Transform Your Movement Teaching With Somatic Exercises

The first ever Essential Somatic® Exercise Coach training took place November 9 – 11, 2012 at Wellspring Health Collective in Maplewood, NJ. We had an engaging group of movement professionals with backgrounds from Pilates to functional fitness to yoga. All of the participants were already incorporating a somatic perspective in their approach to movement and were familiar with the idea of movement exploration and moving “from the inside out.” John Belkewich, a personal trainer from New Jersey, and one of the SEC students, has a tagline for his business that says it all:

Transform Your Movement, Transform Your Life.

The desire to move, explore, grow and learn is one of the most basic characteristics of human nature. It is this hard-wired desire to engage with our environment that spurs us on as babies to learn to walk, reach, crawl and eventually stand and move forward in the world. We perfected out movement through trial and error and adaptation. Specific brain reflexes – the Landau Response involving the extensor muscles of the body, and the Startle Reflex involving the flexor muscles, were invoked when the need to move forward or the need to protect oneself was demanded.

If all went well, we developed smooth and efficient movement habits. If something happened to restrict our movement, we adapted our movement in order to continue to move forward in life. It is the just the kind of movement exploration that is missing in today’s world of fitness and workouts. Somatic movement and Somatic Exercises can teach us to become aware of our reflexive responses to stress, our excess muscle tension, how it causes pain in our bodies – and how to reverse it. And as Thomas Hanna once wrote,

Somatic Exercises can change how we live our lives, how we believe that our minds and bodies interrelate, how powerful we think we are in controlling our lives, and how responsible we should be in taking care of our total being.

This past weekend’s Essential Somatics® Exercise Coach training gave students sensible, scientific principles and tools that can be incorporated into any training method to help people with postural imbalances, muscle pain and functional problems. They began to understand how many functional problems (sciatica, back pain, foot pain, knee pain) that are often considered medical problems are the result of Sensory Motor Amnesia and loss of somatic awareness.

A movement teacher or fitness trainer who can accurately recognize involuntary stress reflex patterns of muscle tightness that inhibit efficient movement is several steps ahead of the competition when it come to giving their clients useful information that can help them move better.

When a trainer understands that slumped shoulders, a painful back, or a pelvic imbalance while squatting is the result of Sensory Motor Amnesia and overly tight muscles outside the brain’s control, s/he will have gained a different perspective – a somatic perspective. This opens up the possibility of helping clients improve movement through intelligent, sensory motor learning rather than by overtraining and force.

This past weekend students learned:

  • Trainer, heal thyself. They explored their own somatic movement process and slowed themselves down. If you don’t do the practice for yourself, and understand your where your own Sensory Motor Amnesia lies, you can never begin to teach others or appreciate the problems others have.
  • How to recognize the three Somatic Stress Reflexes (Red Light, Green Light, Trauma Reflex) as described by Thomas Hanna in his book, Somatics.
  • The basics of pandiculation: how to use it “hands-on” to awaken sensory awareness in a client, and how to pandiculate their own movement in order to reset muscle length, restore muscle function, and relieve muscle pain.
  • How to teach the 10 basic Somatic Exercises, step-by-step, and why each exercise is important.
  • How Sensory Motor Amnesia presents itself in people as they attempt to move through the exercises and how this can contribute to certain muscle pain problems.

Hanna Somatics prepares you to move better so you can enjoy whatever movement discipline you’re currently engaged in. Whether you are a kettle bell trainer, soccer coach, Zumba, or Yoga instructor, learning to incorporate the principles of Hanna Somatics and somatic exercises can help you help your students to get more out of your classes and sessions. For more information and dates about upcoming trainings visit our website.

Reverse the Muscular Pain Caused By Computer Work

Back when I was creating my Pain-Free series of instructional DVDs, I spent an enormous amount of time preparing, collapsed over my laptop editing articles, approving designs, writing the script for the DVDs. My daily Somatics practice went by the wayside as I plowed ahead with work, only paying attention to my looming deadline (yes, even Somatic Educators can fall into the trap of stress-induced unawareness).

One morning 2 weeks ago, however, I woke up and was convinced that I had some kind of virus, or stomach problem.  I’d had trouble sleeping for several nights, and when I awoke, my jaw was painful, the right side of my abdominals were rock hard, it was difficult to take a deep breath and my right hip joint was painful. Sounds scary, huh?

Computers can pull you in to hours of mental and muscular tension. Take a look in the mirror and you’ll probably see what looks like an old man (or woman) slumped and drawn inward, head forward and chest collapsed.

Well, I’m no different from anyone who walks through my office door wondering “how did I get this way?” when telling me about their aches and pains. One doesn’t get this way without losing sensory awareness of what they’re doing to create the problem.  Muscles tighten because our brain – the control center of our muscles – teaches them to get stuck. I’m not immune to being sucked into the laptop for hours on end, completely absorbed in an important task. I’m definitely not immune to getting wound up over important projects, which creates mental and muscular tension. Research has shown that there’s not one thought that goes through our brains that’s not responded to muscularly in the body.

Using Somatic Exercises to unfreeze those tense muscles is like hitting refresh on your computer.

I lay down on the floor and went slowly through a half hour of somatic movements focused on the large muscles of the core that had become so tight and tense that deep breathing was restricted. I moved through subtle, slow movements to relax my back, waist, ribcage, and hips.  Afterwards my breathing was deeper, my hip pain had subsided, and my jaw was relaxed. Then I lay still, and noticed the difference between my muscles before I lay down, and after I’d finished my Somatics routine. I let my brain soak up the sensations in my muscles.

What had I learned? That sitting like the photo of me on the right – neck craned forward, chest collapsed down, ribcage pulled down by tight abdominal muscles (which restricts full breathing) –  is what millions of people do every single day around the world.  They sit hunched and slouched forward, absorbed in their daily work. As they do that they’re oblivious to the messages their brain is sending their muscles – one of contracting to keep their muscles ready to do it all over again the next day.

This kind of posture – the Startle Reflex or Red Light Reflex – can cause shoulder, neck, and back pain, in addition to anxiety (shallow breathing doesn’t allow oxygen to get to the brain). Relax the tight core muscles that pull you inward, and you can stand up straight, breathe deeply, and sleep soundly.

My Somatics colleague, Noreen Owens, author of the Somatics book Where Comfort Hides, emailed me during this hectic work period and reminded me that “when you’re writing you need to do even more somatic movements every day because your stress level is higher.” How right she was. This is a lesson I’m not soon to forget.

Come join a Somatics class or workshop and learn to regain somatic awareness and control of yourself, your reflexive and habitual responses to your stress, and how your daily movement habits contribute to how you feel. It’s an easy, gentle, and safe alternative to many other treatment for muscle pain.