My Journey to Somatics
As a horse trainer, I have had many falls and bumps and bruises over the years. Even during my my teen years I was active in sports...volleyball, long distance running, soccer, etc. as well as riding, and had various injuries. As I got older I had kids, childbirth could certainly be considered trauma to the body! All of these had a lasting impact on my body. It wasn't until the past 10 years that I really started to notice the changes that were occuring.
After sustaining some hard falls off horses I took the typical course of action of massage, physio, craniosacral, and osteopathy to find relief from chronic pains, mainly si-joint pain, and body imbalances that were now starting to affect my riding. All these modalities helped to some extent, but then my body would go right back into the new pattern it found comfortable. I am an active person, I work out regularly as well as ride and coach. I could not believe how far my body had gotten out of balance without me realizing it. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. SMA happens when your muscles chronically contract in response to injury, pain, and stress. Your muscles are stuck in reflex patterns that your brain no longer has control over because it has become so habitual you can no longer voluntarily relax them. No amount of "working out', physio, stretching, etc. can change muscle length until you learn to voluntarily release them to a resting, relaxed length. This was a huge lesson to learn, and the start to changing my body.
In 2014, while on a regular visit to my osteopath, to relieve my si-joint pain before a horse show (this had become a regular routine before horse shows so that I could sit the bigger trot work. If I didn't do this my back would contract to guard the pain in my si-joint), my osteopath gave me a few Somatic exercises as my homework. I started to find relief in a way I hadn't before. The movements were simple and easy to fit into my busy day, so I continued to use them and then I started doing some research on Somatics. In 2015 I took a Somatic Educator Course (SEC) in Calgary, AB, where I became a Somatics Exercise Coach, and immediately signed up for the 3 Year Clinical Somatic Training. I could see how this was going to help me with my issues and also help my students get past their own riding "blocks" by freeing the body to move as it should. After that SEC weekend I was amazed with how I felt. It was truly life changing!
Somatics works to change the connection between your brain and muscles to release chronic tension. That is the key!
Working out could not change my body. While I would get stronger doing strength training, the sma in my body, and the new muscle pattern my body now took, also got stronger. I was literally strengthening my pain and imbalance! In 2015 I had my appendix out and could not ride or work out for 6 weeks. As I got feeling better I started my somatics practice daily to relieve the new trauma, from surgery, in my body. I was pleasantly amazed that when I did go back to traditional exercise of strength training that I was actually able to start where I left off and in some instances felt stronger. Through the Somatic movements I had reset my muscles to their full relaxed length so when I needed them for strength I was able to use the full muscle for a movement. When you have SMA the brain takes over part of the muscle and keeps it chronically contracted. For example, if you've had an injury, perhaps the muscle contracted to 40%, after you have recovered you maybe get back 20% of that, but now you still have a muscle that is chronically contracted at 20% and since your brain has taken over control, you no longer realize you don't have full conscious control of the muscle. This is when SMA occurs. For many people they need to work on their functional ability first before they should focus on strength, or, just like me, they will be strengthening the imbalance already there.
In addition to helping me move more freely, through Somatics, I also noticed changes in how I think more clearly, sleep better, and work more efficiently. It all has to do with the nervous system. The constant stress that we all deal with every day, due to our ever changing world puts the sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that stimulates the fight-or-flight response) into overdrive and never lets your parasympathetic nervous system kick in so we can enjoy the pleasant things in life like relaxing, digesting, playing with our kids...the list goes on. Somatics has taught me to slow down and take a breath, a nice deep breath. I still work and still have a busy life, but I enjoy it so much more!
I am loving being able to now educate others how they can move freely, relax more, and enjoy the ride!
BEFORE AND AFTER
The collage below shows me riding with a very dropped shoulder. I did not know this was the way I was riding until I saw this picture! You can also see how much I was affecting the straightness of my horse! The riding picture on the right shows me riding in 2015 after the first Somatics course and before I started the Clinical training. The pictures in the middle were from my first Clinical Somatics session with my teacher, Martha Peterson. What a difference! My body is a classic example of the Trauma Reflex. At this time I was running and working out regularly, definitely strengthening this lopsided pattern!
Changes in my horse
Another thing I noticed through this work is my horse requires fewer adjustments. When I was getting nearly monthly adjustments myself with my osteopath, my horse was also getting monthly adjustments with his chiropractor. I remember the chiropractor saying one day, "maybe it's you!". Apparently it was, because since I have become more balanced so has he! A big bonus for both of us...as well as the other horses I ride.
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