Somatic Exercises, when done between 10 – 15 minutes daily, are profoundly effective at keeping you pain-free no matter what your stress. However, the single biggest benefit of Somatic Exercises is one of IMPROVED SENSORY MOTOR AWARENESS. This means that the exercises help remind your brain to FEEL (sensory) and MOVE (motor) your muscles so that your self-awareness is more accurate and your muscles move more efficiently.
Recently a reader told me that he does his Somatic Exercises faithfully, but finds that the same problem – a tight back, sore neck, achy shoulders, “that low back pain on the right side” – keeps cropping up. Why is this?
The answer is that you need to apply the awareness you gain from the Somatic Exercises to everything you do during your day. Here are a few coaching tips to help you apply the improved awareness and muscle control you gain from Somatic Exercises to your daily life:
- Become aware of movement patterns inherent in your job. If your is a repetitive physical job (gardening, landscaping, typing on the computer, driving, lifting packages, holding children), begin to notice the pattern of movement and the muscles involved that contribute to your pain. Gardening is usually one-sided, as is holding children. Driving requires sitting and using one leg to accelerate or brake more than the other.
- Become aware of how you sit. Is your pelvis at an angle? Is your back over-arched? Do you shift/slouch into one hip? Do you slump forward? Arch & Flatten, the Back Lift, Cross Lateral Arch & Curl, and the Seated Awareness Exercise target the back and abdominal muscles and help to improve awareness of how you sit. Find them on my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.
- Do a few minutes of seated Somatic Exercises every hour if you work at a desk. Even 5 minutes every hour can remind your muscles that they don’t have to stay “frozen.” This will keep your brain in voluntary control of your muscles so they can be as relaxed as possible.
- Become aware of how you drive. See “how do you sit” above. Many of us clutch the steering wheel when stressed. This locks down the shoulders and creates upper back and neck pain. The “seated twist” is great for reversing tension that comes from driving.
- Use a mirror to help you see your own posture. Becoming aware of what you really look like – as opposed to what you think you look like – helps you to self-correct so that what you sense internally agrees with what you see in the mirror.
- Become aware of how you reflexively respond emotionally to upsetting events or the need to get something done. This is hugely important! Our brains adapt to stress by tightening our muscles – even when we’re not moving. The Somatic Exercises teach you to regain voluntary muscular control, but you are the only one who knows how emotional upset affects you. Do you tighten your back? Hunch your shoulders? Stop breathing when worried? The Steeple Twist and Human X are wonderful catch-all movements that relax the front, sides and back of the body for a full body stress-buster.
- Add more movement to your day. There are lots of great functional movements you can do that take only a few minutes. This helps to differentiate your movement habits. Here’s a link to some great ideas for “movement snacks” from Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal. My Reach To the Top Shelf movement takes 2 minutes to do and can be done anywhere:
Stand with feet apart and both arms up. Slowly reach up with the right arm and let the entire right side of your body lengthen. Allow the left hip to slide upwards (look closely at the middle photo) as you roll up onto the ball of the left foot.
Come back through neutral and reach up with the left arm as if reaching for something high on a shelf. Allow the right hip to slide up as you roll up onto the ball of the right foot. Be sure to keep both knees straight. Repeat this sequence 3-5 times, reaching with one arm, then the other. You’re lengthening one side of your body as you shorten the other side! It’s like a full body yawn!