How Somatics Can Improve Your Yoga Practice

The New York Times recently published an article about the different ways people are getting injured while practicing yoga. It reported that in pushing the limits of one's ability to stretch and bend, more people are getting injured. Yoga is an ancient philosophy of life which includes the practice of asanas, (postures) and its benefits are numerous: improved posture and muscle control, improved breathing, balance, and calming of the mind. However, when you push it, yoga can cause injury. I've had several Somatics clients who have been injured in yoga class. In fact, some of my clients are even afraid of yoga.

The three reasons people get injured when doing yoga:

  1. Having Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and not knowing it
  2. Lack of awareness of one's body
  3. Stretching too much

Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

When you have SMA you have muscles that are involuntarily tighter than they should be. This means that while you're trying to perform a yoga movement, the muscles required to perform the posture aren't coordinating properly. Some muscles are working while others are compensating and working too hard. You feel out of balance; you can do a posture on one side and have trouble with it on the other side. In Hanna Somatics we teach you to reverse your SMA through slow, gentle movement patterns that make you aware of which muscles are under your voluntary control and which aren't.

Lack of awareness

When you can't sense your muscles, you can't do what the teacher is asking you to do. You'll imitate a movement instead of initiate a movement from within. You'll push yourself farther than you can comfortably go because you can't sense and feel what you're doing. Somatics is sensory motor learning. We teach you to regain sensory awareness and motor control from the inside out through basic, slow movements done at your pace.

Stretching too much

Overstretching is common in yoga. When you stretch, you passively take a muscle farther than it can comfortably go with the intention of making it longer.  This can invoke the Stretch Reflex, which contracts the muscle tighter than it was before. Overstretching is one reason why some people feel tighter after a yoga class than when they started.

So how can I practice yoga without getting injured?

In Hanna Somatics we teach pandiculation - an active lengthening that begins with a contraction. It's what cats and dogs do when they lengthen their bodies after getting up from rest. It overrides tight muscles and resets the muscle length at the brain level. When you pandiculate, you only lengthen a muscle to its comfortable length. There is no forcing involved.

Somatics and Yoga aren't mutually exclusive. They complement each other beautifully! Hanna Somatics can jump-start your yoga practice and help you prevent many of the common injuries associated with yoga.