What Hanna Somatics Has To Teach The Fitness Industry

Here is a guest blog post from Chris Carlsen, a fitness trainer in Astoria, NY. This is his story of how he has come to combine Somatic Exercises and fitness training for a winning workout: Several years ago I read an article on “Somatic Exercises.”  To quote Thomas Hanna, "Somatic education is the use of sensory-motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of ones physiological process." To learn “somatically” means that the learning occurs within the individual. It is an internalized process. This mirrored my philosophy based on my training in kettlebells, movement assessments and human performance. I wanted to know more.

I found Laura Gates, a Certified Hanna Somatic Educator, based in New York City.  What I learned was unbelievable: practically every movement we did was related to an exercise or assessment.  “Part 2” of Hanna’s back lift 6Walking Exercises is the same "pushing of the knee away" that we do when we roll in the initiation of the Turkish Get-up. The “Flower” relates to the squat pattern (feeling the femurs move in the hip socket). The Back Lift retrains the connection of one hip and the opposite shoulder (T-Spine rotation).

Each educator may have different ways to explain movement, yet there is no denying that we are all helping to restore the same movement patterns. The power of Somatic Exercises comes from exploration of movement on the floor, as we did when we were babies. We are reeducating sensory motor movement without the stress of gravity or body-weight. This creates awareness and reverse Sensory Motor Amnesia. And, as with fitness, breathing guided every somatic movement.

Hanna Somatics has brought my personal training full circle; it is the line that connects all the dots. Enhancing my understanding of the mind, brain, body feedback loop and the central nervous system has improved every aspect of my training. My students' consciousness of their movement and posture has become more consistent and the Somatic Exercises have become great references for lifting cues. As for me personally, my lifts feel slower in my head but still strong and powerful in execution. Somatics will be something I incorporate for the rest of my life.

When Laura told me about the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coaching Training I could not pass up the opportunity to learn more and educate my trainers. The training was awesome. Martha Peterson and Laura are not only great teachers, but also passionate about helping others. My fellow trainers could feel the change in how their bodies felt immediately and could not deny its effectiveness.

How does Somatics fit into fitness?

Ground Exercise, Body Weight and Breathing

Weight is a stressor. Sometimes we need to take the stress of body-weight and gravity out of the equation to get the Training-img2nervous system to simmer down and absorb motor learning (movement patterns).  This is accomplished by somatic and corrective exercises on the ground. These types of ground exercises build a foundation for future loading; as we master them we can make these patterns stronger by progressing them to half kneeling and then standing. In this way we can determine if the pattern breaks.  Once we repeatedly stick form then we must add stress. It is like building a cushion.

Do athletes need to start here? More than anyone! To paraphrase Gray Cook, " We adopt poor movement as result of pain. Part of survival system allows movement around problems we cannot move through. When the pain is gone sometimes the poor movement pattern remains.”

As we go through life, stresses and injuries force us to reroute the "movement maps" we developed as babies.

Athletes are great compensators. They will find a way to get the movement done.  They are also very explosive; at times so much so that they cannot accurately feel their body’s sensations and be aware of their movement. Slowing things down to make changes and build back their speed with better control is what is required! Athletes also become asymmetrical because of repeated patterns. These asymmetries result from the three stress reflexes that Thomas Hanna writes about: the Red Light, Green Light and Trauma Reflexes. Getting rid of these reflexes and regaining symmetry is what reduces injury risk.

I have a weekly class I call "Recovery." In this 90 minute class we do Somatic Exercises, followed by dynamic mobility work and locomotion drills ( walking, skipping, carioca, shuffling).  The group's control and efficiency of mobility work has greatly increased after Somatic Exercises. Locomotion to me is “Somatics on your feet.” Locomotion drills set a foundation to progress students to more uncontrolled environments such as agility and speed drills. This allows students to pick up on their movements, and for me to pick up movement hiccups.  You can surely bet if there is movement inefficiency with no load, there will also be inefficiency with weights.

Brilliant generals are said to possess “coup d’oeil”, which in French means power of the glance. It is the ability to make sense of the battlefield.  Hanna Somatics enhances the power of my glance.

Chris Carlsen is the owner of Iron Lion Performance and Director of Fitness at the Matrix Fitness Club in Astoria, New York. He participated in the Somatic Exercise Coach Training in 2014.