Somatics for Pain-Free Airline Travel

Last week I returned from a two week Somatics teaching tour in Australia. Thank you, Jo Bentley, my Australian organizer, for bringing me back to teach the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coach Training (SEC) – and being a fantastic host. Thanks as well to Mick Betteridge and Philippa Howard in Melbourne for hosting a training there.

As many of you know, I travel internationally teaching Hanna Somatics. Plane travel is part and parcel of my job. In order to lessen the negative effects of sitting stationary for hours in a cramped airplane seat I came up with a few somatic movements during my flight to Australia. I arrived in Australia feeling relaxed and considerably less stiff than on previous flights.

For all you travelers out there – check this video out and let me know how it goes!

Somatic Exercise Coach Training in Maplewood, NJ – September 5-7, 2014

I will be teaching a Somatic Exercise Coach (SEC) Training Level One in Maplewood, NJ September 5 – 7 (Friday – Sunday). This is the only SEC training I will be teaching in New Jersey for the rest of the year.Image

Register now! Space is limited to only 8 students.

I have taught this training in the United States, Canada, England, Germany and Australia and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I am thrilled that now over 75 new Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coaches are using the assessment techniques, movements and principles of Hanna Somatics to help others regain full movement so that they are able to pursue their favorite activities again.

Pilates, Yoga, Yoga therapists, Nia and Feldenkrais teachers as well as physiotherapists, psychologists, osteopaths and primary care physicians have taken this training for a very specific reason: They want to help their students and patients get rid of muscle pain on which traditional stretching and medical protocols have had little effect.

Hanna Somatics teaches “missing link” information that can eliminate chronic muscle pain for the long term.

Many of my students sought out this particular training because, while they love what they teach, they knew there was a “missing link” about muscles and movement. Hanna Somatics answers many things that traditional methods and approaches cannot. For more information click here.

Hanna Somatics helps improve movement and quality of life.

Training participants report many benefits from learning Somatic Exercises including improved sleep, ease of breathing, freedom from dependency on pain medication, and feeling younger – they are able to move without pain an stiffness. When your students/patients experience the benefits of your Somatic Exercise Coach Training, you are improving their quality of life as well as your own.

See you in September!

For the full line of Pain-Free Somatic Exercise DVDs and Martha’s book, click here.

To host Martha to teach in your area, contact her directly.


How Somatic Exercises Can Teach You To Get Rid of “Degenerative Disc Disease”

I recently read an article about Mike Crawshaw, a young British singer, who stated that his “spine is crumbling” and to avoid any potential harm through surgery, he chose to exercise. One doctor is quoted as saying, ‘The right kind of exercise can be helpful. You can strengthen the back muscles that support everything. This helps deal with the spasms in the affected muscles that cause pain. It’s possible to help with these problems without surgery.’

Crawshaw made the best decision for himself by finding a way to strengthen his back muscles. The doctor’s statement, however, isn’t completely correct; strengthening back muscles “to support everything” will not help deal with muscle spasms in the areas that cause pain. If back muscles are stuck in a state of heightened tension that pulls the discs closer together, you are more likely to “strengthen your pain” than to relieve it.

First here is a perspective on degenerative discs from a Somatic Education perspective. Then we will discuss strengthening the back in order to “support” the allegedly weak spine:

Is a “degenerative disc” caused by a disease process or is it a case of poor muscle function, which results in compressed, herniated and otherwise weakened discs?  The label “degenerative disc disease” sounds like a pathology that supposedly develops with age. Yes, arthritic changes can emerge due to age, poor diet, lack of sufficient water, lack of movement and overuse injuries; all of these can contribute to disc problems.  Most “degenerative discs” that I have seen in my practice are another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia, which can be eliminated when one learns to regain control of one’s muscular system, improve nervous system function of the muscles and restore muscle length.

Muscles put pressure on discs. Release the tight muscles and the discs have more room to move.

In an X-ray, discs that are squeezed tightly together look as if they’re X-rayabout to crumble, causing the spine to buckle like an unstable building. Look at the X-ray on the right. Notice how one disc (the black arrow) has a lot of space, while the other (white arrow) is squeezed together. It doesn’t look good, does it? The spaces between the discs are uneven and the spine is being pulled into an uneven “archer’s bow,” which gives the appearance of excess pressure on the lower vertebra (white arrow).

But what exactly pulls the spine into this shape?

Answer: the muscles.

And why would the muscles pull on the spine like this? They are stuck in what Thomas Hanna called the “Green Light Reflex,” a reflex that contracts the muscles to prepare them for action. This reflex, like all reflexes is simply an unconditioned response to stress. The problem occurs when it becomes conditioned and habituated; the brain can literally forget how to relax the muscles. Here’s the thing: you can’t see muscles on an X-ray; all you can see is the result of the bones being pulled by the muscles.

Never strengthen something you can’t feel.

Degenerative disc disease is a functional problem of the sensory motor system, not dissimilar to many other musculoskeletal problems that are deemed structural by the medical world. Once you lose awareness of your movement and how the way in which you respond and adapt to stress (mentally, emotionally and physically) you, too, may develop problems with your discs. There is a solution that doesn’t involve surgery: Clinical Somatic Education and Somatic Exercises.

We all need to be strong, so awareness of what you can and cannot feel and control in your body is the first step to strengthening. The second step is to regain full muscle function and length. Once this is achieved, your brain now works with a muscle that is not being restricted by Sensory Motor Amnesia. Think of it this way: moving with Sensory Motor Amnesia is like trying to drive with the emergency brake on. Once Sensory Motor Amnesia is eliminated, create an enjoyable strengthening routine and be sure to include Somatic Exercises as a warm-up and cool-down to maintain optimum muscle function.



Somatics Training Summer and Fall 2014

2014 has been and continues to be a very busy year for Essential Somatics as I travel to teach both the Somatic Exercise Coach Level One training and the Clinical Somatic Education professional certification program.

This Fall I will be teaching Level Two of the Somatic Exercise Coach Training in York, UK. See at the bottom of this post.




July 25 – 27
Click here for more details

For more information about Adelaide, lodging and logistics, please contact the training host:
Jo Bentley (

Melbourne                                                                                                                                                        August 1 – 3MELBOURNE
Click here for more details

For more information about Melbourne, lodging and logistics, please contact the training hosts:

Mick Betteridge (
Philippa Howard (

Martha will also have a limited number of spots available for private clinical sessions during her visit to Australia. Please contact Martha directly to set up your clinical session.


Midland, Texas                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Click here for more details

Maplewood, NJ                                                                                                                               September 5 – 7, 2014
Click here for more details


York, EnglandImage 19
October 10 – 12
Click here for more details

Bensheim, Germany
October 17 – 19
Click here for more details

This training is open to movement professionals, body-workers, athletic/fitness trainers, Yoga, NIA and Pilates teachers and medical professionals and others outside the movement profession who want to learn to use Somatic Exercises to help others.

Learn how to help your clients and students begin to eliminate chronic muscle pain – on their own – so they can prepare to move better at any age or in any activity.

Please contact Martha directly with any questions.


York, England                                                                                                                                   October 24 – 26, 2014                                                                                                                                    Click here for details

This training is open to only to those who have successfully completely Level One of the Essential Somatics Somatic Exercise Coach Training.

Bring Martha and the Essential Somatics Somatic Exercise Coach Training to your area! Training dates are available for Spring 2015. Contact Martha directly for information about how to host a training, public workshops or on-site clinical session days for those in your area seeking a long term solution to chronic muscle pain and limited movement.

Are Your Feet Killing You? Happier, Pain-Free Feet With Somatics

The feet are one of the most neglected area of the human body, yet they are an integral part of our balancing system. Humans are the only perfectly bipedal being on earth. When all goes well, our feet coordinate  together beautifully with the legs, pelvis and somatic center so we can stand up in gravity and move forward.

Feet 1Many people, however, stuff their feet into hard leather shoes, put them into artificial and unnatural positions (think high heeled shoes), “support them” with orthotics  and squishy sneakers and actually hinder them from sensing and feeling the ground and responding to the sensory feedback that would ideally help them know where they are in space. Some people are told that problems such as hammertoes, bunions and neuromas are heredity structural problems when, in fact, they are functional problems of the sensory motor system.  When we stop training our feet to sense and feel we can forget how to use our feet and toes over time.

The muscles of the feet are no different from any other muscles in the body: they can learn to be flexible, responsive to movement and efficient. They can also learn to stay tight and contracted, making walking unpleasant, cumbersome, clumsy and, for some, painful –  especially when barefoot.

Here’s the thing: problems of the feet develop in the lower leg due to imbalances in the center of the body. How often have you stopped and noticed your feet and how your weight is distributed through your feet. Do you clutch your toes? If you tend to lean forward, slightly slumped in your posture, you probably do. Clutching your toes keeps you from falling forward! When you stand or walk do you tend to roll in or out on your feet? Notice this next time you walk. Notice whether you put more weight on one leg and foot than the other when you walk. Then make a note of which foot is more sore or painful (or has a bunion).

Feet 2The more you move your feet the better your balance and gait will be. In my book, Move Without Pain, I recommend getting reacquainted with your feet by playing with them. Did you ever wonder why babies play with their feet? They are a vast resources of information that provides critically important information for the brain. Once we stand up to gravity that information can help us with our proprioception and balance.
Laura Gates, Certified Hanna Somatic Educator, taught a group of my Clinical Somatic Education practitioners-in-training in Europe how to explore the muscles and movement of the feet for happier, more flexible and “intelligent” feet. Below is an easy, fun video of her as she gives a tutorial about how to remind the muscles of the feet (and lower legs) to stay relaxed and ready for action.


Heal a Herniated Disc with Hanna Somatics

I’ve gone to an acupuncturist, pain medicine doctor, sports medicine doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist – and they all told me, “you’ll never get rid of this. It will never go away.”

This is what my client, Joanne (not her real name) told me before her first clinical Somatics session. She had a herniated disc, severe back pain and sacroiliac joint pain. She had a feeling that “life’s impacts,” as she called them, had had more of an effect on her than anything else. I agreed with her. I explained some basics about muscles and bones in order to de-mystify what up until then had been an elusive problem:

  • Muscles attach to bones and muscles move bones.
  • Your brain and nervous system senses and moves your muscles.
  • Your brain responds and adapts to stress in your environment by tightening muscles in specific, full body patterns.
  • If these stress responses are on-going or severe enough (ie. an accident), your brain/muscles habituate involuntarily as if the stress were still occurring, even as if has stopped. This is a neurological event in your brain.
  • Your muscles learn to become really good at contracting and holding your body tightly, so they must learn to relax and release. Only you can re-train your muscles to release and relax. It is a process of remembering how to sense and move your own body more accurately.

Discs and bones only move when muscles move them and muscle dysfunction affects structural integrity.

Why is this important to understand? Because muscles and bones have no mind of their own. They only sciaticarespond to electrical signals from the brain. Yes, an X-ray can show a protrusion in your spine – but the question medicine fails to ask is, “what happened – or is continuing to happen – in the muscles, that is putting excess pressure on the spine and discs?

Herniated discs, one of the most common muscle pain conditions I see in my clinical practice, are the structural result of poor muscle function. They are yet another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. More specifically, herniated discs are the result of habituation to two stress reflexes:

Trauma Reflex : the brain’s response to an accident, injury, surgery or long term compensation due to all of the above. The muscles of the waist and trunk rotators contract more on one side in order to avoid further pain.  There is always a slight side bending or twist apparent in people with a trauma reflex. The waist muscles (the internal and external obliques, plus the quadratus lumborum, which “hikes” the pelvis up on one side) cause an uneven pull on the lumbar spine (or on the cervical spine in the case of a cervical herniation). This, in affect, herniates the disc.

Green Light Reflex: this reflex contracts all the muscles of the back of the body, from sacrum to occiput, is a “call to action” response, invoked hundreds of times a day in our rushed, industrialized society. It is the cause of most chronic back pain. The muscles of the back are like steel rods, yet feel weak and fatigued.

Over the course of five clinical sessions Joanne learned to regain awareness and control over the muscles of her waist, back and pelvis, all of which had become rigid and contracted over the years. She learned to pandiculate (rather than stretch) her muscles, restoring full muscle function and length to her weary muscles. When she learned to release her back muscles her shooting pain began to disappear. Once her waist and trunk rotators began to soften she enjoyed moving her hips and pelvis without fear of pain when she walked. “My husband won’t know what’s walking in the door!” she laughed after one session.

Here are three of the most important exercises that Joanne did to help her relax her back and waist muscles – Arch and Flatten, to release tight back muscles and  the Side Bend and the Washrag.

Joanne now understood that her internal process of “forgetting” how to move her muscles, which contributed to her pain, had developed over time due to stress. Now the internal process of remembering how to move and maintaining mastery and freedom of movement with Somatic Exercises and renewed awareness was her’s to continue to do for the rest of her life. Her doctors had been wrong and she knew it all along.



Have Fun With Your Somatics!

Today was a big day for my second year clinical Somatic Education students. It was a day of public clinic in which they worked with members of the public, some of whom had had previous experience with Hanna Somatics and other who were new to it. Each client had specific aches and pains: back pain, shoulder and hip pain, Achilles tendon pain. My students taught clinical lessons as my assistant teacher, Laura Gates and I observed and critiqued them.

The most important part of a clinical Somatics lesson is the self-care homework: the Somatic Exercises. These simple movement patterns help reinforce the often dramatic changes people are able to make in their muscles and movement during the session. They literally “wake up” the brain’s awareness of what it feels like to be in one’s body and how to control the muscles and movement. In addition, they enhance immune function, improve breathing, mental focus, reduce muscle tension IMG_5252and stress and improve proprioception and sensory motor function.

One of my students, Ales Ernst from Slovenia, was working with a client who told him that the Somatic Exercise she had the most trouble with was the “back lift” (an excellent movement that releases and relaxes tight back muscles). He asked her to show him how she did this movement at home. He notice that she was rushing through the exercise as if she were at the gym: fast, at maximum strength and without fully relaxing. Here’s what he advised her that made all the difference in her experience and awareness:

Imagine that someone were watching you do this movement (in her case, it was the “back lift”), and they didn’t know what you were doing. You would want them to be thinking, “Wow, I think I want to do that as well. It looks really pleasant and enjoyable.” It’s like watching a young child play; you may not know what game they’re playing or what’s going on in their head; you just know they’re having fun. It shows in their body and movement. If you approach your Somatic Exercises in this manner you cannot hurt yourself or over-exert yourself. See if you can make the movement as pleasant as possible.You’ll only learn more about yourself, and the more you learn about yourself the better your life can be.

After several slow repetitions of the back lift, done with this in mind, she laughed and said, “I feel so relaxed! I think this will become my favorite Somatic Exercise!”

Ales’s simple explanation gets to the heart of how to do Somatic Exercises. We understand all the good reason as to why to do Somatic Exericses, yet as Ales pointed out to his client, they way in which we do our Somatic Movements – our intention – makes all the difference. Do we do them because we want to or because we “have to?”  Most of us spend a lot of time doing what is expected of us (what we “should” do or think we should do) and very little time doing what we want to do. If we do our Somatic Movements as if they were an unpleasant obligation our brain gets an entirely different message than if we do them because we enjoy them.

Stress research has proven that when people feel forced to do something their stress response goes way up. When people do something they enjoy (what they want to do) their stress response is low. The more pleasurable something is, the more we want to do it and the more you get out of it.

Somatic Movement practice is a gesture of kindness you make towards yourself. It’s a time to slow down, be mindful, explore, play and, in a sense, return to yourself.
Engage with your Somatics practice – whether you do Somatics on the floor or explore fun movements while seated or standing – with an eye towards making it as pleasant as possible.

You just might find yourself doing more of what you want to do in your life instead of only doing what you think you “should” be doing. The process is yours.