"If you can sense it, you can change it!"
- Thomas Hanna
What is Somatics?
Somatics, or Hanna Somatics, was developed by Thomas Hanna, PhD (1928-1990). He was a movement educator who practiced the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. He studied neurophysiology and learned how the brain creates muscles patterns. Through his movement education, and study of neurophysiology he was able to see how our bodies can develop Sensory Motor Amnesia(SMA) and was able to develop simple ways that we can release the chronic muscle tension in our bodies that comes from SMA.
Sensory Motor Amnesia
Sensory Motor Amnesia is simply when the muscles become so tight that they will no longer relax fully. Throughout life we deal with stress, accidents, injuries, and surgeries which all cause muscles to contract and tighten. Eventually the pattern of tightness becomes a habit, which gets stored in the subcortex of the brain, the habit brain.
Remember when you first learned something new, such as driving a car? At first, it took all of your conscious effort be aware of the road, signal, slow down, and turn. Eventually driving became second nature and you sometimes get to your destination without even remembering what you passed because you were thinking of other things. The cortex of your brain is the part of the brain that learns new information. Once it is learned, it moves to the subcortex, where the movement becomes involuntary, or a habit. Your brain knows how to tell the muscles what to do. (muscle memory)
In the case of an injury, such as a sprained ankle, you begin to walk with a limp, compensating to one side. The muscles tighten to hold you in this new balance. As the injury heals you may feel as though you have regained complete use of the muscles again, but as time goes on you start to have knee pain, hip pain, or lower back pain. The brain has taken control of those muscles that were tightened during the injury and maintained a degree of contraction. A habit was formed during the time of the injury and the healing process. This new pattern in the body throws alignment out of balance and other areas become affected. The end result is tight, sore muscles, joint stiffness, and loss of smooth, controlled movement, and quite likely chronic pain.
Muscle contractions occur in very specific patterns and can occur at any age.
The Three Refexes
The body responds to stress in three distinct full body patterns. Sensory Motor Amnesia occurs when we get 'stuck' in any of the patterns.
Green Light Reflex
This is the 'Call to Action', "Go, go, go', response to stress. The back muscles tighten to respond to the need to get things done, go to work, or jump to answer the phone. How many have heard a riding instructor or parent say, "sit up straight!". We arch our backs, pull the shoulders back, and the chin tucks in. The glutes may tighten, and our knees may lock slightly. Imagine a soldier at attention or someone in a showmanship class. When this reflex become habituated it can lead to sciatica, back pain, neck and shoulder pain, herniated disks, and jaw pain.
Red Light Reflex
Imagine you are riding your horse and he spooks at an object. You immediately curl forward, rounding your back, and you stop breathing for a moment. This is the startle reflex and can be brought on through fear, anxiety, depression, shock, or a loud noise. Nowadays we spend many hours in front of computers, looking at laptops, cell phones, or driving in commuter traffic. This reflex shows up with hunched, rounded shoulders, tight abdominal muscles and hip flexors, a pelvis that tucks under, and neck that juts forward. The posture can lead to shallow breathing, hip and knee problems, neck pain, TMJ disorder, tinnitus, abdominal discomfort, and respiratory problems. The extreme of this is seen as the Dowager hump.
Due to accidents, injuries, or surgeries. If we fall, for example, the waist muscles on the other side tighten in order to lighten the load to the injured side. This creates a twist away from the injury. The trauma reflex can be seen from the front by shoulders that are uneven, hips that are uneven, and perhaps a slight twist to the body. This reflex can lead to problems such as uneven leg length, uneven gait, painful hips and knees, and scoliosis.
Does Stretching Work?
When SMA is occuring in a muscle the muscle is no longer under conscious control of the brain. Stretching a muscle to lengthen it doesn't bring the brain into the action. It is the brain that controls the muscles. Stretching a tense muscle will turn on the "stretch reflex" which causes the muscle to tighten more to protect it. Instead of stretching we can use PANDICULATION to reconnect the brain to the muscle. In order to reset the muscle length you need to make a voluntary, conscious contraction where you contract the tight muscles to a comfortable point and then slowly release and lengthen followed by a complete relaxation. By tightening a specific muscle group tighter than they already are, then slowly and mindfully releasing and lengthening them we are able to take back control of the muscles, increasing the range of motion and our ability to use our muscles more effectively. . This is pandiculation. If we just contract and relax the muscles it will not have the same effect. It is through the slow release where you are paying close attention to how the body feels as it releases the tension to relaxation that you will be able to reset the muscles. (This process engages the brain and brings back conscious awareness to the area. Creating a new, more positive movement pattern)
My clients are always amazed at how simple and effective somatics is. Many of the movements are like slow, yawning movements that incorporate full body movements. Dogs and cats pandiculate many times a day as they get up from their naps to prepare them to move around, hunt, and play. We need to do the same thing. By using somatics daily we improve the awareness of our bodies. The more aware you are of your body, the less likely you are to become injured by pushing yourself too hard through exercise, yard work, etc. But, if you do happen to over do it, you will have the somatic movements to help you reset your muscles. 15 minutes a day can keep you moving freely so you can enjoy the many activities you like to do. Age is not the factor, it is how free our muscles are that makes the difference!
Some of the Benefits of Somatics:
- Improve balance, strength, coordination, flexibility, and mobility
- Improve posture
- Improve deep breathing
- Improve athleticism
- Reduce the need to guard areas of the body
Somatics can effectively relieve:
- neck, shoulder, and back pain
- sciatic pain
- headaches due to chronic muscle tension
- hip, knee, and foot pain
- repetitive use injuries
- poor posture
- frozen shoulder syndrome
Learn skills to keep yourself out of pain and regain voluntary control of chronically tight muscles
Book a private Clinical Somatic Session. These sessions are done while lying on a massage type table and you are fully clothed. Yoga pants and a short or long sleeve shirt work best. I will work on reflex patterns in your body and help you sense the muscles that are causing your tension, uneveness, pain, etc, enabling you to break the cycle of SMA and feel tension free muscles again. You will increase your awareness of your body and be taught movements that you can do at home to retain the changes that you gain in the session. Many people see and feel changes within the first session.
For a sample Somatic movement a video of the foundational exercise 'Arch and Flatten' can be found on the For the Rider page. Scroll down toward the bottom of the page.
You can see in the far left picture how the horse was compensating for the rider's imbalance. The middle pictures are the before(left) and after(right) one clinical Somatics session.
Private Sessions can also be taken online. While these are not hands on sessions, the client will still get tremendous benefit with a program specifically for their particular needs.
Group classes available online or in-person
“Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.”
― Robin S. Sharma
Somatic Exercises can change how we live our lives, how we believe that our minds and bodies interrelate, how powerful we think we are in controlling our lives, and how responsible we should be in taking care of our total being. - Thomas Hanna