The Three Somatic Reflexes


The Green Light Reflex

The Green Light Reflex is the reflex involved in forward movement. All of the large muscles of the back contract to move you forward in walking, running and standing. The back muscles can learn to stay overly-contracted, pulling the back into an exaggerated arch. You can think of this reflex as an arching reflex, like a soldier at attention. When running for the train, sitting at the computer for many hours, picking up a child, or standing all day long, these "green light" muscles are working to help you "get the job done." If this reflexive response to stress becomes habituated, conditions such as herniated disks, neck pain, shoulder pain, and sciatica can develop.

The Red Light Reflex

The Red Light Reflex, more commonly known as the Startle Response, involves the muscles on the front of the body, which tighten to pull you forward. This "slumping reflex" presents itself with rounded shoulders, depressed chest and the head jutting forward. It is a protective reflex found in all vertebrate animals and is a response to fear, anxiety, prolonged distress or negativity. A loud noise, unexpected sound or emotional trauma (or long hours hunched over the computer) can cause the muscles of the front of the body to contract suddenly as the body pulls inward in a slumping posture. An habituated Red Light Reflex can lead to chronic neck pain, jaw pain (as with TMJ), a “widow’s hump," hip pain, mid-back pain and shallow breathing. The inability to breathe deeply deprives your brain, blood and muscles of the oxygen they need to function properly. This in turn can cause fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep problems and exacerbate allergies.

The Trauma Reflex

The Trauma Reflex occurs involuntarily in response to accidents and injuries and the need to avoid further pain as one compensates due to an injury. This reflex involves the muscles of the trunk rotators, which, when contracted, hike the hip on one side and twist the spine slightly. Examples of this would be the repetitive task of holding a young child on one’s hip, a sudden fall of any kind, limping on one side in response to, for example, a twisted ankle on the other side, falling on one’s tailbone in a fall or suffering from appendicitis. This reflex presents with side bending and rotations in the pelvis/trunk/shoulder/head. This postural compensation may be slight, or very noticeable, but its effects can be devastating. In many cases scoliosis is an example of an habituatedtrauma reflex, creating a curve and tilting in the spine and trunk.

Unfortunately, due to Sensory Motor Amnesia, some people stay stuck in the extremes of these postural reflexes out of habit, unable to sense the postural imbalances in their bodies.  Many medical professional see these problems as structural in nature, when in fact they are functional. Improved function of the muscles improves the structure (posture). In practice, Clinical Somatic Education resolves these problems through a process of cultivating awareness of the “amnesic” muscles first, then retraining the brain to retrain the muscles to release and relax back to a new length. This process results in improved balance, coordination and overall functioning of the musculoskeletal system. Ultimately one becomes more self-aware, self-monitoring, self-regulating and self-healing.


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