A Somatic Approach to Holiday Stress

The holiday season can be a time of stress and overstimulation for many people. From running to catch a plane (in order to sit in an uncomfortable position for five hours) to, meet up with family members who might send us into a Red Light Reflex, to carrying heavy bags of groceries (or presents!) in from your car. Perhaps the stress of holiday preparation sends us into a Green Light Reflex as we rush from task to task. And even if that isn’t our exact experience, we all know someone for whom that rings closer to true than not.

But the holidays don’t have to cause us to unconsciously respond both emotionally and physically from our “default mode,” whether that is to “get things done now!” (Green Light), or avoid that which we don’t want to deal with (Red Light). The holiday season can and should be a time where we release the tightness and stiff uprightness that our jobs or other day-to-day obligations demand. Somatics can help us through the season so we can be more present to ourselves and those around us.

When you pandiculate, you create new neural pathways of awareness, sensation, and motor control in your brain. It is from these pathways of thought, feeling and action that we live and respond to ourselves and those around us.

Try this in your daily Somatics practice:

Ask yourself, “what can I let go of that I don’t need to be doing this movement?” By practicing this you will discover which areas let go to aid in the movement and which areas contract to “do” the movement.

The Flower can be done on the floor, in a chair, or even while sitting on an airplane.

The Flower can be done on the floor, in a chair, or even while sitting on an airplane.

  • If you tend to rush and do everything for everyone, try adding the Back Lift to your daily practice. Move in and out of the movement with two full breath cycles, yawning as you do so. Take a full resting breath in between each repetition.
     
  • If you feel emotionally stressed, make the Flower a movement you do on the floor, in a chair, or even sitting on the airplane. Again, use two breaths to move in and out of the movement for a more spacious experience.
     
  • The Washrag is an excellent movement for “wringing out your whole self” and finding soft length and relaxation. Make your Soma Scan at the end of your practice longer.

Sense yourself in the present and take that inner awareness into your holidays and know that everyone you meet is moving towards a similar desire to feel good, both inside and out during this wonderful time of year. 

How Your Response to Stress Contributes to Pain

The Three Somatic Reflexes

We know why muscle pain occurs and how to release it, but how much do you know about the Three Somatic ReflexesFamiliarizing yourself with these reflexes and how they cause Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is an integral part of understanding your own muscle pain. It isn't enough to know that the pain in your hip is from SMA; you need to know how your responses to stress causes your SMA to begin with.

There are some 44 reflexes in the human body, yet the Red Light, Green Light, and Trauma reflexes, as outlined by Thomas Hanna in his book, Somatics, are predictable when it comes to habituating to chronic stress. When you can recognize your specific “stuck” reflexive patterns that occur when you are stressed, you will become more skilled at understanding why you have pain, how it's connected to a stress reflex (or a combination thereof), and how to release it in order to self-regulate and create homeostasis and balance within your own body.

How do you respond to stress?

Familiarizing yourself with the Three Somatic Reflexes will better equip you to nip your SMA in the bud and help you to self-correct. Your awareness of how you personally respond to stress mentally, physically, and emotionally will allow you to recognize when you are falling into a stress reflex pattern and how it is affecting your posture, pain, and psychological state.

  1. The Green Light Reflex (Landau Response) is the reflex of forward movement which involves the muscles of the back. The back is typically arched and the shoulders are drawn back. Do you tend to rush around? Are you "always on"? Are you very active?
  2. The Red Light Reflex (Startle Response) involves the muscles of the front. The shoulders are rounded, back is slumped, and chin jutted forward. Do you often feel anxious? Do you spend long hours at a desk or computer? Do you struggle to breathe deeply?
  3. The Trauma Reflex involves the muscles of the trunk rotators and occurs involuntarily in response to accidents and injuries. Do you have a hip hike? Have you had an accident, injury, or surgery? Do you routinely engage in one-sided movement (golfing, holding children on your hip, etc.)

More than just a physical experience...

Understanding each individual reflex and applying your knowledge to your daily life will help you understand yourself better as a person. The Green Light and Red Light reflexes are deeply emotional.

  • The Green Light Reflex can become habituated when we never allow ourselves to stop, rest, relax and let go. We’re always “on” and concerned with not losing control.
  • The Red Light Reflex is well-known in psychology and trauma work. It is a deeply primal, and protective posture, both emotionally and physically.

These reflexes are life-saving and life-giving, and are there for us to respond to, yet we are not supposed to live in them! 

4 Ways to Understand Yourself and Take Back Control

  1. Take a minute to simply BE. Check in with yourself throughout the day. Tune in and feel how it is to be you in this moment. How are you feeling physically and emotionally? What is making you feel this way and how are you responding to this stimuli? Use this time to slow down, calm your mind, and listen to your body.
  2. Recognize your reflexive habits. Use your knowledge of the Somatic Reflexes to understand how these habits contribute to your specific muscle pain. This will help you choose Somatic Exercises that help you regain and retain balance and a sense of neutral.
  3. Be aware in the moment. If you notice yourself slumping, was it because of your response to the outrageous electric bill you just opened? If your right shoulder is hurting, is it because you've been carrying that heavy bag on one shoulder for a bit too long? Did your whole back tightened in response to a phone call? Notice when and how you respond, correct as you go, and...
  4. Do your Somatic Exercises every day. If you've been sitting at your desk for 2 hours straight, utilize the Somatic Exercises from the Pain-Free at Work DVD to reset your muscles and brain to neutral. If you've been golfing all day, wind down with Somatic Exercises so that you don't fall into a Trauma Reflex. Standing for long hours at work can take a toll on your lower back (and create a domino effect throughout your body), so release the day's built-up SMA with Somatic Exercises. If you have done steps 1-3, step 4 is intended for you to use your awareness to customize your daily Somatic Exercise routine to how you felt and what you experienced today.

Without awareness of how you respond to stress mentally, physically, and emotionally, you will undo your progress in no time at all.

The latest research on neuroplasticity is clear: in order to keep our brains healthy we need differentiation and challenges. Understanding how stress affects you personally and your movement habits and physical pain and movement in particular comes from the brain. It's use it or lose it.  The less habituated to stress you are, the more you can keep your brain in a constant state of learning and regeneration.

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. These muscles were pulling unevenly on her pelvis so that whatever activity she did caused pain in the joint. Her hamstrings were also tight because she had to alter normal, natural use of her legs 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 Movements.

The key to regaining stability and mobility

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.

T.G. learned quite a few Somatic Movements (in this order):*

* These Somatic Movements were taught over the course of several sessions*

Through consistent 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, bend, and rotate her body with ease and comfort. These Somatic Movements pandiculated the muscles causing SI joint pain and reconnected her brain to her muscles, and reset muscle length, function, sensation, and control.

How to eliminate and prevent SI joint pain – on your own!

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:

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

o-GOOD-POSTURE-facebook-1024x512

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.

How To Reverse Iliotibial Band Pain: Addressing the Trauma Reflex

I've written about Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) before. In my previous iliotibial band pain post I explain what it is as well as how this condition is yet another example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. Here is an email I just sent to a woman who has my DVDs, has a personal Somatics practice, yet is stumped by her IT band pain: Many people ask me if I have Somatics DVDs for specific body parts that are causing them pain. I tell everyone the same thing - which will be the focus of my upcoming book:

It is never just one muscle causing the pain or problems in your body. It is always a pattern. The brain organizes you as a system in which patterns are primary. Address the dysfunctional muscular pattern and that body part will cease to be painful. In the case of iliotibial band pain, it is the Trauma Reflex.

An habituated Trauma Reflex causes iliotibial band pain.

Pain in your iliotibial band develops because your brain and muscles have habituated to human-body-muscle-diagramthe Trauma Reflex. One side of your leg (the IT band) is working harder than the other side. You may have already seen my iliotibial band release on my YouTube channel. You'll notice that it's a variation of the Side Bend - the most important and powerful movement one can do to regain control and awareness of the waist muscles.

When the waist muscles are tighter on one side than the other, those muscles "hitch" the pelvis up slightly on one side. What happens then? Your brain, the great compensator and integrator of all sensory and motor feedback in your life, teaches your legs to work differently, one side to the other. This happens, in most cases, completely under your conscious awareness.

If you have bilateral IT band pain, you may be stuck in the Startle Reflex (red light reflex). The Startle (red light) Reflex, a full body pattern, causes your knees to bend slightly  which makes it impossible for your pelvis and legs to swing freely.

Look at the full body pattern, learn to reverse that and your iliotibial band pain will go away. Use the mirror: what do you look like side to side? Are you uneven? Do you walk in an uneven gait? Do you put more weight on leg than the other? Consider what you do during the day that may cause that to happen.

Go back to the basic Somatic Exercises on your DVDs and start from the beginning. Look for balance, symmetry, quality of movement, and the ability to move the same on one side of your body and the other. Be mindful of patterns, especially when you get to the Side Bend, Washrag, Steeple Twist and Walking Exercises. Take your time! As you get to the walking exercises you have a great opportunity to even out the pelvis and the movement of the legs. And remember that nothing you do in your practice makes any difference if you don't take that awareness and apply it to the way you move throughout your day - walking, sitting, holding a bag on your shoulder, working out, driving...

This is sensible information that needs repeating again and again and again. This woman is not alone in her frustration. After all, most people are not taught sensible information by our doctors, our physical therapists, our fitness trainers.  We aren't taught that our brains are the source of the problem and that we are the only ones who can re-educate the way our brains and muscles communicate. We are taught to see ourselves as separately moving parts, like a car or bicycle, when in fact we are a beautifully balanced, synergistic process that can only be experience from within.

Once you can walk smoothly and evenly, squat right down through the center (use a mirror!), hitch your hips up side to side smoothly and evenly, you know your iliotibial band pain will be gone for good!

 

A Somatic Solution To Chronic Psoas Pain

Mike was a week away from leaving on a 5-week trip to Italy with his wife. He came to me quite concerned about his ability to walk without limping and dragging his right leg along behind him. "I was told that it's a problem with my psoas. Can you fix my psoas?" he asked. Every time I teach a Hanna Somatic Exercise Coach training I am asked the same two questions by bodyworkers, yoga teachers and medical professionals:

  • What do you do about a tight psoas?
  • What role does the psoas have in chronic pain?

I'm always curious about the obsession with the psoas, as if that one muscle controls the entire body. My answer is always the same:

It's never just one muscle causing the problem.

While one might sense that the psoas is the main problem and must be "fixed," it is never one muscle causing the problem. The brain doesn't experience you as one muscle, but as a synergistic system of coordinating muscles. There is always a full body pattern of muscular imbalance going on in the center of the body. This pattern has become habituated due to stress reflexes - accidents, injuries, repetitive movements or poor postural habits - so much so that this pattern has become "the new normal" for the brain. The painful psoas is the symptom; Sensory Motor Amnesia is the root cause.

The psoas is a very important stabilizer of the lower trunk and aids in smooth, efficient and coordinated walking. It coordinatesPsoasBackPull together, however, with other muscles of the trunk to move us forward in an easy, smooth gait. The psoas muscle can become tight and overly contracted as a result of habituation to any one of the Three Somatic Reflexes - the Red Light, Green Light or Trauma reflex. When our backs are overly contracted, the front of our bodies are slumped and collapsed inward, or one side of our torso tighter than the other, the psoas will work harder than necessary. Our pelvis will cease to swing freely and our gait will be labored and uneven. A chronically tight muscle that can no longer contract fully or release fully will and does contribute to chronic pain.

So what do you do about it?

In order to restore full muscle function and relieve the pain of a tight psoas you need to address the pattern of habituated muscle tension that is at the root of the problem. You must learn to release muscles of the back (that extend the spine), waist (that twist and bend us), and abdominals (that flex the spine) so that you have full, voluntary movement of the pelvis and all the muscles that control it.  This is precisely what Hanna Somatics teaches clients in both a clinical hands-on  session and when doing the Somatic Exercises.

Mike was taught to release his back muscles, which had become rigidly contracted due to years of carpentry and various construction accidents. In doing so he learned to regain balance in the center of his body. I taught him Arch and Flatten, Arch and Curl, the Back Lift , movements that helped the brain regain control of the back and front of the body. The he learned the Washrag, which released and lengthened the waist muscles for easier and more balanced twisting of the center. With the back muscles as well as the front and sides of his body a bit softer Mike could stand more easily on both legs. His walk became smooth and effortless and his pelvis moved when he walked. He experienced how his psoas wasn't his problem. His tight back muscles were!

"How does your psoas feel now?" I asked him. "Wow, I can't even feel it!" he replied. "I can't wait to get Italy and start walking."

 ***Most people benefit from a series of between four and six hands-0n sessions. The loss of voluntary muscle control takes place over time; therefore people need to take time to learn how to move well again. As I say to all my clients, "Rome wasn't built in a day..."

Somatic Exercises Make Freedom of Movement Possible

Hanna Somatic Exercises are powerful in their ability to change what your brain can sense in your body and how it can move your muscles. What your brain cannot feel it cannot, physiologically, move nor control. Over time, due to stress adaptation, we can become tighter and more rigid - in our movement, our bodies and our minds.

Somatic Exercises can change how we live our lives, how we believe that our minds and bodies interrelate, how powerful we think we are in controlling our lives, and how responsible we should be in taking care of our total being.

- Thomas Hanna, PhD, author of the book, Somatics

I recently taught three online video classes over three weeks to a client who suffered from chronic neck, shoulder, hip joint, low back pain and sense of being twisted in the center. She had read my book and was sure that her muscle pain was a case of Sensory Motor Amnesia rather than a chronic, unchangeable condition. I taught her seven basic Somatic Exercises and two "Standing Somatics" movements.

During our initial assessment I took several photos of her. When we assess we look for patterns of imbalance - the back overly arched, one side of the waist more hitched up than the other, shoulders slumped forward and chest collapsed. The photo below was taken before we started the first lesson. Note the line of her back and spine; it was being held tightly (by the brain) in an  exaggerated curve, like an archer's bow. This Green Light Reflex posture made it look as if she had a protruding belly. Her neck was thrust forward and the weight of her body was on the front of her feet. No wonder she had neck and shoulder pain! To her this was her "normal, neutral" posture.

Profile before lesson 1

Below is the photo taken before her third lesson. She had been doing Somatic Exercises on her own at home, for only three weeks! Notice how much less arched her back; her "protruding belly" had disappeared. Her weight was more evenly distributed over her feet and she had slowly, but surely found a new, more efficient and comfortable neutral. Her uncomfortable twist had gone away as well. She even looked happier! Her biggest "aha! moment" had been when she noticed how she arched her back and thrust her face forward as she sat at her computer. That moment of noticing caused her to stop, self-correct and adjust and take back voluntary control of her movement and posture. The process of learning to be self-aware, self-monitoring and self-correcting is a life long process.

After 2 lesson & 3 wks of practice

So which exercises did she learn? We started where everyone should start: the beginning:

  • Arch and Flatten
  • Flower
  • Arch and Curl
  • Back Lift
  • Cross Lateral Arch and Curl
  • Side Bend (for that sense of being twisted and out of balance)
  • Washrag (gentle spinal twisting that lengthens the waist as you twist the whole spine)
  • Walking Exercises, Part 1 and 2 (which integrates the movement of the back, waist and front into the pattern of walking)
  • Reach To The Top Shelf
  • Standing Arch and Curl

She learned to sense the movements by doing them slowly, with awareness, rather than doing them like rote exercises from the gym. The more she focused on the sensation of the movement and the slow controlled release of pandiculation, the more change and improvement she was able to make.

When we consciously and patiently turn our awareness within, to our internal sensations, we can learn to release often mysterious and long term muscle pain. The best time to start learning to move freely is right now.  Freedom of movement can enrich and improve not just your body, but you as a person.

Learn to skillfully teach Hanna Somatic Exercises in the Hanna Somatic Exercise Coach Training Level One. Join the many movement professionals who have discovered the benefits of incorporating Hanna Somatic Exercises into their primary teaching.

Scoliosis - The Ultimate Trauma Reflex

In one of my recent Essential Somatics® workshops in London, a student told me about a friend with scoliosis. “The poor girl has been dealing with back problems for a long time. The doctor told her that her scoliosis was genetic and there's nothing he can do for her,” he said.

So is scoliosis genetic?

In 2007, the first possible genetic link to scoliosis was discovered. The defect in the CHD7 gene has been tied to idiopathic scoliosis (which means there is no known cause), so how much does this discovery actually help? I've worked with many people with scoliosis and have long wondered if there's a genetic propensity in families toward scoliosis. The article states:

Although scientists have known for years that scoliosis runs in families, its pattern of inheritance has remained unclear. That’s because the condition is likely caused by several different genes that work in concert with one another — and the environment — to cause scoliosis.

The key words for me here are "and the environment." From a Somatic Education perspective, the way we reflexively react and adapt to stress is what can determine whether or not one develops scoliosis.

I enquired more about my student's friend and learned that she fell down an entire flight of concrete stairs and landed on her coccyx when she was younger. He told me, "She's never been the same since."

Scoliosis and the Trauma Reflex

Thomas Hanna theorized that scoliosis developed due to an habituation to what he termed the Trauma Reflex. This reflex occurs instantly in response to a sudden accident or injury (slipping on a patch of ice, falling down the stairs, etc.) and the need to avoid pain or injury. It can also develop gradually (limping, using crutches, wearing a medical boot after an injury/surgery, etc.) as you compensate until your injury is fully healed.

The trauma reflex involves all the trunk rotators of the core (latissimi dorsi, obliques, abdominals, abductors, adductors) - muscles that twist, rotate, and bend to the side in order to retract from the site of the injury or accident. It is a useful and completely involuntary reflex that, once conditioned and habituated, teaches the waist muscles that attach into the pelvis to stay tighter on one side than the other. The pelvis will twist, and the hips will become slightly tilted and out of balance. What develops in response to this imbalance is a compensatory tightening in the shoulders and ribcage. The fall my student’s friend suffered is indeed a serious accident and a perfect example of just the kind of trauma that could lead to scoliosis.

Somatic Exercises can help release the tight muscles that contribute to scoliosis.

I have worked with many clients who have scoliosis in the family and even more who are the only ones in their family ever to suffer from this condition. Every one of them shares one thing in common: a traumatic accident/slip/fall before or during adolescence.

While scoliosis is complicated to address, and best addressed through private clinical sessions, there are specific Somatic Exercises that can begin to release the muscles that are the most complicit in the pattern of scoliosis:

  1. Back lift
  2. Cross lateral arch and curl
  3. Side bend
  4. Washrag
  5. Steeple twist
  6. Walking exercises - part 1 & 2
  7. Shoulder and hip circles (from Pain-Free Leg and Hip Joints)

The first 6 exercises in the above list are from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.

Here's a tip for more efficient learning:

When doing the Steeple Twist, focus on lengthening the waist muscles, releasing the sides of the waist, expanding the ribcage, and allowing the pelvis to rock – be aware of any arching in your back and do not over-arch. In doing the "steeple hands" part of the exercise, the focus is on gently expanding and twisting the ribcage and shoulders as you lengthen from deep in the latissimus muscles. If you don't know this exercise and you have scoliosis, it's time to start learning the basics of Somatic Exercises!

Martha teaches specialty workshops, conducts private clinical sessions, and presents to trainers, and medical professionals wishing to learn more about how Hanna Somatic Education can help their clients and patients to get long term pain relief safely, sensibly and easily.

Pain Relief from Piriformis Syndrome: A Somatic Approach

It's never just one muscle that causes your muscle pain.

It doesn't matter if you have sciatica, piriformis syndrome, plantar fasciitis or even a herniated disc. You aren't a jumble of separate body parts randomly put together; you're a living, breathing, constantly changing system, controlled by the brain and coordinated to move as a whole, efficient, coordinated system. That's the way your sensory motor system sees it. I know it often can feel like, "if I can only relax my X muscle, then my life would be grand." It would be nice if that were the case, but it's not.

Yes, you can have a piriformis muscle that feels like the culprit, but it's important to ask yourself: Why is my piriformis muscle only hurting on one side of my body?

Muscle pain is the result of a FULL BODY PATTERN of contraction.

Once you learn to regain control of the painful muscle and its synergists, then you can regain efficient, effortless movement as well as pain relief for that pesky piriformis.

In the case of piriformis syndrome the unconscious part of the brain (the part responsible for habits/learned movement/reflexes) is contracting the piriformis constantly because the pelvis is out of balance — twisted and rotated in most cases. This is called a Trauma Reflex.

Most people don't consider the connection between the command center (our brain) and what our muscles are doing. Our muscles do not have a mind of their own – they respond only to the brain. In order to release all muscles involved in the pattern of the Trauma Reflex and regain balance in the center of the body, you must learn:

  • Which movement pattern got you into the problem in the first place

  • How to prevent your pain from coming back (Somatic Exercises!)

  • How to be more aware of your body as you move on a daily basis

  • How to create more efficient and coordinated movement

This functional muscle problem needs a functional solution: sensory motor retraining of the brain-to-muscle connection in order to teach the frozen, contracted muscles involved in the pattern of piriformis syndrome to relax and release. The end result is relaxed and coordinated muscles, restored muscle function, a greater sense of body awareness, and no more pain.

Why Am I Limping, and Is It Cause For Concern?

Many clients have posture that is "out of balance"; their hips and pelvis are not level, their leg length is uneven, their gait is not smooth. Some clients have said, "Just the other day someone asked me why I was limping, and I never even noticed I limped... all I know is that my back is killing me!" They're not concerned about their limp, because their limp feels "normal." This feeling of "out of balance" feeling "balanced" is an example of Sensory Motor Amnesia, in which the brain literally forgets how to sense, move and control muscles efficiently. We compensate, habituate and adapt to what happens to us in life (accidents/injuries are common) so our muscles no longer move freely the way they once did. When you lose awareness of the way in which you move - something that only you can experience - there is cause for concern.

Most of my clients with back, hip or piriformis pain often accompanied by a limp were treated unsuccessfully by physical therapy, bodywork of all kinds, drugs, and cortisone shots. What was missing in their treatment was the simple understanding of how a limp develops as a compensatory, full body pattern, which muscles are involved in the need to limp, and how to reverse the pattern and move freely again. Back, hip joint, knee pain, sciatica and piriformis syndrome pain are common conditions easily reversed with Hanna Somatics.

Limping means the center of your body is out of balance.

When we walk we are meant to walk with a smooth, even gait. Our pelvis is perfectly designed for upright, bipedal locomotion. The more we allow the pelvis to move as we walk, the more efficient and effortless our movement will be and the less joint stress and pain we will have. Below is a great video of balanced, strong walking and upright posture - a necessity for African women carrying items on their heads.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=cThEt5KmdV4&NR=1]

This kind of natural movement is "the norm" until something occurs to change that.

When we have an accident - a slip on the ice, a fall on our coccyx, or a bone break - the involuntary part of our brain immediately contracts certain muscles of the trunk to protect that area. This is called the Trauma Reflex. We learn to compensate until the injury is healed. The latissimus, obliques, adductors, abductors and abdominal muscles all contract instantly, in a pattern, as we twist and rotate in an attempt to regain our balance or protect our injured limb - as in the photo at right.

This kind of functional problem of one side of the waist and trunk tighter than the other can, over time, create true structural damage, like hip joint pain, labral tears, osteoarthritis, and hip joint impingement.

The Trauma Reflex causes us to limp, putting more weight into one side of the body.

When you get stuck in this particular stress reflex, pain isn't far behind. You begin to walk like a car with one flat tire, galumphing from side to side. The easiest way to reverse a limp is to get the brain back in control of the muscles. Those who have had an accident or injury would be wise to seek the clinical help of a skilled guidance of a Certified Hanna (Clinical) Somatic Educator for a series of clinical sessions in order to restore full muscle function and movement.

Somatic Exercises for limping

For those who own my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD, the following exercises focus on the waist muscles/trunk rotators, and are excellent for helping to restore a free and balanced gait:

  • Side bend - releases and lengthens the waist muscles for equal movement of the pelvis.
  • Washrag - brings in gentle twisting of the pelvis, and shoulders, as the waist lengthens
  • Human X* - the quintessential movement of "crawling," which lengthens both sides of the body
  • Steeple twist* - increases the ability to twist and lengthen the center of the body - back, abdominals, waist
  • Walking exercises, part 1 & 2* - freeing the pelvis and reintegrating a healthy pattern of walking.
  • Hip lift and reach - from my Pain-Free Leg and Hip Joints DVD

* found on the Pain Relief Through Movement DVD

How Somatics Can Help Rowers Relieve Muscle Pain

Rowing is one of the oldest sports in the modern Olympic games. It is still popular today in high school and collegiate sports (more commonly known as crew), and as a workout routine at the gym. There are two different kinds of rowing:

  • Sweep rowing, in which the rower has one oar, held with both hands, and rows on one side of the boat
  • Sculling, in which the rower has an oar in each hand.

Sculling is the form of rowing most of us are familiar with. It's the rowing used at gyms on rowing machines. When you add the element of competition - or the goal of getting a workout through vigorous repetition, there are several things to watch out for in order to prevent injury or muscle strain.

Most rowing injuries are caused by poor technique or overuse. Overuse can cause Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The repetitive action of rowing can cause low back pain, knee problems, shoulder pain (rotator cuff), arm and wrist pain, sciatica, rib stress fractures, and chronically tight quadratus luborum (QL - "hip hiker") muscles.

Rowing is a wonderful full body sport, using the muscles of the back, lats, quadriceps, abdominals, biceps, triceps, rhomboids, trapezius and gluteal muscles. As the legs extend and push forward, the abdominals, arms, lats, rhomboids, and shoulders contract to pull the oars to the chest. Those who work out with rowing machines will likely not row with the same speed, force, and duration as collegiate rowers. However, since the muscles involved in both "gym rowing" and competitive crew are the same, proper technique and rhythm is critical no matter what your goal if you want to prevent an overuse injury.

This video explains proper rowing technique for "gym rowers" using the same technique used in competitive crew.

There is a lack of full extension through the front and back of the body in rowing.

As in cycling, the body contracts forward into a Red Light Reflex, but with full extension of the legs and trunk, due to being in a seated position. Here's an excellent slow motion video that demonstrates proper sculling. While smooth and powerful, notice how the muscles of the front and back of the body never fully lengthen. The chest muscles never fully expand, and the oblique muscles of the waist are slightly contracted; this causes the intercostal muscles between the ribs to become tight and the ribs to pull down toward the hips.

Low back pain, tight shoulders, and tight hips are common in rowing.

It's pretty clear that the repetitive pulling of the oar forward will, over time, cause the rhomboid and trapezius muscles to stay tight. If one rows with an arched back, or a twist in the pelvis, as with "sweep rowing," strain is put on not only the shoulders, but the low back and hips as well.

In the photo at right, notice the torque of the trunk to the left in the first rower. Here's a video that shows the same torque that occurs if you're "sweep rowing." The muscles of the waist and trunk rotators repetitively contract in the "catch" phase of the stroke. Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in the QL's (quadratus lumborum) and a slightly hiked left hip would not be a surprising outcome for this rower after  an extended period of training.  This is a classic trauma reflex - habituated SMA may be useful for crew perhaps, but potentially painful and disruptive for daily movement and a smooth walking gait.

Sensory Motor Amnesia can develop due to repetitive movement, even if the movement is done properly. In order to prevent SMA, try incorporating Somatic Exercises into your daily workout routine.

Somatic Rowing warm-up:

Somatic Rowing cool-down:

For pain in the arms and wrists, refer to this video and blog post.

Contact Martha for information about how Hanna Somatics can help your collegiate or professional sports team prevent overuse injury and recover faster from workouts.

Many thanks to Kanwei Li, a former collegiate rower, for his photo and input.

Explore Your Movement and Relieve Your Pain

Last week "Michelle" came to me with severe sciatica. Sciatica is a full body pattern of muscle contraction that causes the sciatic nerve to become pinched, sending pain down the leg in most cases. Her back muscles on one side were like steel rods and her pelvis was slightly twisted, causing one buttock to contract while the other one was soft. Michelle had participated in one of my workshops and found many of the Somatic Exercises to be challenging. No matter how she moved, everything hurt. As she left the class I wasn't sure if she'd gotten anything out of it. Two days later I received a call from her; she wanted to come in for clinical sessions to continue to learn how to relieve her sciatic pain once and for all. Here's what she told me:

I went home after the workshop and sat at my desk.  I suddenly realized that I'd been twisting my upper body one way and my lower body the other way to sit and work at the computer. The light bulb went off for me as I remembered your explanation of the Trauma Reflex and how it contributes to back and hip pain. Twisting my pelvis had become a habit!

Before we could even start to work, she put her hands on her head and showed me what her mother used to do every day when Michelle was growing up. She looked like a hula or belly dancer, rotating her hips in large circles and letting her belly be soft as it moved.

She told me she would ask her mother why she did those movement, and her mother would tell her, "because it makes my back feel really good!"

She asked me, "should I do stuff like this? It feels really good when I do it!" My answer was an unequivocal "yes!"

You may find out that you're smarter than you think.

Michelle's mother's brain was telling her that it’s GOOD to move her hips that way. Finding movements that feel comfortable and relaxing can be just what you need to keep your muscles supple and relaxed. By doing this you can figure out for yourself what helps and what doesn't help.

Many people do exercises only because they're told to do them. Blind adherence to what the teacher is telling you to do without being present and involved in the process yields few positive results, whether it's in life itself or with your body. It deadens the channels of awareness rather than opening them and letting learning flow in.

I often need to remind my clients to FEEL the movement rather than to DO the movement. The feeling will guide and inform the movement. If a movement is uncomfortable - back off and go more slowly in a smaller range of motion. Forcing a movement just for the sake of doing the movement can cause injury.

People like Michelle's mother, figured out that putting her hands on her head and gyrating like a belly dancer several times a day would keep her back feeling good.

The possibilities for healthy movement are endless, and the awareness we can gain about ourselves, our bodies and the way in which we interact in our own lives through Somatic Exercises and movement exploration helps relieve pain, and improve muscle control.

If you're like Michelle's mother and have already made up some fun Somatic Exercises or fun movements that you find helpful - whether they're done lying on the floor or standing up - I'd love to have you share them with me.

How To Prevent a Hip Replacement

In the New York Times recently there was an article about hip replacement surgery and the rise in complaints about a specific kind of hip replacement. Hip replacements are the most common joint replacement surgery, numbering 500,000. About 5,000 people suffer from the debilitating side-effects from faulty hip replacements. That's a lot of pain. In certain specific cases a full hip replacement is life-giving, and the best (and probably only) option for preserving quality of life and movement. Those with necrosis of the hip, long term wear and tear due to undiagnosed compensation or scoliosis, severe impact trauma, certain bone diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis can cause deterioration of joints and are examples of those who are prime candidates for hip replacement surgery.

Joint replacements are on the rise. "There is a huge swell of elderly patients from the baby boom who will come through the system and be candidates for artificial joints," explains researcher Steven M. Kurtz, PhD. Why is this? Age? Genetics? Deterioration of the human species?

Hip replacements that are not disease related can be prevented with Somatic Education, Somatic Exercises, and improved proprioception and movement.

"The system" of which Dr. Kurtz speaks of is the medical system. Most of my clients have been through "the system;" they've seen every specialist, from orthopedists to physical therapists, and they still have muscle pain. If doctors had a basic understanding of sensory motor training and Somatic Education they might help prevent a large number of hip and knee replacements, thus saving millions of dollars.

Aging baby boomers can remain active, flexible, and pain-free if they retain proper muscle function, control, and body awareness.

Being able to sense how you respond to stress in your body is the first step.  If you have an accident, a fall or a trauma to your body, being able to notice how your your movement changes in order to compensate, and having someone to coach you back to balanced, symmetrical movement, are two important elements that go a long way toward preventing hip replacement. I've written a series of blog posts about hip pain, with suggestions of Somatic Exercises that will help begin releasing the muscles that cause most hip pain. They're worth reading.

As a reminder: MRIs, X-rays and third person diagnostics show only physical structure. They don't show how your brain has learned to compensate muscularly. Nor do they show the state of sensory motor amnesia that is responsible for most chronic, non-disease-based hip pain. This is only diagnosable by watching someone move and noticing the lack of balance and coordination that results. I've worked with dozens of clients complaining of hip pain with muscles on one side of their body (usually trunk rotators - the lattisimus, rectus abdominus, obliques, adductors and abductors)  that are so tight that the hip simply isn't moving. Rarely do I work with someone who has bilateral hip pain. Why?

Many cases of hip pain are an habituated compensation problem and not a problem of the hip joint itself.  It is a problem of the brain - the command center of the muscles.

This pattern of compensation is called the Trauma Reflex.  Dancers, athletes, anyone who's ever taken a sudden fall, all reflexively invoke the trauma reflex.  This alters one's gait, creating unequal pressure into one hip more than the other.  A lack of variety in movement (squatting, dancing, hiking on uneven surfaces) and an excess of sitting only more deeply entrenches the problem. An habituated trauma reflex left unchecked for decades is a recipe for a future hip replacement. Help the client to become aware of their reflexive tightening of the muscles that are causing that pelvic imbalance, unequal weight bearing, leg length discrepancy or twisted pelvis... and the pain goes away.

Hip pain is often the result of faulty function of muscles and movement. It is reversible with Hanna Somatic Education.

To begin to learn Somatic Exercises that will reverse hip pain, improve body awareness, muscle control and coordination, and improve flexibility, check out my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD. You'll be glad you did.

Standing Up is Better For Your Health

Sitting and the damage done to most of us through hours of sitting at desks, computers and in cars, is a healthcare problem.

It's tough on the hip joints, lousy on posture and breathing, and contributes to back, hip, knee, neck and shoulder pain. Many people don't even realize that they're probably not breathing correctly, or as fully as you could in order to be healthy.

I saw a video clip of an interview between Donald Rumsfeld and Piers Morgan in which Morgan expresses his chagrin at how "odd" it is that Rumsfeld doesn't sit at his desk - but stands instead. Rumsfeld responds,

"Why do you act like that's odd? Sitting is weird!"

Bravo. Now I'm not sure whether Morgan was putting on an act or not, but he added to his "this proves that Donald Rumsfeld is definitely "weird" list, Rumsfeld's daily ritual of exercise:

"At 78 years old?! Why do you still work out?"

Rumsfeld's attitude is excellent: sit infrequently and move as much as you can. Now, putting politics aside, I have to say that with his attitude about health, Rumsfeld should probably have gone into the health profession. Age has nothing to do with whether or not one should stop moving.

In developing countries like India and Africa, not moving isn't an option. Adults move because there is work to be done, not because they want a work out, as does Rumsfeld. Chances are many of these people are stronger and more physically resilient than your average American.

Sitting in  a chair at right angles for long periods of time can create tight hip joints, rigid back muscles and neck, shoulder and back spasms. When we sit at work, rarely are we relaxed. I know I'm not. I tend to stand at my kitchen counter when I do online sessions with clients.

If you are someone who is always rushing around, which causes the back muscles to contract strongly (the Green Light Reflex or Landau Response), you'll pitch yourself forward and over-arch the lower back when seated. This will cause the hip flexors to contract to keep you upright. They stay tight until given the signal to relax. When you get up you'll stand up from your chair slowly because the front of your hips will still be contracting.

If you tend to slouched while seated (Red Light Reflex), you will collapse in the middle of your body as the abdominals contract tightly. This will cause your breathing to be shallow rather than relaxed. This rounded posture, which rounds the pelvis under, and causes what is now called "head forward posture," is a sure-fire recipe for back and neck pain.

Why sitting is no good for you

  • decreased circulation
  • decreased creativity due to lack of movement
  • tighter hips, due to habituation to sitting with an over-arched lower back or slumping
  • shallower breathing

Why standing is better

  • increased ability to move the entire body as much as you want
  • increased ability to imbed learning and memory (movement causes the brain to release BDNF)
  • improved posture and proprioception (body awareness)
  • improved breathing due
  • increased circulation
  • improved muscle tone due

Try it out if your workplace is amenable to such an experiment. Notice your own patterns of posture and movement. Relax your belly when you breath and notice how much better that feels. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed and that you can easily shift your weight from side to side.

Some of the basic Somatic Exercises can even be done standing (Arch & Curl, Reach to the Top Shelf, the arm movements of the Washrag). Or you can create your own - if you do, please share them with me so I can share them with my readers.

Injuries and Compensation Can Cause Re-injury

Recently I read yet another article about Carlos Beltran of the Mets and how difficult it's been for his trainers to get him back out on the field. Due to a knee injury... and another injury... and more pain... he just can't seem to get his form back. Is this surprising? It shouldn't be. Go back and read my three posts about the Trauma Reflex and hip pain (all of which applies to the knees as well). You'll see more clearly what I mean. In many cases of injury, a player isn't able to regain his earlier form, because the contraction pattern of the original injury hasn't been fully cleared up.

Carlos Beltran is a  $100 million player. The Mets are losing their money, yet spending much of it on therapies that aren't even hitting the mark. Surgery for a micro-fracture was successful; his follow up, however, could use a different approach. A Hanna Somatic approach.

Carlos Beltran is suffering from a classic case of Sensory Motor Amnesia.  According to one article,

"The 33-year-old developed the tendinitis while overcompensating for the right knee that underwent surgery last January. He was shut down for more than a week but resumed baseball activities last Wednesday and had a cortisone shot..."

He had surgery on his right knee for a micro-fracture, then developed tendinitis in his left knee. This is a classic case of injuries criss-crossing in the body. It happens not only to athletes, but to anyone who suffers a one-sided injury. It's called the Trauma Reflex. It contributes to back pain, shoulder, neck and hip pain and an uneven gait.

When athlete suffers an injury, the muscles on the other side of the body are instantly recruited to stabilize the injured limb. The original injury is "fixed" (in the case of Beltran), and the area goes through rehabilitation. The athlete is told that he's to good to go, except he's not. Not until the opposite side of the body - the one that learned how to "help out" as the injury healed - learns to relax and regain its original function.

Many players who suffer this kind of injury find that they just can't play (or pitch, run or catch) the way they once did. Their stats start to slip. What they're not aware of is that their finely tuned form - the "movement memory" that enabled them to perform at an elite level - now has a glitch in it. Read the article, Somatics and the Professional Athlete to learn more about how and why this occurs.

The keys to extending one's playing life as a professional athlete are simple:

  • Teach athletic trainers about the nature of injury and how the brain and muscular system respond to it.
  • Employ Hanna Somatic Educators to work with injured athlete
  • Teach the athletes a simple daily routine of Somatic Exercises as a "warm-up" and "cool-down" for their entire sensory motor system.

Why wouldn't you want to do that?

It wouldn't cost the Mets $100 million, though in my humble opinion, that would be what Hanna Somatics is worth to these teams.

Lengthening Hamstrings for Knee Pain Relief

"I've been going to physical therapy for a month and my knee still won't straighten."

This is what "Sam" said when he came to my Releasing Legs and Hip Joints Workshop this past weekend. He'd had back pain and chronic left knee pain for years, and his doctors told him that a full knee replacement was his only option. He's had several knee surgeries from playing squash and completed months of physical therapy - his therapists pushing down on his knee passively in a futile attempt to straighten his painful knee.  But the knee remained slightly bent, and he continued to limp slightly on an unstable knee.

During the workshop Sam discovered that although his LEFT knee hurt and couldn't straighten, he could easily move his left hip and back. It was his RIGHT hip and waist muscles that were "frozen" and could barely move. This undoubtedly had something to do with his knee pain. Tightness on one side of the body is indicative of the Trauma Reflex, causes an imbalance in the large muscle groups in the center of the body, creating an imbalance in the pelvis and changing one's gait. This adversely affects the hips, knees and feet.

Straightening a bent knee requires relaxed hamstrings. 

Sam's back felt great after the workshop, but his knee still wouldn't bend. I told him that when the hamstrings bend the knee (flexion), the quadriceps (thigh muscles) should relax and lengthen to allow the movement to occur (extension). When the quadriceps contract to straighten the leg and knee, the hamstrings must relax and lengthen to aid in the movement. This is how muscles work together in a synergistic manner.

If the hamstrings are habitually contracted, and won't relax, the knee can't move through its full range to straighten completely. Those tight muscles, which attach into the joint, create pressure and restriction in the joint, thus causing pain. The solution?

PANDICULATE the hamstrings to their full length for easier movement of the knee joint.

Pandiculation: A deliberate contraction of a muscle tighter than the muscle's present contraction rate "wakes up" the nervous system, gives maximum sensory feedback to the brain, and allows the brain to give new motor output, thus re-setting the muscle's length.

I had Sam lie face down on my table, and do the following:

  1. He bent his left knee to 90 degrees, and I put my hand at his heel. I asked him to pull his heel back to his buttocks, and into my hand. Interestingly, he couldn't seem to contract the hamstrings! This was a sign of Sensory Motor Amnesia, which means that his muscles weren't fully under his brain's control. They were "asleep," "amnesic," not moving.  I gently tapped the muscles, and asked him to do it again. This time he was able to feel the muscles, and contract them more deliberately, thus overriding the contraction that his hamstrings were already stuck in.
  2. Sam then slowly lengthened, then completely relaxed his hamstrings. We repeated this series of movements several times. Then I had him contract his quadriceps muscles firmly, pushing down into my table so he could feel how the hamstrings relaxed when his thigh tightened. He was beginning to get the hamstrings and quadriceps to begin coordinating properly again.

This entire process took 10 minutes.

He stood up and was able to straighten his knee. He was ecstatic. I reminded him that now that he'd "woken up" his leg muscles, and begun the process of reversing his knee pain, now it the  time to begin a daily practice of Somatic Exercises to continue his progress. If Sam continues doing the brief, easy Somatic movements he's learned, he should see most, if not all, functionality returning to his knee - without pain, in about two weeks - the average time it takes for the brain to fully integrate new habits into the muscles and joints.

Take a look at the video below. The first movement is what I did with Sam.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAtO_2W1rjY]

Happy, Healthy Knees the Easy Way

As a dancer I began to suffer knee pain after an accident in rehearsal in which I severely strained my quadriceps (thigh) muscles on my right leg. We were five days away from opening night, and I was a featured dancer. I was whisked off to physiotherapy (this was Holland, 1978), and underwent treatment that enabled me to compensate enough to open the show. Several months later, however, my knee began to hurt. I was told that I had torn my medial meniscus. I had it surgically repaired, and went back to dancing. My left knee mysteriously began to hurt about a year later, despite the fact that I never had an accident on that side in my life. Then my right knee began to ache again. I underwent an experimental surgery to repair ligaments that the doctors said were too loose. At the time, I was only 22 years old and in peak physical condition. The surgeries still didn't help, and I continued having sore knees on and off for the next two decades. It became difficult for me to sit on my knees or to sit cross-legged.

My knees stopped hurting when I discovered Hanna Somatic Education.

But how did Somatics help when traditional medical practices didn't?

Hanna Somatics taught me what my client, "Lisa" learned last week: the problem with my knees was less a knee issue  than it was a problem with tight muscles in the center of my body. Lisa came to me with posture that showed a Trauma Reflex: a side-bending and twisted posture that resulted in leg muscles that no longer coordinated properly. Her waist, hip, and leg muscles had learned to stay tight. Her body was out of balance, and her knees were feeling the strain.  Note the muscles of the leg in the photo on the right. See where they insert at the knee on both sides? Notice the muscle tendon that goes over the knee and attached underneath. Imagine what could happen to your knee if you were bent to the side and you had more pressure on one leg than the other.

If the muscles of the leg are overly tight, they will pull on the knee and can cause pain.

The muscles of the leg had become tight, pulling on their insertion at the knee, which resulted in pain. Lisa's knee pain disappeared once she learned to self-correct, relax the muscles of her waist, stand balanced on both feet, and move her pelvis when she walked.  We methodically pandiculated the muscles of her thigh, and reset the muscles to a comfortable, relaxed length. This caused pain from the hip to the outside of the knee, and pain from her groin to the inside of the knee to disappear.

Lumbar Supports Don't Prevent Back Pain

Many clients who come to me with back pain ask about lumbar supports; do they have the right one? Should they use it or not? Science Daily cites studies reporting that lumbar supports don't actually help those with back pain. I agree. And here's why...

Back pain is a result of chronically contracted back muscles.

Your back doesn't need "support" to "fix" your pain; it needs those chronically contracted muscles to be addressed! Every time we are called to action (the phone rings, our children call us for help, running to catch the train, checking our email, standing at our job) our back muscles contract to enable us to move forward and "get the job done." This is called the Landau Response. Thomas Hanna called it the Green Light Reflex.

The Landau Response is a primitive brain stem reflex hardwired into our nervous system that instantly contracts our back muscles in walking, running, reaching, bending, etc. However, when that reflex is triggered hundreds of times a day it can become habituated and cause the back to arch like a bow while the shoulders tighten back and the neck straightens. It can contribute to sciatica, hip, shoulder, neck and joint pain. It's a useful reflex, but we don't want to get stuck in it. When muscles tighten even when we are at rest, this is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). The photo at left shows what an habituated Green Light Reflex looks like.

When we use a lumbar support, our lower back is actually back-support-pillow-for-chair1being encouraged to STAY arched, as in the photo on the right. Perhaps this is why the studies cited in the Science Daily article found that lumbar supports didn't actually relieve people's back pain.

Back pain comes from contracted muscles, therefore it is important to learn to RELAX those muscles through gentle Somatic Movements. Then you can learn to sit balanced and straight, rather than with a supported curve. Try this easy seated movement in order to improve your sitting. You can save yourself some money (and pain) by not having to buy that lumbar support.