Back when I was creating my Pain-Free series of instructional DVDs, I spent an enormous amount of time preparing, collapsed over my laptop editing articles, approving designs, writing the script for the DVDs. My daily Somatics practice went by the wayside as I plowed ahead with work, only paying attention to my looming deadline (yes, even Somatic Educators can fall into the trap of stress-induced unawareness). One morning 2 weeks ago, however, I woke up and was convinced that I had some kind of virus, or stomach problem. I'd had trouble sleeping for several nights, and when I awoke, my jaw was painful, the right side of my abdominals were rock hard, it was difficult to take a deep breath and my right hip joint was painful. Sounds scary, huh?
Computers can pull you in to hours of mental and muscular tension. Take a look in the mirror and you'll probably see what looks like an old man (or woman) slumped and drawn inward, head forward and chest collapsed.
Well, I'm no different from anyone who walks through my office door wondering "how did I get this way?" when telling me about their aches and pains. One doesn't get this way without losing sensory awareness of what they're doing to create the problem. Muscles tighten because our brain - the control center of our muscles - teaches them to get stuck. I'm not immune to being sucked into the laptop for hours on end, completely absorbed in an important task. I'm definitely not immune to getting wound up over important projects, which creates mental and muscular tension. Research has shown that there's not one thought that goes through our brains that's not responded to muscularly in the body.
Using Somatic Exercises to unfreeze those tense muscles is like hitting refresh on your computer.
I lay down on the floor and went slowly through a half hour of somatic movements focused on the large muscles of the core that had become so tight and tense that deep breathing was restricted. I moved through subtle, slow movements to relax my back, waist, ribcage, and hips. Afterwards my breathing was deeper, my hip pain had subsided, and my jaw was relaxed. Then I lay still, and noticed the difference between my muscles before I lay down, and after I'd finished my Somatics routine. I let my brain soak up the sensations in my muscles.
What had I learned? That sitting like the photo of me on the right - neck craned forward, chest collapsed down, ribcage pulled down by tight abdominal muscles (which restricts full breathing) - is what millions of people do every single day around the world. They sit hunched and slouched forward, absorbed in their daily work. As they do that they're oblivious to the messages their brain is sending their muscles - one of contracting to keep their muscles ready to do it all over again the next day.
This kind of posture - the Startle Reflex or Red Light Reflex - can cause shoulder, neck, and back pain, in addition to anxiety (shallow breathing doesn't allow oxygen to get to the brain). Relax the tight core muscles that pull you inward, and you can stand up straight, breathe deeply, and sleep soundly.
My Somatics colleague, Noreen Owens, author of the Somatics book Where Comfort Hides, emailed me during this hectic work period and reminded me that "when you're writing you need to do even more somatic movements every day because your stress level is higher." How right she was. This is a lesson I'm not soon to forget.
Come join a Somatics class or workshop and learn to regain somatic awareness and control of yourself, your reflexive and habitual responses to your stress, and how your daily movement habits contribute to how you feel. It's an easy, gentle, and safe alternative to many other treatment for muscle pain.