Self-Awareness, Here-ness, and There-ness

I remember the first time my daughter cried from joy. It was a profound moment of self-awareness.

last-unicornShe was seven years old. She was watching The Last Unicorn – a animated movie about a unicorn who learns that she will soon be the last of her kind and tries to defeat the king who is destroying them all.

(Spoiler alert!) She thought the unicorn was going to die at the end of the film, but it didn’t. My daughter was so relieved and happy that she cried. She sat on the couch saying, “Oh Mommy, oh Mommy, I’m crying, I’m crying!” She was perplexed by this new expression of joy and relief that came through her tears. It was a spontaneous burst of emotion that came out of her experience of what Thomas Hanna called “Here-ness” – the first person, somatic experience that only she could have.

Thomas Hanna made the distinction between “Here-ness” (first person awareness) and  “There-ness,” (third person awareness) some 30 years ago. The third person is an objective view of something from the outside looking in.  It’s the perspective with which doctors view you as they look at your body. “You” are the charts, graphs, blood test results, or images on an MRI or X-ray. This is helpful when it comes to diagnosing a disease, yet it fails when seeking to understand why someone would have muscle pain, poor posture and other functional problems.

Most of us are encouraged to think about ourselves as a “body,” as if the body were separate from us, as an “it.” This thing called a body should be able to be fixed and shaped as well as look a certain way.

Here’s the catch: no one knows what it feels like to be you, no matter their credentials. If you look at someone in the objective sense, only they can sense or experience what is going on inside of them; you will be unable to appreciate what they are experiencing from their perspective. This is what is called the “somatic perspective.” We may live in a body, yet what happens in the body occurs from the inside out. Learning occurs from the inside out. Experience and wisdom is honed through one’s first person awareness (one’s “Here-ness”) as we learn, grow and change through life. This is the awareness that Hanna Somatic Educators teach their clients to reclaim.

It is through awareness and sensory motor learning that chronic pain, postural dysfunction and lack of control over one’s body can change for the long term.  Self-acceptance, appreciation of one’s body and one’s Self, and, for many, more happiness flow from there.

As children we discovered how to walk through exploration, trial and error. We incorporated that learning into our internal process; we gained confidence. This  process of sensory motor learning and internal monitoring, so immediate for children, is slowly “bleached away,” as Hanna put it, by society and its emphasis on third person objective thinking. The real stuff  – the stuff of growth, strength, inspiration and real change, lies beneath – in our inner life.

Tapping into the “Here-ness” and letting it inform you can be strange, uncomfortable, and transformative, especially in a society that values youth, external looks and outside experts. You may find that things begin to change – that maybe even you begin to change. You may become stronger, more in control, more trusting and accepting of yourself.

When this occurs our experiences becomes richer and fuller. It is like returning to those moments of wonder as a child, when your joy overflows as you discover that the unicorn will indeed live on forever. These moments can inform us, improve our awareness of habits that no longer serve us or ways in which we run from ourselves.  Try it – you’ll be amazed. And you may find yourself crying with joy when you least expect it.

The Last Unicorn is property of Rankin/Bass Production.

How to Relieve Low Back Pain After Snow Shoveling

snow-shovelerThe East Coast is experiencing its first blizzard of the season. People are bracing (literally!) for the cold and getting their snow shovels and supplies ready. While I absolutely love snowstorms, and even consider snow shoveling an excellent workout, I can do without the low back and hip pain it can cause.

A few years ago after the last snows of a blizzard had subsided, my son came in from an afternoon of earning money shoveling snow.  “My back is killing me, Mom,” he told me. “I need a massage!” His back was in spasm and he desperately needed relief. I promised him a massage (I was a massage therapist for 25 years and gave it up after discovering Hanna Somatics), but only after he did a few Hanna Somatic Exercises.

Sounds cruel to deny your child a massage in such a situation, right? Not really. I knew that were I to massage his muscles while they were in spasm, they would become even tighter. A muscle in spasm is a muscle the brain can’t control. If you press and knead that muscle or muscle group, it can contract back against your pressure, creating more muscle tension than before. This is called the “stretch reflex.” The stretch reflex is a protective, spinal cord reflex that contracts a muscle back against a stretch to save it from being traumatized or injured. Once that muscle’s length and function is restored at the nervous system level a massage feels great and doesn’t create tension.

I assured him his massage would be much more enjoyable once his brain reminded his muscles that they were no longer engaged in the arduous task of snow shoveling! After five minutes of Somatic Exercises and pandiculation he got up off the floor and, grudgingly, expressed amazement at how much better his back felt. Now, when his back is tight from shoveling, working out, or desk work, he does his Somatic Exercises and feels great.

Muscles spasms release more effectively with Somatic Exercises and pandiculation.

Here are the Somatic Exercises my son learned that taught his brain to regain control of the involuntarily contracted muscles that caused his back pain. To maximize the benefits, do these easy, safe Somatic Exercises before, and after, snow shoveling:

ARCH AND FLATTEN

This exercise teaches your brain to regain control of the back muscles. Gently contract the back muscles and roll the pelvis, and then slowly release your back, returning yourself to neutral. Go slowly and notice the pleasant wave-like feeling as your back moves from the base of your head all the way down to the tailbone.

ARCH AND CURL

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  1. Lay on your back with your knees up and feet planted. Place your hands, with fingers interlaced, behind your head.
  2. Inhale and gently arch your lower back and tip your pelvis in the direction of your feet. This tightens the back muscles (only go as far as is comfortable and never force!).
  3. Exhale and slowly relax your back to the floor. When your back is flat, tuck your chin, point the elbows toward the knees, pick your head up, and slowly curl up as you contract the abdominal muscles.
  4. Inhale and slowly relax back to the floor.

Remember: this is not a sit-up! As you curl up, you are lengthening the back muscles as you tighten the belly. When you slowly come down, you are relaxing the abdominals.

SIDE BEND

This exercise relaxes the muscles of the trunk so that both sides of your waist muscles are relaxed and released. When we shovel snow we always tend to shovel on one side only. That twisting movement is a natural movement, yet when done while lifting wet, heavy snow it can cause a lot of muscle tension on one side of the body. The side bend will help you relax out of that twist once you are done shoveling.

WASHRAG

Enjoy lengthening and releasing the entire center of your body as you learn to gently “wring your body out like a washrag” – from your shoulders down to your hips.

These easy, safe movements can be done every day to keep your muscles remembering how to relax. The brain controls the muscles, therefore repetitive activities (such as snow shoveling) can teach your muscles to become rigid and “frozen.” The solution is to get your brain to remind your muscles how to relax again. All it takes is five minutes of gentle, aware Somatic Movement and those muscles will begin to relax and release.  Then you can go back outside in the snow and play!

Click here to purchase any of the Pain-Free Series of instructional Somatic Exercise DVDs.