Are Athletes Smarter Than the Rest of Us?

In my Somatic Education training we had to write a paper on why the study of neurophysiology was important to the practice of Hanna Somatic (Clinical Somatic) Education.
The unique methods used in private clinical sessions of Somatics are based in neurophysiology: the brain controls the  muscles, and movement gives feedback to the brain, making the brain more efficient at coordinating muscles and movement and improving posture. Muscle dysfunction can only be changed through movement.

In an Exuberant Animal workshop I took a while ago, Frank Forenich gave a talk about the positive brain changes that occur through daily vigorous movement. He brought up the stereotype of the “dumb jock,” and wrong that was. Studies are showing, however, that they just might have smarter brains than most of us!

Practice is main reason that athletes’ brains – and by extension their movement – function better. Athletes are constantly predicting the next move and honing their brain’s ability to respond to whatever is happening.  In the article linked above, they cite a brain study of people learning to juggle. After a week of practice, the jugglers were already developing extra gray matter in some brain areas. These brain changes continued for months, the scientists found. As soon as someone starts to practice a new sport – and I would add a new movement, in general –  the brain begins to change, and the changes continue for years.

Not everyone has the time, nor the desire to become an athlete. However, the brain benefits of adding new and challenging new ways of moving are available to all, athlete, scientist, carpenter or web designer. Somatic Movement is an excellent way to challenge our brains, change our bodies, reduce our pain and keep ourselves smarter as we age.

The first step is awareness. Somatic Movement is meant to increase the brain’s awareness of how it feels to be in your own body in space. The word for that is proprioception. Needing heightened and honed proprioceptive skills isn’t just the domain of an elite athlete. Proprioceptive skills, sorely lacking today in many sedentary young people, is crucial to one’s survival.  A lack of proprioception can cause chronic back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee and foot pain. It can cause people to lose their balance and limit their movement, causing accidents.

In young people a lack of proprioception, I dare say, can lead to decreased self-esteem, more attention deficit, and a lack of problem solving skills. If learning a new skill increases brain matter, does this have anything to do with the learning issues of today’s children? This is why vigorous movement (no matter what it is) is so important for young people.

Proprioception can be improved through Somatic Movement – so you can use your brain to become better at whatever it is you love to do. I’m convinced that you can become as smart as an athlete, as long as you challenge yourself with movement.

Chronic pain and injuries can get in the way of a movement filled life. Diligent, patience and persistent practice of basic movement patterns that flex, extend, side bend, twist and rotate your body as a whole will engage your brain to stay in control of your movement, ready for whatever comes your way. Somatic Movement can be done while lying down (as in the movements on my DVD) or while seated. Once you feel you’ve released your tight muscles, and regained aware and control of your movement, move on to an activity that is challenging for your brain and body.

It doesn’t need to be a triathalon, gymnastics or spinning class. Ballroom dancing, yoga, hiking, swimming and exuberant play-based fitness will challenge your brain to change your body and movement, and keep you healthy for longer than you thought possible.

Contact Martha for more information on how to move pain-free. She is available for private sessions, workshops and speeches. New Fall teaching schedule coming up soon on the website!

Pain Relief DVDs for the Whole Body

I have gotten some wonderful feedback from people about my basic “Pain Relief Through Movement” DVD.  Here’s what people are saying:

  • The dvd is great. So clear and concise!
  • I’m very pleased with the DVD…It’s a class act all the way through. Even my wife was impressed with it on our initial passthrough viewing, and was inspired to get down on the floor several times when something looked especially intriguing.
  • I just watched your dvd and wanted to tell you how impressed I am with it. It’s wonderful. 
  • Excellent work on the DVD!  I’ve run through the complete program twice…and have incorporated the 10/15 minute variations prior to training along with playing around with some movements post-workout.  The DVD/audio has really helped with synchronizing breaths with movements.
  • I got the DVD…have been through the exercises a couple times.  I can…feel a pretty significant difference in the looseness of my hips and back before and after the exercises.

More Pain Relief Through Movement DVDs will be coming out in the Fall!

On June 20th and 21st I collaborated once again with Coastline Pictures on a series of instructional DVDs that will cover how to release muscle pain for more targeted areas:

The movements you will learn will help you to reverse conditions such as plantarfascitis, hip joint pain, TMJ, sciatica, knee pain, piriformis syndrome and shallow breathing. You will also learn wonderful, safe “no-stretch stretches” for the hamstrings, calves and psoas muscles.  These DVDs will also be high quality, and easy to follow – packed with new movements you can do anytime, anywhere for easy pain relief and improved awareness.You will continue to improve your posture, while educating your brain and muscles to improve balance, coordination and efficiency of your muscles and movement.  These will be a wonderful addition to your Somatics library!

I’ve received several emails from health professionals who wish to introduce Somatic Movements to their patients. These additional DVDs – just like the first one –  have been created with the understanding that anyone can learn Somatics. The concepts, methods and movements of Hanna Somatic Education are communicated with enough clarity to enable anyone to learn how to reverse their own pain.

To purchase my “basics” DVD – “Pain Relief Through Movement,” click here.

Essential Somatics Workshops a Big Success in India

I just finished up two days of Essential Somatics “Pain Relief Through Movement” workshops here in Chennai, India. In addition to the two workshops offered, I’ve been working with private clients in order to help them to reverse the muscle pain that they hadn’t been able to get rid of up until now: back pain, sciatica, neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain.

The classes were packed, and all were amazed at the differences not only in their movement, but also in the decrease in their pain level.

Here’s a group photo from Leapwellness Studio in Chennai:

Essential Somatics workshop attendees in Chennai, INdia

Several participants were overjoyed to learn that the problems they were told they had were functional problems reversible through Somatic Education. They learned that many functional muscular problems develop due to our movement habits, and to repeated response to stress reflexes, like accidents, injuries, surgeries and repetitive stress.

One woman was told that she had one leg longer than the other and she’d have to learn to live with it. This, she was told, was why she had sciatic pain. She couldn’t walk for more than 25 minutes before her pain set in. She not only attended the workshops, but came to see me for a private, clinical session. At the end of the first workshop (Releasing Legs and Hip Joints), and her session, her legs were the same length and she was walking with a smooth swing in her hips. No pain, equal leg length.What had she learned? That raising children and holding them on her hip had caused her to become tighter on one side of her waist than the other. She’d set herself up for the pattern that creates sciatica: tight back muscles and one side of the waist muscles tighter than the other.

Another participant arrived with terrible neck pain; his physiotherapist had “worked out the knots,” but the pain was still there. After the workshop, “Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders,” he left the studio pain-free, with somatic movements and techniques that gave him the tools to stay that way (or to “fix” himself should the pain return).

Yet another participant – one of India’s top professional golfers, had lost her balance after recovering from a severe virus. She learned that even serious illness can cause our muscles to contract and compensate, which can lead to muscle pain and loss of coordination and balance. The end result for her, after two workshops and one private session was a renewed sense of balance and an easy, more efficient gait.

Interested in an Essential Somatics workshop in your area? Don’t hesitate to contact Martha.

Workshops are easy to set up and your clients with muscle – whether you have a yoga, Pilates, or fitness studio – will thank you for the new information they can learn that will help them continue doing what they love to do!

Sitting – Movement = Bad Health

I will soon be on my way to Sri Lanka and India, and this morning two people sent me the same New York Time article about sitting called, Is Sitting A Lethal Activity?

Considering the fact that I’m looking forward to sitting in a cramped coach seat for 19 hours….I didn’t want to be reminded of what I will be experiencing. I’m thankful that I tend to move – even when I sit – because sitting and I have never really gotten along. I tend to do seated Somatic Movements – arch and curl, gently pushing of one knee forward (which releases the sacroiliac and reminds the back muscles to lengthen), then the other.

In an airplane Somatic Exercises need to be modified, of course (there’s only so much room between me and the guy in front of me!). These movements will help you to prevent back, neck, shoulder and hip pain that can occur when sitting cramped in an airplane (or an office cubicle). There are many helpful movements on my Pain-Free At Work DVD to help you stay moving, even in a tight space.

I have written before about chairs, and sitting, and what that does to our bodies – and how long hours sitting can teach our muscles to stay frozen and tight, contributing to the development of Sensory Motor Amnesia. The NY Time article was especially interesting, because it didn’t deal with what most of us already know, and can feel as we sit – that sitting hurts the body. The study in the article was more about calories, weight gain and lack of exercise, and how some people in the study gained weight while not exercising and others didn’t. Why? Dr. Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher, explains,

“The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t. ”

The upshot of this study is that you can change your environment to encourage more activity, even if the bulk of your work requires that you work with a computer. The more you move, the healthier you’ll be. It’s just how it is.

While visiting India in 2008 I visited one of the Tibetan Childrens Village schools. The children had no desks. They sat on the floor and were allowed to squirm around. They changed positions, sat cross legged or on their bellies. They incorporated movements into their sung English lessons!  Apparently this kind of classroom environment is now being experimented with. Not having to sit in the same position, with “hands on the desk, eyes straight ahead!” – could go a long way toward supporting good overall physiological health.

The need to sit and focus for long hours on external events (like a computer screen, cell phone, television, blackboard) not only has detrimental physiological effects on our bodies, but it also teaches us to stop paying attention to the sensations of our own bodies. Prioprioception – your awareness of your body in space – begins to take a backseat. When you can’t feel your body and movement, you learn to stay tight, to limit your muscular range of motion and your ability to move naturally. This “unlearning” of movement is what Thomas Hanna called a true public health crisis some 25 years ago. Not being aware of what you’re not aware of is a dangerous place to be when it comes to your own body.

If you want to learn to move again – intelligently, effortlessly, efficiently – and without pain – attend a workshop, book a private session or buy my Essential Somatic DVD.

                             Life is movement, movement is life. Make the most of it!

Injuries and Compensation Can Cause Re-injury

Recently I read yet another article about Carlos Beltran of the Mets and how difficult it’s been for his trainers to get him back out on the field. Due to a knee injury – and another injury – and more pain – he just can’t seem to get back his form back. Is this surprising? It shouldn’t be.

Go back and read my three posts about the trauma reflex and hip pain (all of which applies to the knees as well). You’ll see more clearly what I mean. In many cases of injury, a player isn’t able to regain his earlier form, because the contraction pattern of the original injury hasn’t been fully cleared up.

Carlos Beltran is a  $100 million player. The Mets are losing their money, yet spending much of it on therapies that aren’t even hitting the mark.  Surgery for a micro-fracture was successful; his follow up, however, could use a different approach. A Hanna Somatic Education approach.

Carlos Beltran is suffering from a classic case of Sensory Motor Amnesia.  Here’s why I say that: according to an online article,

“The 33-year-old developed the tendinitis while overcompensating for the right knee that underwent surgery last January. He was shut down for more than a week but resumed baseball activities last Wednesday and had a cortisone shot…”

He had surgery on his right knee for a micro-fracture, then developed tendinitis in his left knee. This is a classic case of injuries criss-crossing in the body. It happens not only to athletes, but to anyone who suffers a one-sided injury. It’s called the trauma reflex. It contributes to back pain, shoulder, neck and hip pain and an uneven gait.

An athlete suffers an injury, and instantly the muscles on the other side of the body are recruited to stabilize the injured limb. The original injury is “fixed” (in the case of Beltran), and the area goes through rehabilitation. The athlete is told that he’s to good to go. Except he’s not. Not until the opposite side of the body – the one that learned how to “help out” as the injury healed – learns to relax and regain its original function.

Many players who suffer this kind of injury find that they just can’t play (or pitch, run or catch) the way they once did. Their stats start to slip.  What they’re not aware of is that their finely tuned form – the “movement memory” that enabled them to perform at an elite level – now has a “glitch” in it. Read the article, Somatics and the Professional Athlete to get a more in depth understanding of how this occurs.

The keys to extending one’s playing life as a professional athlete are simple:

  • Teach athletic trainers about the nature of injury and how the brain and muscular system respond to it.
  • Employ Hanna Somatic Educators to work with injured athlete
  • Teach the athletes a simple daily routine of Somatic Exercises as a “warm-up” and “cool-down” for their entire sensory motor system.

Why wouldn’t you want to do that?

It wouldn’t cost the Mets $100 million, though in my humble opinion, that would be what Hanna Somatics is worth to these teams.

How To Relax Muscles For Rapid Pain Relief

When it come to teaching muscles to relax, there are myriad disciplines available. How do you know which one to choose?

I’ve been a massage therapist for 24 years. I still occasionally give  massages, though my practice is primarily Hanna Somatics.  Recently one of my massage clients told me,  “I’m finally able to sit cross-legged. After 10 sessions of _______ my legs are actually beginning to relax.” 10 sessions?! Now, I’m not going to tell you which method she’s doing, because I really don’t like to disparage any one approach.  However, when it comes to chronic pain or postural imbalances, Hanna Somatics is just about the most effective method available. Why? Because our expertise is in teaching you to recognize and reverse SENSORY MOTOR AMNESIA.

I use to be a frequent visitor to my favorite Rolfer. I, too, thought that relaxing muscles and “fixing” chronic pain had to take time, and that muscles take a long time to relax and change. Most Rolfers ask for a 10 session commitment. They are taught that slowly, but surely muscles will relax and structure will realign once fascia is relaxed around the muscles. Many massage therapists believe that weekly massages for long periods of time can get rid of those muscle spasms. Even more physical therapists and doctors will say that back pain requires visits three times a week for sometimes up to 4 months! Fortunately, from a Somatic Education point of view, I know they are incorrect. My clinical experience tells me otherwise.

When you understand how muscles are controlled by the brain and the nervous system and how muscles can learn to stay habitually contracted it changes the game plan. When muscles become “frozen” in sensory motor amnesia, the brain literally forgets how to relax them. The muscles must be retrained. No amount of machines, weights or massive kneading will change the state of an involuntarily tight muscle.

Through active participation and the technique of pandiculation, muscles can change their contracted state in minutes! Through daily practice your muscles can stay balanced and coordinated for the long term. Forget 10 sessions – how about only 4 or 5 – and sometimes even less. When you experience the rapid change in sensory motor control and self-awareness that you can achieve in one or two clinical sessions of Hanna Somatics, it can change your life and your perspective.

My client who has gone to 10 sessions of _____ could have achieved the same results in 3 sessions of Somatics. She could also relax her contracted shoulders which are out of balance.  Once she did that she could go to _______ and get strong and conditioned more effectively.

Once muscles have been reset at the brain level, and your body and movement are balanced and symmetrical, then you can go off and enjoy all the myriad disciplines out there that are fun to do. You’ll enjoy your massage more thoroughly, you’ll get more out of your weight training, yoga, Pilates, running or whatever else you love to do.

The commitment to keeping yourself feeling good is yours. I wrote a blog post about how good health is a long term commitment. It doesn’t take long to learn to relax muscles and rid yourself of pain. It takes a life time of awareness and joyful movement, however, to keep yourself feeling good. And that, my friends, is free.

How To Save Money, Time and Agony When It Come To Muscular Pain

It is an understatement to say that most people in the industrialized world live a stressful life. One article states, “Low-back pain continues to impose a huge burden on industrialized societies, in terms of symptoms, medical costs, productivity, and work absence. Annual costs related to back pain in the United States alone may run as high as $100 billion per year.”

By the time most people come to see me they’ve spent a minimum of $1000 in their attempt to cure their pain. Medical co-pays, personal trainers, months of physical therapy, special exercise equipment, pillows and gadgets can add up.  There are myriad treatments that attempt to “fix” back pain, and many clients who come for Hanna Somatics have already spent weeks and often years doing them in their search for relief from muscle pain and tension: massage therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, physical therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, MRIs, Xrays, medication, and a host of others.

Why don’t these therapies work to relieve muscle pain for the long term? Because the doctors and therapists who perform them approach approach the problem as a medical pathology. Muscle pain and dysfunction isn’t a medical problem – it’s a functional problem. There is no doubt that poor muscle function can cause structural damage over the long term.  An uneven gait or limp can cause hip damage. It’s preventing that problem in the first place that is of paramount importance.

The only effective approach to sciatica, piriformis syndrome, low back pain, poor posture, scoliosis, shoulder and hip pain, herniated disks, decreased flexibility, and joint pain is, in most cases, to IMPROVE THE FUNCTION OF THE SENSORY MOTOR SYSTEM so that the entire musculoskeletal system functions optimally. This is a functional approach to a functional problem that the medical profession considers a medical problem. Therein lies the disconnect: most doctors don’t know how to effectively address muscle and joint pain and postural problems.

Muscles move bones and the brain controls the muscles. If muscles are pressing on bones and nerves, causing tingling and pain (“entrapment”), there is a reason for it: there is something that you, the person in pain, is doing to cause the muscles to contract. Any reflexive response to stress, whether it be contracting the back muscles, twisting to the side to avoid an injury (or carry a toddler on the hip for hours at a time) or slumping forward over a computer terminal, will become habituated in the muscles. That means your muscles will become “frozen” and “stuck.” Tight muscles cause pain. Relaxed muscles relieve pain and allow our bones and structure to become balanced again. No doctor or therapy can fix your crooked posture, tight buttock or rounded shoulders. Only you can.

Check out classes at Essential Somatics to begin to learn how to reverse chronic pain and dysfunction for good!