How To Relax Muscles For Rapid Pain Relief

When it come to teaching muscles to relax, there are myriad disciplines available. How do you know which one to choose?

I’ve been a massage therapist for 24 years. I still occasionally give  massages, though my practice is primarily Hanna Somatics.  Recently one of my massage clients told me,  “I’m finally able to sit cross-legged. After 10 sessions of _______ my legs are actually beginning to relax.” 10 sessions?! Now, I’m not going to tell you which method she’s doing, because I really don’t like to disparage any one approach.  However, when it comes to chronic pain or postural imbalances, Hanna Somatics is just about the most effective method available. Why? Because our expertise is in teaching you to recognize and reverse SENSORY MOTOR AMNESIA.

I use to be a frequent visitor to my favorite Rolfer. I, too, thought that relaxing muscles and “fixing” chronic pain had to take time, and that muscles take a long time to relax and change. Most Rolfers ask for a 10 session commitment. They are taught that slowly, but surely muscles will relax and structure will realign once fascia is relaxed around the muscles. Many massage therapists believe that weekly massages for long periods of time can get rid of those muscle spasms. Even more physical therapists and doctors will say that back pain requires visits three times a week for sometimes up to 4 months! Fortunately, from a Somatic Education point of view, I know they are incorrect. My clinical experience tells me otherwise.

When you understand how muscles are controlled by the brain and the nervous system and how muscles can learn to stay habitually contracted it changes the game plan. When muscles become “frozen” in sensory motor amnesia, the brain literally forgets how to relax them. The muscles must be retrained. No amount of machines, weights or massive kneading will change the state of an involuntarily tight muscle.

Through active participation and the technique of pandiculation, muscles can change their contracted state in minutes! Through daily practice your muscles can stay balanced and coordinated for the long term. Forget 10 sessions – how about only 4 or 5 – and sometimes even less. When you experience the rapid change in sensory motor control and self-awareness that you can achieve in one or two clinical sessions of Hanna Somatics, it can change your life and your perspective.

My client who has gone to 10 sessions of _____ could have achieved the same results in 3 sessions of Somatics. She could also relax her contracted shoulders which are out of balance.  Once she did that she could go to _______ and get strong and conditioned more effectively.

Once muscles have been reset at the brain level, and your body and movement are balanced and symmetrical, then you can go off and enjoy all the myriad disciplines out there that are fun to do. You’ll enjoy your massage more thoroughly, you’ll get more out of your weight training, yoga, Pilates, running or whatever else you love to do.

The commitment to keeping yourself feeling good is yours. I wrote a blog post about how good health is a long term commitment. It doesn’t take long to learn to relax muscles and rid yourself of pain. It takes a life time of awareness and joyful movement, however, to keep yourself feeling good. And that, my friends, is free.

20 thoughts on “How To Relax Muscles For Rapid Pain Relief

    • Thanks, Matt. I’m glad to be of help in shedding light on issues of muscular pain with a different perspective. Let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to discuss, or problems you might have encountered with muscle pain that you have questions about.

    • Thanks, Matt. This philosophy and method was developed by Thomas Hanna, PhD. You can read about it in detail in the book, Somatics. I’m simply trying to make it as accessible and easily understood as possible. Thanks for following the blog. Pass it on to your friends!
      Martha

  1. I have a very hard time being able to sit cross-legged. I love meditating, but can do it only for so long because after 30 minutes or so my legs or some other part of my body will start hurting. I have read that the best pose for real long periods of meditation is Full Lotus,and for that you have to have realflexible hip flexors, otherwise you will end up with damaged knee caps.How can somatics help me here?

    • Hi Miguel,
      This is a great question! The answer is YES – Somatics can help you relax the muscles that are so tight that they are keeping you from doing full lotus. In a hands on clinical session this problem is easily solved (where are you? Are you anywhere near NY/NJ?). However, since I’m not working with you hands on, even simple Somatic Exercises can help a lot. I know a lot of people who meditate simply be sitting in “easy pose,” not necessarily full lotus. That being said, if you used to be able to do a lotus – or at the very least, sit in “easy pose,” then Somatics can teach you to relax the full body pattern of tightness you have in your body in order to gradually teach the muscles of your hips and legs to relax. If you force your legs, yes, you will damage your knees. Forcing any kind of movement is counter-productive and will only cause harm.
      The best place to begin to learn to release and re-educate those tight muscles that are keeping you from doing lotus, is to look at my blog posts about hip pain, and then at the one about a “Somatic Warm-Up.” These posts will give you some good beginning Somatic Exercises to get you started. Habitual tightness in the muscles of your waist, buttocks, and hips contribute to an inability to let the legs drop outward.
      I would also be very happy to help you learn to reverse this pattern of tightness you have in your body by doing an online Skype session. In these sessions I also talk you through some of the more powerful hands-on techniques that we use.
      Another option is to buy my DVD and begin learning the Somatic Exercises on the DVD. These will go a long way toward getting you to your goal of full lotus. Remember, Miguel, that it’s a gradual process – just like meditation – of first becoming aware of your body, and where you hold your tightness. Then you begin to “unwind” all that tightness and rebuild a new awareness and more efficient movement. Somatics is like physical meditation. The two are an excellent combination!

      In early October I will have 4 wonderful, new instructional DVDs for sale. One of them is called, “Releasing Legs and Hip Joints.” It has on it exactly the movements I would teach you were you to come to one of my workshops or classes.

      Please let me know how I can help you.
      Best to you,
      Martha

      • Hi Martha,

        I pulled a muscle in my upper hamstrings (just below the glutes) during a treadmill session about two years ago. That night I experienced pain deep in my hip and glutes, and noticed that my hips did not move as freely. Soon, i began to experience a sort of pinching pain that included an “icy-hot” feeling in the area of my acetabulum. Since the injury, my left hip is rotated (I believe anteriorly) and my sitting bones are uneven.

        I have gone to two chiropractors, had a few massage sessions, and have gone to a sports therapist for consultation. They all seemed to think the problem was my piriformus, and gave me stretching exercises. The massage sessions simply left me feeling bruised and did not help the pain. Although the chiropractic sessions helped with the pain I had they did not fix my misalignment.

        Today, strengthening and/or stretching seem to aggravate the muscles. Oddly, running helps some of the time, but not others. Over the past week, I have become aware that my muscles in my left hip (the side the injury was on) are always in a contracted state. I have to constantly consciously make myself relax them, and as soon as I stop consciously trying to relax them they tighten up again. Everyday activities such as sitting or driving are painful, as I am relatively sure my ciatic nerve is being pinched from the constant contraction of muscles in my hip. My movement, strength and flexibility are all uneven between my two legs/hips.

        After 2 years of being in discomfort and/or pain, I am interested to learn more about your method, but live in Oregon. How can I learn more?

        Thank you!
        Ann

  2. Thank you very much for your reply. It’s been very reassuring to know that I can find the help I was looking for in somatics. Unfortunately, I can’t take advantage of the hands-on work, since I live very far from where you reside-I live in Colombia, South America.
    So I guess that my best option is to wait until October for your instructional DVDs.

  3. Hi there, I have been suffering from severe neck, shoulder and back muscle tightness, for over two months. I had sore muscles before, but after a visit to the chiropractor everything got worse. I have tried massage, accupuncture, physio. I have been doing visual meditation, I am getting very frustrated. I live outside of toronto canada. Do you have any advice or know of a practitioner in this area?

    • Hi Sarah,
      Hanna Somatics can be very helpful for tinnitus, TMJ and other muscular problems that result from the red light reflex and/or a slight lean of the head/face forward as many people do when they look at a computer screen, cell phone or iPad.

      If you’re tight in the center of the body (the abdominals, front of shoulders – neck pulled slightly forward) you will feel it in the back of the neck as those muscle co-contract to compensate for your unbalanced posture.

      Look at this blogpost and learn the somatic exercise that accompanies it. I would also suggest that you begin learning the basic somatic exercises and possibly those on my “Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders” DVD as well.

      Also, unfortunately we don’t have a practitioner in the Charlotte area. I wish we did! We have a practitioner from Asheville (who lives in NJ) who visits there every once in a while and takes private clients. I’m not sure if that would work for you.

      Thanks for your question!
      Martha

  4. Hi Martha,

    I pulled a muscle in my upper hamstrings (just below the glutes) during a treadmill session about two years ago. That night I experienced pain deep in my hip and glutes, and noticed that my hips did not move as freely. Soon, i began to experience a sort of pinching pain that included an “icy-hot” feeling in the area of my acetabulum. Since the injury, my left hip is rotated (I believe anteriorly) and my sitting bones are uneven.

    I have gone to two chiropractors, had a few massage sessions, and have gone to a sports therapist for consultation. They all seemed to think the problem was my piriformus, and gave me stretching exercises. The massage sessions simply left me feeling bruised and did not help the pain. Although the chiropractic sessions helped with the pain I had they did not fix my misalignment.

    Today, strengthening and/or stretching seem to aggravate the muscles. Oddly, running helps some of the time, but not others. Over the past week, I have become aware that my muscles in my left hip (the side the injury was on) are always in a contracted state. I have to constantly consciously make myself relax them, and as soon as I stop consciously trying to relax them they tighten up again. Everyday activities such as sitting or driving are painful, as I am relatively sure my ciatic nerve is being pinched from the constant contraction of muscles in my hip. My movement, strength and flexibility are all uneven between my two legs/hips.

    After 2 years of being in discomfort and/or pain, I am interested to learn more about your method, but live in Oregon. How can I learn more?

    Thank you!
    Ann

    • Hi Ann,

      There are several ways to learn more:

      1. The best way is to read the book, Somatics, by Thomas Hanna. You can get it on Amazon.com. He was a Feldenkrais practitioner and philosophy PhD who went on to develop his own method, Hanna Somatic Education, which incorporates the basics of neurophysiology as a means to more rapidly teach people how to reverse Sensory Motor Amnesia and free themselves from aches, pains and what people consider the inevitable results of aging. His book is excellent.

      2. Read my book, Move Without Pain. You can get it on Amazon as well (or from me, directly from my website). It is a simpler “user’s guide” to Hanna Somatics and has easy to follow instructions and good photos that help you learn the Somatic Exercises. I would also highly recommend purchasing my “basics” DVD, which helps you learn the Somatic Exercises.

      3. Read the information under “Learning Center” on my website. There’s lots of information to digest!

      4. Find a practitioner in your area. I’m not sure whether we have a practitioner in Oregon. I can find out for you.

      5. Have a Skype session with me and I can assess you, guide you through some basic somatic exercises and teach you more.

      When you hurt yourself you can get stuck in a “trauma reflex,” which throw the hips/center of the body out of alignment. It’s instant and involuntary. It can only be eliminated by you. Your brain responded to whatever stress occurred on the treadmill (or whatever tight muscles were on the edge of injury and you simply weren’t aware of them), so only you and your brain can fix the problem. This is why you haven’t found any long term relief going to other practitioners.

      Let me know how I can help.

      Best to you,
      Martha

  5. Hi Martha. I have a recurring problem with the muscles in my neck. Something will trigger it, often stress or lifting something heavy, and then the entire neck seizes up for usually 3 or more days. I can barely move, and it aches terribly. Because of the pain, the other muscles around it tighten up too, which extends the discomfort. Basically I need to lay down for the entire time, because moving around is painful. I’ve tried chiropractic, physio, massage… nothing helps. My doctor says “just relax”, but this is really causing more stress in my life. It happens once every 6 weeks or so, and has been recurring for maybe 3 years. I do a bit of yoga and I’m generally healthy and active. I do have a sedentary job. I live in Canada. Thoughts? Help?! Thanks!

    • If you’re having problems with your neck, you’re tight in the center of your body. The neck only responds to what’s happening in the larger muscles of the body. Go to my website and read the article about the “3 Somatic Reflexes.” If you’re stuck in the red light (startle) reflex, your neck will be painful…but because the center of the body – mainly the large abdominal muscle (rectus abdominus) is contracted, as are the pectoral (chest) muscles. This pulls the neck forward. It is a FULL BODY pattern of contraction. Address the full body pattern of muscular tightness and the neck will relax.

      The reason the chiropractor, physio and massage therapist can’t help you is that they’re looking to “fix” your neck, when the problem lies in the way in which your brain has taught the muscles of your body to tighten in response to stress.

      Where do you live in Canada? Two of my clinical students are Canadian. One in Halifax, one in Welland, Ontario. I can send you their contact information. I would also suggest purchasing my “basics” DVD. Begin to learn the basic somatic exercises that will help you become aware of the muscles that are stuck in Sensory Motor Amnesia, so you can release them and regain your freedom of movement and end your neck pain.

      And lastly, I can help you via online video Skype sessions. Information here: http://www.essentialsomatics.com/index.php?/hanna-somatics-sessions-workshops/online_video_session/

      I’m here to help!
      All the best,
      Martha

      • Thank you! I’m in Winnipeg, unfortunately not near your students. I will look into that article right away.

      • Hi Leni,

        Also consider a few Skype sessions with me. They are very useful and we can get a lot done: visual assessment, movement assessment, movement lesson. I do them with people from all over the world. It’s a good way to “jump start” yourself on the road to pain relief and a better understanding of what may be going on for you in your body and movement.

        Best, Martha

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