Somatics and Pregnancy

Here is a brief “Somatics Journal” from one of my clinical Somatics students who just had her third baby. It’s her experience of doing Somatic Exercises before, during and after her pregnancy and integrating the awareness she gained from it. Enjoy!

I wanted to share my Somatics experience during the delivery of my daughter and during the last few weeks, back at home, exploring ways to avoid unnecessary pains and discomfort in my body.

It is amazing how awareness and connectedness to your body can make the childbirth experience so different.

It wasn’t easier or less painful for me, yet in the moment of truth, when I had to help my baby and push her out, I could actually imagine and picture the muscles in my body. I could see which muscles should work when I needed to push and which muscles should stay relaxed, long and open, in a way that would help me work in the most efficient way. In every contraction I actually did Arch and Curl. Then I completely relaxed my muscles in between the contractions. I felt in control of my body and the entire process. This was much different experience from my other two deliveries. I was part of it, I helped it, I had control!

Back home, there was lots of physical and repetitive stress:

Hodling my baby for hours, breastfeeding her in an uncomfortable position that didn’t feel good in my body. Holding her in one arm and playing with my other two kids, using the rest of my body, trying to find balance and ease. Challenging!

Thankfully, at the end of the day (well, there isn’t really end of the day when you have a baby) when the other kids were asleep, I had my “Hanna Somatics cat stretch” – I had my awareness – just me taking care of my body and reminding it that it could be different. Pandiculating, feeling my muscles, isolating the areas needed to be taken care of, enjoying the movement, allowing my body to flow in such a natural, relaxing way.

It takes me about 15 minutes a day to awaken my muscles, to activate my joints, to find again the way to move freely and remind my brain and my nervous system how my body, my muscles can and should work. Three weeks after having my baby, I was laying on my yoga mat and what I felt was discomfort in my back – a huge arch in my lower back. Both my shoulders were rounded forward and it felt like someone was  pulling them up to my ears and I could not control it. I was looking for that feeling of “melting” into the mat, and just couldn’t feel it.

An easy daily movement routine to regain control of your body:

Arch and Flatten – I start to feel more in control, my movement becomes more fluid, smooth. I feel a wavy movement in my entire spine and can actually feel it and imagine it moving from bottom to top. My neck joins the movement and then the head and chin move as well. My entire body is in that movement and I already have much more control than I had when I started.

Flower – this is where the front of my body really opens, and the shoulders release down. It BiaELA7BTfeels great because it releases my upper back. I still don’t feel comfortable laying on my belly and doing the Back Lift, so I just do a variation of it while lying on my back. After doing it, I can sense the connection between my upper body and my lower body.

Arch and CurlI love this one! When releasing the front of the body, on the way down back to the mat, I release so slowly that I feel each vertebra, one by one, as it touches the mat. My elbows open to the sides and I go all the way down until my shoulders and elbows touch the mat. It is a complete release of my upper body when I do it slowly and control each muscle that is part of that movement.

Side Bend  – After holding my baby for only four weeks now, I know I still need to restore balance between the right and left sides of my body. This is the best exercise to restore balance. I do it first with my hand on my hip, just to feel where the movement is and which muscles are working. When doing it with my arm holding my head, I feel the entire side of my body lengthen and open all the way to my armpit.

Steeple Twist I love connection I feel when I do the Steeple Twist the upper and lower body and sides of my body – when everything moves from the center. I’m like a well-oiled machine.

I do my Somatic Exercises every day. Sometimes I add my own movement variations and allow my body to choose the way it wants to move, in the most natural way. At the end of each practice, I stand up and feel taller, softer; I feel good in my own body, I feel that I have control again.

I thank Hanna Somatics, as well as my Nia movement practice for this. I feel lucky that I’m able to choose awareness and movement as a way of life.


A Strong Core Is A Core The Brain Can Control

I recently received this email:
We are often told (by doctors, exercise experts in the media) that it is good to strengthen our “core muscles” – and often Pilates or Yoga is recommended for that purpose. We’re also told that soft muscles and ligaments make us vulnerable to low back pain. Do Hanna Somatic exercises help strengthen our core, such that we don’t necessarily have to add another type of strengthening exercise routine to our already busy lives?
“Core strengthening” is often considered a panacea for low back pain and a lack of “core strength” is often blamed for low back pain! Neither one is accurate. Right off the bat and straight to the point, most people with back pain, limited movement and poor posture are suffering from Sensory Motor Amnesia.
The muscles of the core respond involuntarily to stress reflexes by twisting or rotating  to avoid pain or injury (Trauma Reflex), slumping and drawing inward (Red Light/Startle Reflex) and contracting the back (Green Light/Landau Response) to move forward. If you continuously repeat these actions, the muscles of the core learn to stay tight, short and overly contracted. Strengthening muscles that have habituated to stress reflexes is a recipe for more pain. It simply doesn’t work and can actually cause harm in some cases.

What is “the core” anyway?

“The core” of the body comprises the front, sides and back of the body, from the skull to the d5c71e70ed10d57c667d879908bb48ccpelvic floor and out to the hips. It is not just those abdominal muscles that we are told to suck in and draw up in order to support the back. The core includes the deep muscles of the back that flex and extend our spine and the muscles of the waist (which strap our ribcage to our pelvis) that allow us to laterally flex as well as twist. It is like a girdle of muscles that strap the upper and lower halves of the body to each other.

Repeatedly contracting your abdominals (as one does with sit-ups) creates excessive muscle tension that can prevent fluid, efficient and pain-free movement. Overly contracted abdominal muscles contribute to back pain, neck pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. When the muscles of the back, waist and abdominals are supple, relaxed and fully under the brain’s control, movement is easy and efficient. The trouble is, most people can tighten their core but they cannot fully relax it. This poses a problem when it comes to strengthening for long term health and fitness.

Hanna Somatics helps strengthen the core and relieve low back pain by restoring full brain control of the muscles.

Hanna Somatic exercises do not intentionally teach you to strengthen the muscles of the posture pillow excore. They teach you to regain voluntary control over those muscles of your core which are, for most people, in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia. They restore full muscle length at the brain level through slow, aware movement and pandiculation so you can regain balance and have a supple core whose long muscles can flex, extend, side bend and rotate voluntarily. Hanna Somatics doesn’t take the place of the movement you love to do; it prepares you to do what like, only better.  Somatic Exercises teach you to find your own comfortable, neutral posture for support of your spine as you learn to sense and control your muscles from the inside out.

Is it important to strengthen the core?

Yes, it’s important to be strong and it doesn’t have to be a burden – one more thing you feel obligated to do in your busy life. It all depends on how you do it and what you choose to do.

We all need to be strong. Being strong stresses our skeleton in a good way, and can prevent osteoporosis as it aids in bone density. Strong muscles that the brain can control support and stabilize you in any given task so that you can maintain your physical independence as you age. Somatic Exercises improve your sensory motor awareness so you can self-monitor and self-correct your movement and posture in response to the stresses of life.

In another post I will discuss some ideas for functional daily strengthening that will be less of a burden and can be integrated into your life.

The Best Exercise for Low Back Pain and Neck Pain

A stiff neck is a stiff body.

I’ve written about neck pain before, and how it is never solely a problem of the neck muscles. The brain and nervous system control our bodies as a system. While it may feel as if there is one muscle – or area of the body – causing the pain, that is rarely ever the case. So it is with “neck pain” and “back pain.”

Both neck pain and low back pain are the result of tight muscles in the center of the body. “The neck” is only the top of the spine and it moves in conjunction with the rest of the body – the muscles on the top of the shoulders (levator scapulae, scalenese and upper trapezius) as well as the strong and deep muscles of the back.

In a case of whiplash from, let’s say, a car accident, the muscles of the back of the body, which insert from the pelvis up into the occiput of the skull, reflexively and violently contract. This can cause Sensory Motor Amnesia, in which the muscles remain “frozen,” unable to release fully. These frozen muscles can contribute to migraines, TMJ, tension headaches, shoulder pain and back pain. Because nothing in the body moves or functions in isolation it’s important to release the full pattern of tight muscles in order to reverse your muscle pain and restore full muscle function.

Try this gentle, easy Somatic Exercise for neck pain and back pain relief:

This movement – the Back Lift – is effective for anyone suffering from neck problems – or for office workers, technical people, engineers, teachers who stand all day or anyone who sits, stands, walks, runs or drives:

Lie on your stomach, head turned to one side. The palm is on the floor with the elbow directly in line with the shoulder.  Place your opposite cheek and the fingertips of the hand together. Make sure you’re comfortable, with enough room for your shoulder to relax.

Slowly lift just the elbow several inches off the floor. Notice the contraction in the upper, middle and lower parts of the shoulder. Repeat 3 times, lowering the elbow slowly. Notice the quality of movement. Is it bumpy? Shaky? If so, slow down and smooth it out.

Slowly lift your head and notice how far down the left side of your back you can you feel the contraction. This is what a baby does at 5 months; it’s a deliberate contraction of the back of the body in order to begin the eventual process of crawling, then walking. It’s called the “Landau Response.” Repeat two times slowly. Completely relax.

Keeping the hand and the cheek together, inhale and float the elbow, cheek, head and hand up several inches. The right arm relaxes on the floor. Notice the strong contraction down the left side of your back. This movement comes from the back of the body, not just from the top of the shoulder. Your neck muscles shouldn’t be doing all the work! Did you notice something happening on the right side of your body? Your right leg wants to lift! This is an involuntary contraction. Repeat slowly two times. Completely relax between each repetition.

Lift the opposite leg slowly. Notice how the upper body contracts slightly to help counterbalance the upper body. This is what we do when we walk. Repeat two times, completely relaxing between each repetition.

Now let’s put it all together: slowly lift elbow, cheek, head, hand and the opposite leg – as if you want to look over the left shoulder. Only come up as far as is comfortable. It’s the back that is working to lift you. Now slowly come back down. The slow lengthening is when your brain has the most potential to change what the muscles are doing. During this phase the brain can restore the full length of the muscle. Completely  relax and melt into the floor.

Repeat this 3-4 times slowly, lifting only as far as is comfortable. Notice how the front of your body lengthens to allow you to contract the back of the body! The neck is coordinating along with the back and shoulders in an efficient, easy and natural movement.  The only goal of this movement is to teach your brain to restore awareness and motor control of your back muscles – so you can tighten them when you need them, but fully relax them when they’re no longer needed for an action.

IMPORTANT: After doing this Somatic Exercise, follow with Arch and Flatten. Then take a minute to relax completely. Let your brain soak up the sensory feedback. You are changing your nervous system by doing this movement; this is how your brain begins to make changes in your muscles.

For more helpful Somatic Exercises, click here for the Essential Somatics® instructional DVDs.

Activation Exercises For Improved Athletic Performance – Part 1 – Strength Training

A lot of athletes have asked me for a daily routine of Somatic Exercises to serve as “activation exercises.” They want not too many, not too few. Just enough. Activation exercises are a short series of exercises that will prepare you to move well.

Somatic Exercises are activation exercises as well as “deactivation exercises.”

A large component of strength is full muscle control. Traditional athletic training teaches us how to “activate” (or contract) our muscles. But there is very little emphasis on learning to “deactivate” (or relax) our muscles back to their original and optimum resting length. Hanna Somatic Exercises teach you to pandiculate, which allows you to fully contract, and then de-contract your muscles for more potential for strength. Pandiculation is the safer, more effective alternative to stretching.

A word before you begin:

These movements are movement patterns – not exercises as such. No stretching is required – just slow, yawn-like pandiculations. Please do not “do” these movements; “create” these movements through use of the breath, as you move slowly, with conscious attention to the quality of the movement. You can’t sense quality if you’re moving quickly! And your ability to do ballistic movement depends on your control and quality of movement.

If you want to go fast, first go slow so you know what you’re doing.

The point of Somatic Exercises is to to eliminate accumulated muscle tension before you begin training and then reduce any accumulated muscle tension after your training. Accumulated tension occurs due to over-training, injuries, accidents, poor postural habits and the stresses of daily life.  Address the muscular system at the level of the brain and nervous system, and you quickly restore full muscle length and function and relearn optimal movement patterns.

Here are a few Somatic Exercises that will ready your entire body in the same way the cat or dog readies itself for action every time it gets up off the floor. We have all seen cats and dogs pandiculate when they get up from rest. They do that reflexively. If they didn’t pandiculate, they would lose the ability to move as swiftly and adeptly as they do.

As you move through these Somatic Exercises treat them as the preparation for movement that they are; there’s no need to go quickly, there’s no need to tick repetitions off your mental clipboard. Treat them like the lengthening yawn that they are. Put your focus on the patterns that you’re moving through and stop for just a few seconds between repetitions and each individual movement pattern to allow your brain to absorb the sensory feedback you are giving it, so it can integrate the awareness when you stand up and begin working out.

Please note: It is assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of Somatic Movements. The best way to use Somatic Exercises to support your workout is to learn as much as you can. Consider having a longer morning routine in which you pandiculate the extensors, flexors and trunk rotators. Then, when you get to the gym, three short, slow Somatic Exercises will suffice to sufficiently “reboot” your somatic awareness and muscle control for full recruitment of the muscles needed for your workout and full relaxation when you’re finished.

The exercises I chose for this video are:

  • Arch and Flatten
  • Back Lift
  • X Lat. Arch and Curl

Thanks to Colm McDonnell of for his collaboration on this post.

Why Do I Have Neck Pain?

Why can’t I turn my neck without pain?

Why is it hard to turn around to look behind me?

How do I relieve my neck pain so I can easily twist and turn?

Learning to turn to look behind yourself is a learned movement skill. It involves all the muscles of the body that allow the hips, abdominals, neck and shoulders to aid in the movement of the head and neck. Owls can turn their heads almost 360º without involving the center of their bodies.

As hunters gatherers we evolved to differentiate the movement of the eyes from the head from the neck and trunk in order to be aware of our surroundings. In today’s modern society we no longer need to be able to do this. We don’t hunt for our food, nor do we need to be on the lookout for predators who would like to have us for dinner. We do, however, spend most of our time facing forward as we stare at computer screens, TVs, iPads or drive in traffic. This creates tight muscles not only in the neck and shoulders, but more importantly in the center of the body. Here’s a perfect example of how modern technology is actively encouraging us to develop Sensory Motor Amnesia, that condition of chronically contracted muscles that can no longer let go, nor function fully:


I decided not to get one of these “backup cameras” in my car so that I would not forget how to turn around to back up my car. While these devices can be handy, it’s best to maintain the quintessential skill of all humans: the ability to twist and turn, like this:


If you don’t turn to look around behind you you will lose that skill altogether.

As Thomas Hanna said, “A stiff neck is a stiff body.” Neck and shoulder pain result more from tight back, waist and abdominal muscles in the center of the body than from an actual problem with the neck itself. The brain and nervous system, the control center of the muscles, has forgotten how to coordinate the natural movement of twisting, which is at the core of smooth walking and running.

Learn how to release tight, painful necks and shoulders with the Essential Somatics® Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD. 


Posture Should Be Dynamic / Mastering Your Back Pain

There are “posture experts” everywhere that teach you to how to stand, bones in alignment, body parts stacked just so. Many yoga teachers stress alignment more than they do somatic awareness and proprioception. Because most people have Sensory Motor Amnesia and don’t know it, it’s even more important to understand how our brains control our muscular system as a whole and how stress reflexes create a distorted internal sense of how our body is connected, how our joints move and what it feels like to stand squarely on our feet.

One of the worst pieces of advice people are given is to “stand up straight!” I have asked people to stand up – and sit up – to what they think is “straight” and what I see is almost always – not straight, aligned posture – but a lower back that is overly arched in an effort to pull the shoulders back and open the chest. I see this in yoga class as well. This posture – a strongly arched lower back and tight shoulders – is called the Green Light Reflex (or Landau Response) and it is a major cause of chronic low back pain.

Life is dynamic – so are you without back pain


A healthy body is one that can adapt and adjust to whatever feedback comes in through the environment, yet can find its way back to balance and relaxation. Yes, life is dynamic and so is efficient, functional posture. Just like the ladies in the photo at right, balancing life and balancing books requires the ability to find center naturally as you move.

Many people work really hard to “get the right posture” not realizing that they’re actually tightening and bracing certain muscles to maintain what they are told is good posture. Again, this contributes to back pain as well as neck pain, shoulder pain and hip pain. What would it feel like if you learned to let go of muscles that are unconsciously tight and tense in order to find your “perfect posture?”

Achieving “good posture” is about learning to relax muscles you don’t need to hold you up and allowing the muscles that need to work to coordinate together in perfect balance and ease.

Click here to try some Somatic Exercises that will help release tight back muscles.

Good Health Doesn’t Just Happen

A colleague of mine wrote me an uplifting email. I thought I’d share it with you. Improving one’s sensory motor awareness – the sense of what it feels like to be “you” as you live and respond in your life – has a myriad of benefits: reduction of muscular pain, improved brain to muscle control through slow repetitions of movement patterns and pandiculation, improved joint stability and strength, increased neural pathways in the brain due to movement differentiation. A body that is under the voluntary control of one’s brain is a body whose autonomic nervous system is also more likely to function optimally. And here’s more:

I had a doctor’s appointment last week, complete with blood work (which I have done every 6 months). My lab stats were even better than they were last time – and last time my doctor said they were “perfect!” So despite my perfect stats, the stats just keep on getting better and better.  I had another doctor appointment yesterday, and told her about the stats from my last visit. She looked them up and she commented that “good health like that doesn’t just happen.”

I feel I am living proof of the unlimited potential to improve all aspects of our health – not just relief of aches and pains – as we continue to strengthen sensory motor awareness.  I’m wondering who out there who has a daily practice of Hanna Somatic is experiencing the same benefits?

As a Hanna Somatic Educator and trainer my goal is to teach people to move through life pain-free, with choice, mastery and joy. It can be done.