made. That’s important and has its place.

We can also, when we’re looking at questions and hear from our friends “don’t look that way; that’s dumb; there’s nothing there” ...

Keep going.


Have you made it this far? Alright, we’re in good company ♥️ You might appreciate, then, how this story came up:

Mike and I have been deep in conversation the past couple months about how we’re orienting to the workshops we’ll co-teach this summer. These conversations nearly always move into much broader territory, into what’s alive for us and what we feel is important to nurture into more profound health the world.

Mike put a camera in my face mid way — halfway as a joke but also to see what arose — and I got flustered trying to answer the the question he posed (which I can’t even remember now).

I was flustered at least in part because the enormity of the answer I wanted to share felt too big to put into a social media size sound bite.

And perhaps that is why, I said after the camera went off, we are spending so much time doing this prep work. When there’s so, so much that could be said, it helps to know, to root into something real, to orient towards, when the Field gets big.

(In case that’s a little abstract, to put into context: we’re talking about what kinds of dilemmas and questions we’ve faced and the students who come to our workshops may face. We began inquiring around examples of this, of okay your perception has shifted; you’re not who you thought you were or reality isn’t or whatever ... and you return to your practice. But the field of awareness is bigger than it was, which can be disorienting, so what now?)

Mike told me the math story, and I listened.


Love, LB + TBA

See you soon for Season 3 kick off.