"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 brain, which controls the muscles, forgets how to release them.
Remember when you first learned something new, such as driving a car? At first, it took all of your conscious effort to look for the road to turn at, slow down, signal, 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.
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 contraction 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.
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 cause 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 slow release where you are paying close attention to how the body feels that you will be able to reset the muscles.
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!
“Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.”
― Robin S. Sharma