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 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 and 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, 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 overexert 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’ simple explanation gets to the heart of how to do Somatic exercises. We understand all the good reason as to why to do Somatic exercises, yet as Ales pointed out to his client, they way in which we do them – our intention – makes all the difference. If we do our Somatic exercises as if they were an unpleasant obligation our brain will get 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 exercises are 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.