Trauma, Somatics, and Being Fully Alive

“Trauma is lived out in the theatre of your body. You are at war with your body and your body is at war with you. How do you find safety in your body?”
— Bessel van der Kolk, MD

In August, I attended Body, Brain and Trauma, a 5-day intensive course at Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Center with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Boston, MA. He has spent decades of research on PTSD and childhood trauma and is the author of The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of TraumaThis book is required reading for those in the Essential Somatics Clinical Somatic Education professional training and I wanted to learn more from the author himself.

Here is some of what I learned as well as my thoughts on why Hanna Somatics is a powerful complement to other therapies to help guide one to live and move more fully in the present. 

  1. Trauma changes our brains and our lives. Trauma is a tragically common event, especially for children. Trauma changes our brain and our ability to feel ourself. We become out of sync with ourselves. When we are out of sync with ourselves we become out of sync with those around us – with our communities, with the rhythm of our environment, with even our most basic needs such as nutrition, sleep, and personal hygiene. While trauma keeps us from being fully alive in the present, it isn’t about the past; it’s the residue of the past that is still within us that still controls how we behave, what we feel, and what we think. We are in a constant, unconscious state of reaction to past events.
  2. The very parts of the brain that define “who we are” (what van der Kolk called the “Mohawk of Awareness") go offline when we are traumatized. The ability to observe yourself from within (self-sense), self-regulate, understand the difference between past, present and future, and the ability to focus and filter out unnecessary information occurs in these areas. Thankfully, there are activities that can bring these areas of the brain back online.
  3. Trauma can be helped through movement. Movement, both slow and vigorous (play, conversation, writing, theater games, drumming, martial arts, dancing with others, art, singing with others, etc.) can help us attune to others and sync up in a fun, safe way with those around you. Echoing Thomas Hanna, van der Kolk told us that emotions are about movement and that the brain is an organ whose function is one of muscular coordination. Information and talking is important, yet movement and connection to our place in the world is critical to allowing who we want to be to reemerge. Movement programs that teach self-regulation and somatic awareness are crucial for children as well as adults.
  4. The environment at Hollyhock was conducive to taking these steps to rewiring the brain from trauma: beach walks, bicycling, singing, kayaking, gentle yoga, nature walks, and delicious, healthy food shared with others created a sense of community. I had just finished teaching a Myth of Aging retreat to a group of students who had come to learn to sense themselves, calm their nervous systems and brains, and create more physical freedom. How perfect to go from a movement experience to a course that explained more deeply how events of the past can prevent us from feeling fully alive.

Clinical (Hanna) Somatics is a safe way to reclaim a sense of agency. In addition to supportive therapies like EMDR, pscyhotherapy, art therapy, or music, it can go a long way towards rewiring the traumatized brain and moving one towards awareness, choice, and embodiment.

Bring the Mohawk of Awareness back online: Thomas Hanna observed that to improve our overall functioning (and subsequently our ability to control ourselves, our thinking, and our choices) we must first go within, to our “sensing selves” – that same sensing self that taught us how to know ourselves when we were children. The brain learns through repetition and feedback. The more you sense and move with curiosity and awareness the more able you are to retrain your brain to become more self-sensing, self-regulating and self-actualizing. "Who you are" and who you can be changes.

Bring movement and emotions into sync: The Green Light, Red Light, and Trauma stress reflexes are hard-wired in our primitive brains. These physical responses to stress are also emotional: joy, freedom, avoidance, escape, protection, fear, and anxiety. Only by recreating these reflexes can we become aware of them when they happen involuntarily. This can help put emotional and bodily sensations into perspective.

Curiosity and Imagination are first steps to change: A traumatized brain is not fully in the present. The timing function of the brain does not adjust to the belief of “this too shall pass.” Curiosity and imagination wakes up the timing functions of your brain so you can sense – just for today – how you can release tension and experience yourself more fully. Hanna Somatic Movement is sensory motor training. What you sense you can change.

Restore the ability to self-regulate to become more present: Pandiculation, the action pattern taught in Hanna Somatics, resets the resting level of tension in our central nervous system and muscles. It sends new feedback to the brain so that you can connect what you are moving to how you feel. Animals in the wild pandiculate up to 40 times a day in order to stay present in their bodies and in control of their movement! Safety from within begins with your ability to sense yourself and connect what you feel to what is actually happening in the present.

Humans are intensely social creatures with a need to give to others, play, contribute, and grow. Inside each one of us is the innate ability to move beyond our past and into a future of our own making. There is hope, support, and methods that really work to help us on that road.  I encourage those of you for whom this information has been helpful to seek out the help you need in order to bring yourself back into the rhythm of life.

Read more about the Trauma Center here.

Listen to Bessel van der Kolk here.

Why Do I Have Shoulder Pain?

"Richard" was a tall, young athletic man who worked long hours as a computer consultant. He suffered a rotator cuff injury years ago in a car accident. This left him with chronic shoulder pain even after months of physical therapy, massage, and medical treatment. He said that he had never felt the same since and, despite the fact that he was only 38 years old, he was beginning to think that he was just "getting old." His daily computer usage only made his already painful right shoulder tighter than ever. He was close to developing a "frozen shoulder." The truth was that his shoulder wasn't frozen - the center of his body was.

The shoulder joint isn't just the joint itself; the muscles that move and stabilize the shoulder and coordinate synergistically to move what we think of as "the shoulder" originate in the center of the body. Tight chest muscles pull the shoulders forward and tight upper shoulder muscles (trapezius) hunch the shoulders up. Tight muscles of the side body will pull the shoulder joint downward.  When you learn to release and relax the center of the body, movement in the periphery – the shoulder in this case – will improve dramatically.

Richard was motivated to figure out how to reverse his shoulder pain and regain control of his muscles for two reasons: he had been physically active before his injury, and he had a six-month-old baby he wanted to hold without experiencing pain.

Accidents can cause accumulated muscle tension throughout the entire body.

I wasn't surprised that Richard's right side was so tight; he'd had several car accidents. He had also fractured his left leg in a sports accident without realizing it and had continued to play, compensating strongly with his right side. His right side had been accumulating muscle tension for a long time before his shoulder injury became apparent. His brain had done an efficient work-around; because the brain could no longer sense or control the muscles he should be using, it had recruited other muscles to do the job. Now everything was tight! 

If muscles can learn to stay tight, they can also learn to relax.

In our first session, I taught Richard to relax the deep muscles of the back of his body (the Green Light muscles), including the muscles of the shoulder: the upper trapezius, rhomboids, and lower trapezius. I taught him to pandiculate these muscles, so that his brain could take back voluntary control of muscles that had been involuntarily contracted. He learned to soften the muscles so that they were ready for action again.

After his session, Richard was amazed at how much better his shoulder felt and how much more movement he now had after doing such simple movements. I sent him home with four basic movements to do daily to reinforce the new and improved range of motion that he had achieved.

Release the center of the body for quick relief of shoulder pain.

I saw Richard for one more session in which he learned to release and relax the muscles of twisting and bending. These muscles, known as the "core," are merely the muscles of the center of the body that allows us to flex, extend, side bend, and rotate our spine. If they are involuntarily contracted, they restrict movement of our periphery – from the shoulder and neck down to the pelvis, legs, and feet.

Richard also learned to release the tight latissimus dors muscle on his right side. The latissimus is the broadest muscle of the body and while it attaches up into the front of the shoulder, it extends all the way into the center of the body and attaches to the pelvis. By the end of his session, his pain was completely gone. The changes he had made himself, using his brain to retrain his muscles, were impressive and inspiring. He left my office with a huge smile on his face saying, "this work makes so much sense." He vowed to continue his daily Hanna Somatic Exercises. I look forward to not seeing Richard again for any more sessions; he now has the self-awareness and skills to take care of himself. 

To learn how to relieve neck and shoulder pain on your own, you can purchase my instructional Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.

Somatics Takeaway for August

IMG_8055 I have just returned from a three-week trip to Australia. After experiencing the rainy, chilly winter there, it's great to return to the long, lazy days of summer. It's traditional vacation time and to me vacation has always been one of activity: mountain climbing and swimming. This year the next three weeks will involve a different kind of vacation for me. My daily life is one of travel and movement and different time zones.

So this year August will be a month of no travel, plenty of rest, walking, and doing something most of us don't give enough attention to: integrating.

Integration is like digestion; it allows the brain to process and absorb the feedback of your everyday movements (or your Somatics practice). At the end of your day, allow yourself to come to a full stop, let everything go, and allow your brain to absorb all the sensory feedback from your day. Do the same in your Somatics practice. Without this information, you are unable to hone the awareness needed to determine if your actions are benefitting or detracting from your overall health, movement skill, emotional well-being, and goals.

For those of you who say, "I just can't relax," remember to stop and rest after your somatic movement, or at the end of your day; this is a practice in learning to relax. It truly is an art these days. When you let go completely, your brain and nervous system begin to know what true relaxation is. (And what a wealth of information it brings to your awareness!)

So, remember to pause after each movement (or each day) in order to let your brain and body truly release and reset.

Rushing from one thing to the next leads to burnout and prevents us from sensing our bodies, how we relate to them and how our actions affects them. We don't want to be surprised by a body that seems to suddenly work against us. We all need time to integrate. Take the time; it's worth the rest of your life.

 

The Fastest Route to a Pain-free Body: Clinical Hanna Somatics sessions

Janet (not her real name) came to my office this week complaining of hip pain. Walking upstairs was painful and laborious - and she was only in her 30's.  She had, as she put it, "a list a mile long of things I've tried" in her search for long term pain relief.  "I'm told I have piriformis syndrome. If I could just get my right buttock to relax, I think I could finally begin to feel better," she said. In a Clinical Somatics session that focused on the Trauma Reflex, Janet learned - very quickly - to release her tight waist muscles, ribcage and trunk rotators.I taught her to release the entire pattern of contraction that was causing her buttock to spasm: her tight buttock, abdominals and abductor muscles. Working with sensory feedback from my hand, she contracted these muscles as a pattern, then slowly released them into a fuller, more relaxed length. This technique is called assisted pandiculation - it resets the muscle control, function and length at the level of the central nervous system.  Twice more she pandiculated those same muscles, until she reached her own comfortable limit, flopping her leg inward easily.  She also learned the Back Lift to begin to relax her tightly contracted back muscles.

What happened next took me by surprise:

She began to yell, "Oh my God, oh my God! I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"

"Are you alright? Does anything hurt?" I asked. She'd scared me!

"No, no, no, it's just that I finally relaxed my buttock! I've been saying this all along and nobody believed me! This is my eureka moment!"

Janet left the office with an ability to move her hips in a way she hadn't been able to for eight years.

Most muscle pain problems are functional in nature, not structural

Why did this clinical Somatics session help her when years of physical therapy, trigger point therapy, massage, acupuncture and medical treatments hadn't? Because Janet's problem wasn't structural; it was functional. She suffered from Sensory Motor Amnesia, the habituated compensatory response to two traumatic accidents. Her muscles had learned to adapt, resulting in a twisted pelvis, altered gait and tight hip joint.  As Janet learned to release the entire pattern of tightness on her right side (and compensatory tightness on her other side) and improve the function of her muscles, her hip pain abated, and her muscle coordination and balance improved.

Janet wasn't completely out of pain. She has more to learn and practice in order to change her old way of holding her body to a new, more free sense of movement. Her brain's "new normal" will take time to integrate. In addition to a few more clinical sessions I told her to attend every Hanna Somatic Movement class and workshop she possibly could.  Being free and in control of your movement involves life-long learning. I give this same advice to every client I work with. While private clinical sessions are profoundly and rapidly effective, attending only a few sessions is like taking a few piano lessons and expecting to perform like Chopin or Mozart!

People often ask, "why do I need to come to class if I'm doing private sessions and feel much better?" The answer is simple: life is dynamic, as is movement. Every day there is the possibility of change and stress. Classes gives you the opportunity to learn more, differentiate your brain and movement, and become more skillful. Learning to override old habits and takes time! The more you sense and feel as you move, the more you can learn. The more you can learn, the more you can master. The more you master an awareness of yourself, from the inside out, the more adaptable and resilient you will be throughout your life. Eventually efficient movement will become your brain's default mode as you become more self-monitoring, self-correcting, and self-healing. Varying your daily Somatic Movement routine with classes and workshops and fun, functional movement makes your brain smarter and keeps you out of pain.

Click here to find a workshop, class or training near you.

Click here to purchase Martha's Pain Relief videos.

What Causes Sacroiliac Joint Pain and How Somatics Can Help

I recently taught Somatic Exercises online to T.G., a woman suffering from sacroiliac pain, commonly referred to as SI joint dysfunction or SI joint instability. When we began our sessions, she stood tilted to one side, clearly stuck in a Trauma Reflex. She was unaware of the severity of her tilt; she told me that her posture although technically out of balance, felt normal to her. She knew from reading my book, Move Without Pain, that her tilt was an unconscious habit that her brain had set as "normal" because she'd been standing like that for a very long time. She had a few falls, accidents, and a particularly difficult childbirth and labor.

How SI joint pain arises

"After working with me and watching me move, do you think the SI joint is the issue? I'm so amazed at the changes taking place in my body after learning Somatic Exercises. The psoas release you taught me made me feel so much more relaxed in my torso."
 T.G., New Mexico

To answer her question: her Trauma Reflex - not her SI joint itself - was causing her pain. The painful joint was merely a symptom; the underlying cause of her pain was Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in the muscles that attach into, and move the pelvis and SI joint: the extensors of the back, the quadratus lumborum, the iliopsoas, the obliques, the rectus abdominis and others. They were all pulling unevenly on her pelvis so that whatever activity she did caused pain in the joint. Her hamstrings were also very tight because she had begun to use her legs differently to compensate for the tilt in her center. Because her muscles were in a state of chronic contraction, her movement was inefficient and painful.

How the 3 Stress Reflexes affect the SI joint

Some symptoms of SI joint dysfunction are:

  • low back pain on both sides
  • a feeling of weakness and instability at the bottom of the spine
  • sciatic pain
  • pain at the waist, towards the center of the back
  • aching in the front of the thigh and down into the groin

One-sided SI joint pain suggests that the muscles that connect the SI joint and the center of the body are pulling unevenly on the joint. An asymmetrical muscular pull often rotates one side of the pelvis. There is an feeling of being "jammed up" in the sacroiliac joint because the Trauma Reflex puts a painful torque on the pelvis, inhibiting it from moving up, down, forward, and back.

Bilateral SI joint pain suggests habituation to the Green Light Reflex, which creates excessive contraction through the muscles along our spine; this puts excess pressure on the SI joint and lumbar spine. If the Red Light Reflex is habituated, the pelvis doesn't move freely when walking; the iliopsoas is tightly contracted and the joint feels stuck.

These are all cases of Sensory Motor Amnesia and can be eliminated through Somatic Educationpandiculation, and a daily practice of Somatic Exercises.

The key to regaining stability and mobility

When you no longer move with ease, and cannot sense or control the back, front, and sides of your body, you may feel unstable and lose the ability to walk smoothly and move easily. A critically important aspect of reversing SI joint instability and pain is to learn to move the pelvis freely again. It is precisely that lack of freedom in the pelvis that is absent in those with SI joint (as well as hip and pelvic) pain. In order to regain stability and mobility, you must be able to sense, feel, and control yourself fully from within.

My client learned quite a few Somatic Exercises: arch and flatten , arch and curl, back lift, arch and curl with psoas release, cross lateral arch and curl, side bend, washrag, and the walking exercises. Through repetition of these movements she learned to slowly and intelligently reduce muscle tension in the muscles of the back, waist and front of her body so she could extend, flex, side bend and rotate her body with ease and comfort. She pandiculated these muscles and began to reconnect her brain to her muscles, resetting muscle length, function, sensation, and control.

By the time her session concluded, the uneven muscle tension that had pulled her sacroiliac joint out of alignment had greatly diminished. She found a relaxed and accurate "neutral" in the center of her body. Best of all, she had begun to regain a true sense of herself, from the inside out.

How you can eliminate and prevent SI joint pain

Below are some options for learning to prevent and eliminate SI joint pain and instability and learn to move freely again. It is highly recommended that you seek the help of a skilled Clinical (Hanna Somatic Educator) for more precise guidance and rapid improvement:

Move Without Pain Fundamentals Immersion Course: Learn to Live Pain-Free

In my last blog post, Back Pain: It’s Time To Ask Why, I discussed yet another new approach to relieving back pain: mindfulness-based stress reduction which addresses the symptoms of back pain, but, like most other approaches, does not address the cause.

When it comes to back pain, many people find themselves without answers or a long-term solution to help them live life pain-free.

Have you ever found yourself asking: Why does my pain keep coming back? Why do I feel as though I'm falling apart? What am I doing wrong? Why can't my doctor get rid of my pain? What should I do now?  Is something wrong with me? Is this what aging feels like? If so, Hanna Somatics can help you answer these questions.

The answer to most muscle pain lies in learning about Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and how it develops in the brain and manifests in the body, and learning about pandiculation, the safe and effective alternative to stretching that resets nervous system control of muscles and movement memory. The truth is that most muscle pain is the result of our habituated responses to the myriad stresses of our lives.

How can I learn more so that I can live pain-free?

The Move Without Pain Fundamentals Immersion Course focuses on the core principles of Hanna Somatics: the science, philosophy, techniques, and Somatic Exercises. It is an excellent introduction to this highly effective, yet simple method of neuromuscular movement education and pain relief. In addition, there will be group discussion and plenty of time for questions (and answers!) about Hanna Somatics and how to address your particular muscle pain condition.

The Fundamentals Immersion Course is for anyone and everyone interested in Hanna Somatics - no prior experience or training necessary!

Hanna Somatics is not just for those with chronic muscle pain.

Most people who seek me out have been suffering from years of muscle pain without finding a long-term solution. Some people come to me with  no recurring muscle pain - they feel pretty good, but want to learn to keep it that way. Hanna Somatics gets to the root of most muscle pain and the gradual stiffness that many people experience as they get older.

Through gentle pandiculations and Somatic Movements, my clients:

  • Achieve awareness of their bodies and their reactions to stress
  • Experience reduced muscle tension and pain
  • Learn how to relieve muscle pain whenever and wherever they want
  • Rediscover their ability to move efficiently and skillfully with the least possible effort
  • Learn that they can continue to improve their mobility, strength and stamina as they get older

These five benefits are something that can improve the quality of life for everyone - not just people in pain. You will learn to restore precision, efficiency, and skill in your movements, through improved proprioception and internal awareness, so you can create a base of control, strength, coordination, and balance. Reducing muscle pain is simply an added benefit.

Who can benefit from Hanna Somatics?

  • Athletes and dancers (young and old, professional and non-competitive)
  • Anyone experiencing chronic, or recurring muscle pain or injury
  • Those who want to exercise or increase their level of physical activity
  • Parents and daycare workers who carry and lift children daily
  • Anyone who sits and works for long hours at a desk or in a car
  • Anyone seeking to restore their motion and muscle control after a surgery
  • Movement teachers, athletic coaches, fitness trainers, doctors, physical therapists
  • Anyone wanting to improve their body awareness
  • Anyone who wants to be able to move freely for the rest of their lives

Come and experience a renewed awareness within your body and learn to transform the way you move for the rest of your life.

Check out our upcoming Fundamentals Immersion Courses:

 

Back Pain: It's Time To Ask Why

A mindful approach to back pain

A recent New York Times article discusses a new approach to easing back pain, called "mindfulness-based stress reduction." This method involves "a combination of meditation, body awareness and yoga, and focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of one’s experiences, whether they involve physical discomfort or emotional pain."

The article cites a study conducted on mindfulness meditation and behavioral cognitive therapy for back pain, which reports that "many people may find relief with a form of meditation that harnesses the power of the mind to manage pain."

It is a relief to see an article in a major newspaper that reports a different perspective (a somatic perspective!) on back pain. The somatic perspective is the understanding that we humans are not inanimate objects that can fixed like a broken toy or washing machine, but are self-guiding, self-sensing, self-teaching synergistic systems that are experienced from the inside out and, given the right feedback and stimulation, can improve through retraining of the mind, brain, and body.

Somatic Education pioneers as Elsa Gindler, F.M. Alexander ("the Alexander Technique"), Moshe Feldenkrais, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Thomas Hanna, PhD, have known for decades that by turning our attention inward to the sensations, through movement, of our own bodies, we can affect profound improvement and change our ability to function in an efficient, balanced, coordinated, and controlled manner. We can reverse the adverse effects of stress, relieve our own pain, and improve life through reeducating our brains and our movement.

This paradigm shift was bound to happen because, as the article states,

Sixty-five million Americans suffer from chronic lower back pain, and many feel they have tried it all: physical therapy, painkillers, shots.

This is something I hear every day when I work with clients: "I've tried everything to relieve my pain and only gotten short-term relief. There is something I'm doing - or have done that is causing the pain." I have written previously about the questionable use of MRIs as a diagnostic tool for back pain, as well as why muscle pain is not a medical problem, but a functional problem in need of reeducation.

The Importance of Asking WHY

And yet there is still something missing from the mindfulness approach to healing back pain: an understanding of why back pain (or neck, shoulder, hip, knee or foot pain) occurs and an interest in finding the answer. The simple question, "why does this happen?" is not being asked. When that question is left out of the equation, comments such as this one from the New York Times article, will be repeated:

It may not be for everybody,” [Dr. Goyal] said, noting that some people with back pain find yoga painful.

Until the day that researchers pick up the books and research of Thomas Hanna and begin learning about Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), brain reflexes, and pandiculation, nature's "reboot" for the sensory motor cortex, they will always come up short in their quest to help those in pain. SMA is what researchers and practitioners the world over are looking at when they study back (or neck/shoulder/hip) pain – they just don't know it.

Meditation is a wonderful tool for self-regulation, stress reduction, and pain relief, yet the root cause of muscle pain - the brain, and the way in which it habituates to stress reflexes, and thus organizes and moves our bodies - is where the gold lies. When you lose the ability to sense and move yourself fully, you will find yourself moving with less freedom, more pain, and more frustration. The answer lies within you and your ability to regain your movement. Without addressing the sensory motor system, brain reflexes, and how and why muscles become tight and painful, studies will continue to report that "this approach doesn't work for everyone."

And that would be a shame for those 65 million back pain sufferers across the United States.

Happy New Year of Awareness

HAPPY 2016!

Each new year brings a time of reflection - a time to look back on the past year - the good, the not-so-good - and assess how far you've come in your life, your goals, your work, and your health. When we're honest with ourselves in our assessment we may notice habits or behaviors that no longer serve us. We resolve to lose weight, exercise more, and eat healthier.  We reach out for resources and support in order to make those changes.  When we sit down to reflect on our future goals, hopes or aspirations for the New Year, we sit quietly. We remember. We take time to pay attention, mull things over and plan.

Awareness is key in developing new habits.

Without awareness of ourselves, our habits and how they shape our lives and goals we just may go on struggling to create change year after year with no success; we need to realize that true, long lasting change comes from a new perspective. Some habits are beneficial while others are simply conditioned into us by circumstances or upbringing, unconsciously becoming "who" we think we are.

Without the element of awareness New Year's resolutions have as much significance as a grocery list. Add to that a commitment to a daily practice of new habits or ways of being or thinking, and you have a profound and successful recipe for self-knowledge, growth and transformation.

Muhammed Ali once said,

The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.

And Thomas Hanna said:

If you're not getting smarter as you get older, you're doing something wrong.

No matter your age or limitation, nothing changes or improves without awareness, and practice. Our goal here at Essential Somatics® is to teach to those with chronic muscle pain or limited movement to create long-term pain relief by cultivating awareness of their bodies and movement, and by discovering their innate ability to change how they reflexively respond to the stresses of life. The way in which we move and sense ourselves physically is a reflection of our thoughts, feelings and how we have adapted to the accumulated stresses of our lives. When you have pain you change who you are - your ability to make good decisions, your goals, your dreams and your desires. The good news is that within each one of us is the innate capacity to change, grow and learn a new way of being.

We're here to guide those who want to regain awareness and control of their bodies and their movement goals, with awareness, opportunities for practice, and sincere and patient encouragement.

Please join us for weekly classes, workshops, and private clinical sessions for those of you striving to live a movement-filled, pain-free life. 

May this year bring growth, creativity, health and peace to you and everyone you know.

Functional Fitness and Core Strengthing for a Purpose

We can all agree that it is important to be strong. We live in an era in which technology and machinery have replaced tasks that once required muscle, time and physical effort; we have washing machines, lawn mowers, tractors, cars, elevators, and chainsaws. We don't challenge our bones and muscles with functional, weight-bearing tasks during our daily life as often as we once did (this includes squatting down to use the toilet!). Manual laborers, fitness instructors, and professional athletes, among other occupations, are required to have a certain level of physical strength and movement. Unfortunately, many of these individuals often have extremely strong and overly-contracted muscles. Because their muscles cannot release and relax they are likely to experience muscle pain caused by sensory motor amnesia; they need to learn to relax their muscles before strengthening them any further. (In this Strong Core blog post I discuss what "the core" is and how excessive strengthening of the core can contribute to Sensory Motor Amnesia and muscle pain, thus inhibiting free and efficient movement.)

For many people, however, active movement isn't a required part of one's profession. You have a choice to either incorporate strength training and movement into your daily life, or not (and your decision will leave you with respective consequences). Motivation to move can be a big hurdle to overcome if you're not being paid to do it at work every day! The key is to make movement and strength training fun and purposeful.

Ask yourself: what do you want to be strong for? What is your motivation?

Do you want to be able to run a marathon? Climb a mountain? Bring your blood pressure down? Play with your children? Perhaps you want to just "be in shape." Think about what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. As Dan John, strength and conditioning coach, and author of Never Let Go, says,

"If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all."

Do every day what you want to be able to do in the future. Work toward your strengthening goals by incorporating functional and enjoyable movement into your routine. If you want to be able to climb a mountain, ditch the treadmill and walk a mile through your neighborhood or in a local park to get you started. If you want to play on the ground with your children, practice getting up and down off the floor. Every. Day.

Most of my personal fitness goals focus on the long-term. My biggest goal is to be able to walk up and down the stairs briskly (unaided) as my 87-year-old mother still does, so I make a point to walk an incline (stairs, a hill, etc.) every day. I want to be able to squat to the ground, carry my own luggage or groceries, and play "tag" with my grandchildren in the playground. Some of my favorite strengthening and movement practices that help me to work towards my goals are: Exuberant AnimalNia, and hiking. These movements will keep me strong and strengthen my brain in the process.

Martha's Tips for Motivating Your Movement:

  1. Find your "purpose for moving." What is important to you?
  2. Do your Somatic exercises before and after your chosen strengthening routine. Your muscles need to "reboot" in order to be fully functional.
  3. Enjoy your new routine and keep moving! This takes strength. It also takes a belief that it's possible.
Now get up and move!

Regain Freedom of Movement (for the rest of your life!)

The desire for freedom is intrinsic to human nature and essential to human development. It is so crucial to our development that children who are not allowed to move (restricted recess, sitting still for long periods of time, etc.) can develop cognitive, emotional and psychological problems (as discussed on NPR Ed).

In our youth, we learn by trial and error to move our bodies, from the moment we first lift our head to our first success at riding a bicycle without falling off. Through repetition and habituation we create stability through movement patterns. Movement habits are formed in order to allow for efficient movement and conservation of energy.

freedom2The freedom to climb trees, run after soap bubbles, chase our friends, ride bicycles, dance, jump, yell and shout teaches us about ourselves both on a personal, social, emotional, and physical level. We learn how to problem solve, collaborate, create, and strengthen ourselves - processes that occur from the inside out often unseen by others as we grow into adulthood.This is, at its essence, how we get to know who we are.

All life is sensory motor in nature.

Babies have one way of experiencing the world: through sensory feedback. They sense discomfort and they cry; they sense safety or comfort and they relax; they sense danger or fear and they cry; they awaken from a nap and paniculate their limbs, yawn, and squirm in order to sense their bodies. 

As we get older things change. Many of us, for a variety of reasons, stop moving as freely as we once did. We adopt ways of moving that reflects societal rules or restrictions and, inevitably, the many “insults” of life: accident, illness, physical or emotional trauma, psychological fear, and family patterns. Others keep physically active (sports, playing, dancing, or walking), as well as mentally or emotionally active, seeking help when we need it to create emotional patterns that serve us. All of this learning shows up in our bodies, our health and specifically our movement.

The goal of Hanna Somatic Education is to teach you to take back physical independence and control of your own ever changing, dynamic body and life. Our bodies and our lives are never static. As human organisms we are an ever changing, dynamic, living process that can only ever be sensed individually. Life is, indeed, lived from the inside out.

Muscle pain can disappear and aging can still be active and healthy. By learning to sense what it feels like to be "you," from the inside out (physically and emotionally) you redirect your dependency on others and move toward authentic physical freedom.

A daily practice of Somatic Exercises and conscious movement that is pleasurable and fosters awareness is necessary to maintain the the self-awareness and skill it takes to maintain freedom - physical, mental and emotional freedom from patterns that don’t serve us.

Visit the Essential Somatics® store for our easy-to-follow instructional DVDs.

Check out our Clinical Somatic Education Professional training.

A Strong Core is a Core the Brain Can Control

I recently received this email from a woman who purchased Move Without Pain and my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD:

We are often told (by doctors, exercise experts in the media) that it is good to strengthen our "core muscles" - and often Pilates or Yoga is recommended for that purpose. We're also told that soft muscles and ligaments make us vulnerable to low back pain. Do Hanna Somatic exercises help strengthen our core, such that we don't necessarily have to add another type of strengthening exercise routine to our already busy lives?

"Core strengthening" is often considered a panacea for low back pain, and a lack of "core strength" is often blamed for low back pain! Neither one is accurate. In reality, most people with back pain, limited movement and poor posture are suffering from Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The muscles of the core respond involuntarily to stress reflexes by twisting or rotating  to avoid pain or injury (Trauma Reflex), slumping and drawing inward (Red Light/Startle Reflex) and contracting the back (Green Light/Landau Response) to move forward. If you continuously repeat these actions, the muscles of the core learn to stay tight, short and overly contracted. Strengthening muscles that have habituated to stress reflexes is a recipe for more pain. It simply doesn't work and can sometimes cause harm.

What is "the core" anyway?

"The core" of the body comprises the front, sides d5c71e70ed10d57c667d879908bb48ccand back of the body, from the skull to the pelvic floor and out to the hips. It is not just those abdominal muscles that we are told to suck in and draw up in order to support the back. The core includes the deep muscles of the back that flex and extend our spine and the muscles of the waist (which strap our ribcage to our pelvis) that allow us to laterally flex as well as twist. It is like a girdle of muscles that strap the upper and lower halves of the body to each other.

Repeatedly contracting your abdominals (as one does with sit-ups) creates excessive muscle tension that can prevent fluid, efficient and pain-free movement. Overly contracted abdominal muscles contribute to back pain, neck pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. When the muscles of the back, waist and abdominals are supple, relaxed, and fully under the brain's control, movement is easy and efficient. The trouble is, most people can tighten their core but cannot fully relax it. This poses a problem when it comes to strengthening for long term health and fitness.

Hanna Somatics helps strengthen the core and relieve low back pain by restoring full brain control of the muscles.

Hanna Somatic exercises do not intentionally teach you to strengthen the muscles of the posture pillow excore. They teach you to regain voluntary control over those muscles of your core which are, for most people, in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia. They restore full muscle length at the brain level through slow, aware movement, and pandiculation so you can regain balance and have a supple core whose long muscles can flex, extend, side bend, and rotate voluntarily. Hanna Somatics doesn't take the place of the movement you love to do; it prepares you to do what like, only better.  Hanna Somatic Exercises teach you to find your own comfortable, neutral posture for support of your spine as you learn to sense and control your muscles from the inside out.

Is it important to strengthen the core?

Yes, it's important to be strong and it doesn't have to be a burden - one more thing you feel obligated to do in your busy life. It all depends on how you do it and what you choose to do.

We all need to be strong. Being strong stresses our skeleton in a good way, and can prevent osteoporosis as it aids in bone density. Strong muscles that the brain can control support and stabilize you in any given task so that you can maintain your physical independence as you age. Somatic Exercises improve your sensory motor awareness so you can self-monitor and self-correct your movement and posture in response to the stresses of life.

In another post I will discuss some ideas for functional daily strengthening that will be less of a burden and can be integrated into your life.

How To Improve Posture & Reverse Your Back Pain

There are "posture experts" everywhere that teach you to how to stand: bones in alignment, body parts stacked just so. Many yoga teachers stress alignment more than they do somatic awareness and proprioception. Because most people have Sensory Motor Amnesia and don't know it, it's even more important to understand how our brains control our muscular system as a whole and how stress reflexes create a distorted internal sense of how our body is connected, how our joints move and what it feels like to stand squarely on our feet. One of the worst pieces of advice people are given is to "stand up straight!" One of the least helpful opinions about "why" people have poor posture and back pain is "the back muscles are weak." I am a former professional dancer and many of my teachers had intractable back pain (and retired early) while having extremely strong back muscles.

When I ask people to stand up - and sit up - to what they think is "straight," they typically arch their lower back in an effort to pull the shoulders back and open the chest. I see this in yoga class as well. This posture - a strongly arched lower back and tight shoulders - is called the Green Light Reflex (or Landau Response) and it is a major cause of chronic low back pain.

Life is dynamic - so are you without back pain

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A healthy body is one that can adapt and adjust to whatever feedback comes in through the environment, yet can find its way back to balance and relaxation. Yes, life is dynamic, as is efficient, functional posture. Just like the ladies in the photo at right, balancing life and balancing books requires the ability to find center naturally as you move.

Many people work really hard to "get the right posture" not realizing that they're actually tightening and bracing certain muscles in an effort to attain it. Again, this contributes to back pain as well as neck pain, shoulder pain and hip pain. What would it feel like if you learned to let go of muscles that are unconsciously tight and tense in order to find your "perfect posture?"

Achieving good posture is about learning to relax muscles that aren't crucial to holding you up, while allowing the muscles that need to work to coordinate together in perfect balance and ease.

Good Health Doesn't Just Happen

One of my colleagues recently wrote me an uplifting email. I thought I'd share it with you.

I had a doctor's appointment last week, complete with blood work (which I have done every 6 months). My lab stats were even better than they were last time - and last time my doctor said they were "perfect!" So despite my perfect stats, the stats just keep on getting better and better.  I had another doctor appointment yesterday, and told her about the stats from my last visit. She looked them up and she commented that "good health like that doesn't just happen."I feel I am living proof of the unlimited potential to improve all aspects of our health - not just relief of aches and pains - as we continue to strengthen sensory motor awareness.  I'm wondering who out there who has a daily practice of Hanna Somatic is experiencing the same benefits?

Improving one's sensory motor awareness - the sense of what it feels like to be "you" as you live and respond in your life - has myriad benefits: reduction of muscular pain, improved brain to muscle control, improved joint stability and strength, and increased neural pathways in the brain due to movement differentiation and pandiculation. A body that is under the voluntary control of one's brain is a body whose autonomic nervous system is also more likely to function optimally.

As a Hanna Somatic Educator and trainer my goal is to teach people to move through life pain-free, with choice, mastery and joy. It can be done.

Somatics in Calgary, AB

Debra Denison can stand and move for 30 minutes at a time after two years of intense chronic pain left her on crutches. Sue French is back to running after barely being able to walk for months due to severe back and hip pain.

Jude Ewan can finally move and control her arm after suffering a stroke that left her entire right side nearly paralyzed six years ago.

All three believe they have reclaimed their bodies and their lives because of simple exercises called Hanna Somatics.

I attended a Hanna Somatics training in Calgary this past summer. For the first time ever there were medical professionals in this training who understood that while manual bodywork has much to offer for those in pain, there was "something missing" in their perspective and their treatment plans. There was also Debra (mentioned above) who, for two years, had not been able to stand for morknob-hille than a few minutes at a time. She had rediscovered herself through Hanna Somatic Exercises and slow, gentle movement exploration. Yoga teachers and massage therapists also attended in a quest to deepen and "tweak" their perspective on their bodies, their own movement, and this concept they'd heard so much about: Sensory Motor Amnesia.

What came out of this training is an exceptionally well written article about Hanna Somatics and how its methods can transform the course of one's well-being as well as add "missing link" information to the medical perspective on chronic muscle pain, aging, repetitive stress and injury recovery.

READ THE ARTICLE FROM THE CALGARY HERALD HERE!

 

 

The Mystery of "Muscle Knots" Solved: Sensory Motor Amnesia

There is some confusion as to what "muscle knots" are and where they come from. This article from the New York Times posits: "How do they happen and how can they be prevented? Are they harmful and should they be treated?" Allow me to answer these questions in the simplest way possible:

"Muscle knots" are not mysterious; they are areas of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

Sensory Motor Amnesia is habituated muscle tension that develops when we become habituated to stress and/or certain ways of moving. These areas of accumulated, learned muscular tension are stuck at the level of the central nervous system and cannot, physiologically, release and relax.

If you've ever had back, neck or shoulder pain and gone to a massage therapist to work the knots out of your back, only to have the knots return, it seems that there is little that can be done. Not so. The reason these knots seem to stick around despite the best massage therapist's effort, and why they don't show up on scans and MRIs is because what is happening in the muscle is a neurological event in the brain - a functional problem of the sensory motor system. SMA is not a medical problem that can be diagnosed through conventional medical methods. It is a functional  problem of the sensory motor system that can be easily "unlearned" through Hanna Somatic Education.brain-side

Muscle knots can be prevented first and foremost by understanding how SMA develops in your brain due to repetitive stress responses and/or repetitive, habituated movement habits. Muscles have two functions: contract and relax. When muscles can no longer fully relax this is an indication that you have accumulated muscle tension that you are no longer fully aware of. The only way to fully release these "knots" is to make sure that the brain is fully in control of the muscles.

Muscles knots are only harmful when they get in the way of free, efficient movement.

Movement is medicine, movement is life, and painful muscle tension can cause you to move less efficiently and, for most people, minimize the amount of movement you do. In order to live a healthy, free life we need to be able to move strongly, vigorously, and with endurance for as long as we live. If you're not planning on moving a lot then muscle knots won't hurt you. The lack of movement will, however.

Treatment of tight muscles doesn't work. Reeducation of tight muscles does.

If you want to untie a knot, you must look at the cord carefully then gently undo the tangle. Yanking on the cord will only make the knot tighter.

- Thomas Hanna

Muscle knots can't really be "treated" successfully - for the long term.  Treatment is what bodyworkers and doctors do when they attempt to fix tight muscles (or postural imbalances) from the outside; there are therapists who can help provide short term relief, yet muscle tension Pandiculation demonstrated (1)develops from the inside out (Sensory Motor Amnesia) and, since humans are self-regulating, self-sensing beings, not cars or bicycles that need fixing, their muscles must be educated so they can contract and release fully in order to get rid of muscle knots.

Through active involvement of the brain - rather than through manual manipulation - people can more easily and safely learn to  eliminate muscle knots, restore full muscle function in all planes of gravity and prevent them from coming back by doing three simple things:

  • Become aware of your daily movement habits and reflexive responses to stress. Repetitive contraction of muscles without full relaxation creates muscle knots.
  • Learn to pandiculate instead of stretch. Animals pandiculate up to 40 times a day!
  • If you have chronic muscle tension, learn how to eliminate your patterns of Sensory Motor Amnesia with a daily routine of Somatic Exercises**

Muscle knots are not an inevitable part of life; they are a symptom of stress adaptation.

**You can also learn to eliminate your patterns of SMA through a series of hands-on clinical Somatics sessions with a skilled and certified practitioner.

Freedom and Habits: Can They Exist at the Same Time?

How easily we allow our old habits and set patterns to dominate us! Even though they bring us suffering, we accept them with almost fatalistic resignation, for we are so used to giving in to them. We may idealize freedom, but when it comes to our habits, we are completely enslaved. Still, reflection can slowly bring us wisdom. We may, of course, fall back into fixed repetitive patterns again and again, but slowly we can emerge from them and change.

While this quote comes from Rigpa, a Buddhist website, it is the same philosophy underpinning Hanna Somatics. From a Hanna Somatics perspective it means that set patterns and habits, while useful in many ways, can dominate our posture and movement if we are unaware of them and unable to control them.  The fixed habits of walking that develop through trial and error as toddlers are critically important. They allow us the freedom to move forward in life. Yet, when other habits take over and become fixed patterns, like slumping at the computer, gritting our teeth when we're angry, tightening our bellies when we're anxious, contracting our back muscles as we rush through our busy lives - we gradually lose our sense of well-being and our freedom. Unconscious habits can change who we are.  getty-cartwheel

Habitual responses to stress become muscular habits at the level of our brain and nervous system. Once we develop a habit we are helpless to change it until we spend thoughtful time becoming aware of:

  • What the habit feels like (back pain, hip pain, sciatica, neck pain).
  • How it shows up in our bodies (slumped shoulders, face forward, leg length discrepancy).
  • How it is limiting us ("I used to dance and now it just hurts my hip... I can only walk a few blocks and then my back gives out...").

Many people feel defeated: "Well, I'm not getting any younger." "It's all down hill from here..." or "I probably ache because of my age." Many accept their unfortunate limitations with fatalistic resignation. They feel trapped and frustrated by muscle pain and few sensible solutions as they seek a solution to their pain "out there" - massage therapy, bodywork, physical therapy, the latest trends and remedies to relax muscles. They don't realize that in most cases the answer lies within their own brain and sensory motor system, and how an awareness of what they're doing repeatedly, (whether emotional, physical or psychological) can be the piece of the puzzle that they're missing.

This is the message of Hanna Somatics: freedom comes through awareness of one's ability to sense and control oneself from the inside out as they move through life. It is a patient and persistent practice of awareness - of what it feels like to be you, how your old habits have created habits of pain and limitation, the meaning you have given to what has happened to you over the years, and how you can change limitation to freedom - on your own, from the inside out. We need habits in our lives; they create a necessary element of stability - in movement. It's whether these habits serve us or not that is the question.

What does freedom look and feel like to you?

Why We Have Low Back Pain

In this NPR story about back pain, some old myths about back pain persist - the biggest one is that strong abdominals will help relieve back pain. I understand the opinion that the shape of one's spine (a "J" spine, as compared to an "S" spine) may be why some indigenous cultures don't have back pain, but too much is missing from this discussion.

Back pain is a functional adaptation to stress caused by chronically contracted muscles that will not release.

The answer to back pain is simpler than people realize: for the majority of back pain sufferers, back pain slowly develops over time due to what they do repeatedly in their daily life. Whatever you do consistently becomes a habit in your central nervous system, brain, muscles and movement. The inability to sense what you are doing and why - and choose to change it in the moment - results in a  loss of control over one's muscles, movement, and for many suffering from pain, their lives. Efficient, easy, effortless movement and personal freedom go by the wayside.

Thomas Hanna, Ph.D, author of the book, Somaticsputs it this way:

....the almost epidemic prevalence of pain in the lower back is not specifically a medical problem. that is, it is not a condition of break down of some kind, a disease process...it is actually something that is in some sense a kind of psychological, or emotional process. The prevalence of back pain has everything to do with the kind of lives that we live and the kind of society in which we live. Now if I were to try and put a finger on the most general pathology of urban industrial society...I would say that the pathology is that of proprioceptive illiteracy. Most human beings grow up losing the ability to perceive internal events in their own bodies.

He describes the Green Light Reflex (the Landau Response), a reflex that is invoked automatically every time there is a "call to action - " an urgent  Tanzanian-Trip-3-474deadline, or the need to rush to get somewhere. The brain contracts the  muscles of the back to move the body forward. Reflexes are neutral, helpful and often life-saving. Yet if you live in a society where this reflex is evoked thousands of times a day your brain gradually habituates to the reflex to the point where you can no longer - voluntarily - relax, nor control your back muscles. The back muscles (as well as gluteal muscles, hamstrings, shoulder muscles) can become rigidly and painfully contracted.

Indigenous people have different stresses from those in industrialized western culture, but what they have to a greater extent than us is movement. They move more than they sit; they move slowly, they differentiate their movement, they squat, and, as they walk, their pelvises move. Their pace of life is slower. It is not a "are we there yet?" culture.

Try this somatic exercise for relief of your back pain.

If a group of indigenous people were to sit in front of a computer for 40+ hours a week, drive cars in rush hour traffic, drastically reduce their movement (except the occasional workout), or be subjected to technology that demand constant attention, they would likely develop back pain. It is their environment, their lifestyle, and their attitude toward life (rather than their spines) have more to do with why they suffer less from back pain than most western societies.

We adapt to our environment for better or worse. If you want the perks that come with our stressful western industrialized society you would do well to incorporate the wisdom of movement and awareness of indigenous cultures.

How To Move Vigorously Without Stiffness and Pain - Hanna Somatics For Hiking

In the course of a typical training day in Clinical Somatic Education we have a full 60 minute somatic movement class followed by hIMG_4994ands-on pandiculation work and clinical practice, and more somatic movement exploration geared towards what we will teach our clients. Hanna Somatic Exercises, part of any Clinical Somatics session, are true "restorative exercises" that involve pandiculation rather than stretching. A hands-on, assisted pandiculation (the main clinical method used in Hanna Somatics) confers a deep release of muscles as well as renewed sensory and motor control. It sends strong feedback to the sensory motor cortex in order to "reboot" voluntary control of formerly restricted movement. The end result is that you are able to recruit and activate the muscles you need for a given action, rather than those you don't need.

Pandiculation and Somatic Exercises takes the brakes off your movement so you can move efficiently and freely in any given activity.

A recent training module in Norway lasted 10 full days. On a day off halfway through, we visited one of Norway's most spectacular natural landmarks: the Preikestolen, an extraordinary 604 meter cliff overlooking the Lysefjorden. The guide book said that the 2.4 mile would take two hours.

The path was rocky and steep, with giant rock steps and occasional boulders, as well as stretches of beautiful wooden walkways. We reached the top in 90 minutes, a full half hour faster than expected. After a simple lunch on a solitary outcropping of rock we literally skipped down the mountain, rock to rock, jumping and zig-zagging (and yes, walking when necessary). Our desire to skip, jog and dance down the mountain occurred spontaneously. It was something I recall doing as a teenager climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Rather than my knees and hips aching when I reached the bottom, my knees felt perfectly fine, strong and solid. My hips felt loose and relaxed.

The next day when we resumed class we discussed our hiking IMG_4979experience. None of us has daily access to a mountain like the Preikestolen or this kind of vigorous training on a daily basis, so we were elated, yet not surprised to discover that not a one of us was sore. Our hips, back, knees and feet felt great. Why was it that we could do such a strenuous hike and feel strong and exhilarated rather than sore and stiff the next day?

Somatic Exercises and pandiculation prepares you to move well.

The answer lies in what Somatic Exercises and pandiculation confer: brain control of muscles, efficient movement and optimum coordination. Yes, they also teach you how to relieve chronic muscle pain for the long term, yet that only occurs once you regain voluntary control of your muscles. 

If you want to be able to move vigorously in any given sport or activity - whether hiking, weight lifting, cycling, walking the dog, running, climbing stairs, or carrying your own groceries - you can do it without pain and residual soreness when you do Somatic Exercises. You may have discomfort while moving vigorously (muscles that are being taxed can feel uncomfortable when they're finally being used and stressed), but that's not the same thing as pain. Regaining freedom of movement and staying in control of your body and movement despite the stresses of your daily life is a learned skill that you can learn no matter your age. I can't wait for my next hike!

Click here for information about the Myth of Aging retreat at Hollyhock August 19 - 22, 2015.

Click here for information about the Myth of Aging Somatics and Yoga retreat in Bali in October, 2015. A full week of Somatic Movement, outdoor activities, Yoga and meditation.

Movements That Don't Feel Good For My Hip

As promised, in my last post I shared my daily Somatics routine. In this post I'll discuss the movements that don't feel good for my body and hip, as well as movements I enjoy that help me feel strong without stressing my hip and causing pain. To start, here's what I've learned about my labral tears:

Because I can't fix the structural problem I need to listen to my body, move in a way that feels good and stay away from movements that cause pain. I had to get past my self-competitive nature and embrace acceptance of what I can't change and know that I can be strong, healthy and happy without pushing my body into places that don't serve it. It's calling letting go of your ego. Not always easy.

Movements that aren't pleasant for me:

Running. Though I like to run a block, walk, run another block, then walk, I can only do this a few times. Not having equal structural stability in my right hip simply causes my brain and muscles to come down just a bit harder on the right side. I wind up quite sore for a day if I do this and it puts unnecessary stress on my hip joint. It's not worth it.

"Core strengthening:" Sit ups, certain Pilates mat exercises. Why? Because the more I tighten my "core" the more it hurts my right hip. Sounds odd, right? Not really. Many people with a labral tear also have a cyst on their hip. Their hip joint structure isn't symmetrical. This can create some sensitivity that those without tears don't have.

Look at an anatomy chart and you'll see where the abdominal muscles insert into the pubic bone, the pelvis and you'll get a better idea of how excessive strengthening exercises can create pressure and tightness into the hip joint.

The best abdominal/core strengthening for me is functional body weight movement like vigorous hiking. I also love the movements of Exuberant Animal. They're fun, functional, creative and strengthening.

Fast twisting movements: Zumba doesn't work for me. It's simply too fast and one is never able to get to the full range of the muscle, nor have enough time to learn to do the movement properly. Slow hip movements are great, but super fast? It serves no purpose that I can see.

Stretching: Stretching only makes muscles tighter and, when done statically, invokes the stretch reflex. I pandiculate - a lot. And it means that I move in a comfort range that is right for me and optimum for my muscles.

I have had to become extremely aware of my tendency to revert to the original pattern that likely caused the tears in the first place: the Trauma Reflex. When stress hits most people revert to their most deeply familiar habit. For me it's the Trauma Reflex. Don’t worry. The beauty of the human brain is that we have the capacity to be internally aware of and in control of these habits. This leads to the ability to be self-correcting, self-actualizing and self-healing. We can start all over again every minute of the day.

Becoming aware of how you emotionally respond to stress is a critical part of the process. Do you cringe into that hip? Do you tighten your back, hunch your shoulders? Does that hip begin to ache when you’re stressed? Has it never occurred to you that your emotional or psychological state is connected to how your muscles move and how you feel in your body?

The lesson is to learn to listen to yourself, sense the information your brain is giving you about your body and move in ways that create pleasure, learning, growth and strength. It's a life long process that makes us smarter and more resilient.

How Hanna Somatics Helps Me Move Well Despite Labral Hip Tears

It’s time for an update. Several years ago I wrote several blog posts about hip pain, labral tear surgery, and how to help alleviate hip pain - not as a quick fix, but for the long term. Since then I’ve had countless emails from readers asking advice about hip pain and labral tears: which exercises are best for it, can Hanna  Somatics really help and advice on whether to have labral tear surgery or not.hips

So where do I stand now that I’ve had labral tears for several years, a very active schedule and haven’t had surgery?

I’m moving really well. I feel strong, I am still quite flexible and I know how to honor my limits to keep myself out of pain. You see, I am a poor candidate for surgery (I also have osteoarthritis in my hips from years of dance training and injuries), so there has only ever been only one clear choice for me: to incorporate the exercises, concepts and principles of Hanna Somatics into my daily life. This includes awareness of my emotional responses to stress, my postural habits, and my daily movement habits.

That means that I have had to walk the talk and be the example of what Hanna Somatics has to offer those in pain: the ability to become self-aware, self-monitoring, and self-correcting in their movement and muscular control. I know which activities help me and which ones don't and I know that if I "push on through" because I want to be competitive, and I ignore how my body is feeling, I will be sore for a few days afterwards.

I was diagnosed with labral tears after recovering from a skiing accident, which resulted in an ACL tear. As a Somatic Educator, I knew that my tears were the cumulative result of years of Sensory Motor Amnesia as well as minor, but very important, imbalances in the center of my body. For some people labral tears occur suddenly due to an accident or over time due to overuse; baseball players, martial artists and dancers are athletes who frequently suffer from labral tears, all due to repetitive movements.

The Trauma Reflex contributes to labral hip tears

If you have a labral hip tear, you've probably had an accident, injury, surgery, or performed repetitive IMG_3857actions - all of which evokes a sudden and powerful reflex called the Trauma Reflex. The brain, the command center of the muscles, loses its ability to contract and lengthen the muscles of the waist and trunk voluntarily and equally. You find yourself slightly tilted to one side, the pelvis twisted and leg length  a bit  uneven. Your gait changes and smooth walking or running becomes a thing of the past.

Here is what I have advised my readers:

If you have a labral tear and decide to have surgery, the surgery won't fix the muscular imbalance that you undoubtedly have in the center of your body. Only you and your brain can do that through sensory motor retraining. Then, once the tear is fixed, it's important to restore full muscle function, balance and coordination through Clinical Somatics sessions and daily Hanna Somatic Exercises. If you don't, you just may experience continued tightness in that hip, or aches and pains in other areas of the body due to compensation.

If your goal is to avoid a hip replacement (or put it off indefinitely) then the smartest thing you could do is to get the muscles which attach into and move the hip socket to release and relax. This is what I have done. Reduce excess muscle tension and free up your movement. This will take the pressure off the injured area and help you regain freedom of movement.

No matter what you decide, improved somatic awareness and control is what will change the course of your recovery from one of pain and limited movement to one of greater movement and self-control.

So what does my daily practice look like? There are so many Somatic Exercises to learn and choose from, yet some are what I call the “non-negotiables.” All this in my next blog post...