Takeaways from The Myth of Aging - Hollyhock 2017

"Youth has strength, but it does not have skill, which, in the long run, is the most potent strength.   Youth has speed, but it does not have efficiency, which, in the long run, is the only effective way of attaining goals.   Youth is quick, but not deliberate, and deliberation is the only way to make correct decisions...Youth has energy and intelligence, but it does not have the judgment necessary to make the best use of that energy and intelligence.   Youth is a state of be put behind us as we grow taller and deeper and fuller. Unless we understand that life and aging are a process of growth and progress, we will never know the first principles of living."  – From the book,  Somatics , by Thomas Hanna

"Youth has strength, but it does not have skill, which, in the long run, is the most potent strength. Youth has speed, but it does not have efficiency, which, in the long run, is the only effective way of attaining goals. Youth is quick, but not deliberate, and deliberation is the only way to make correct decisions...Youth has energy and intelligence, but it does not have the judgment necessary to make the best use of that energy and intelligence. Youth is a state of be put behind us as we grow taller and deeper and fuller. Unless we understand that life and aging are a process of growth and progress, we will never know the first principles of living."
– From the book, Somatics, by Thomas Hanna

 

This was my third year teaching The Myth of Aging course at Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Center on Cortes Island, BC. This course was a four-day immersion into Hanna Somatics: the principles, concepts, and somatic movements developed by Thomas Hanna that can guide people to eliminate chronic pain, tension and stress as they learn to reconnect to a safe, intelligent and empowering sense of themselves.

This year was like none I'd ever taught: 17 students, all from different backgrounds, abilities, and ages. These students came from education, nursing, business, yoga, coaching, massage, and physiotherapy backgrounds - and seven of them were over 70! Your age does not determine whether you "fall apart" as you get older; what determines it is how you adapt to the stresses of your life. More and more teenagers are displaying a stooped posture of rounded shoulders and depressed chests. This is no longer the posture of senility – it's the posture of stress. How you engage with what happens in your life, and whether you adapt to it and allow it to define you is what makes the difference in whether you will "fall apart" and slow down, or continue improving, growing, and learning. 

Of the 17 people in this course, there was a group of women all between 75 and 87 years old. They were hikers, musicians, adventurers, and all around butt-kickers: awesome, inspiring ladies who weren't going to slow down as they aged. But they had serious pain; for some, they knew it came from a life of emotional struggle. These women forced and pushed and muscled their way through their movement because it's how they'd learned to adapt to the struggles of their lives. It had worked – up to a point.

Like everyone else in the group, an "aha! moment" was when they learned that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, mindsets, and physical habits all show up in our bodies either as tension, or as space and freedom. We have the ability to improve our physical experience from the inside out.

These older ladies were the inspiration of the group. They learned that slowing down was the first step in improving their awareness and physical skill. Less is more, and slow can translate into quick, ballistic movement. Their pain began to wane, their bodies straightened up, their hips began to move, their faces changed, and their stories began to come out. It was clear that letting go of tension – through movement – was creating a new possibility of the future for them. They were beginning to hone the skills necessary to stay in the game for many years to come.

Here are a few takeaways from our group. I am always moved by what students learn when they turn their attention inward, use their brain, develop patience and compassion for themselves, and return to the joyful, curious movement they once had as children.

  • "Learning to let go in your body allows more of who you are to come through."
  • "This course was a game changer; now I know I can eliminate my own pain and continue to do what I love."
  • "This work has given me my life back. I am hopeful."
  • "I feel empowered!"
  • "I realize I'm not as 'galumphy' as my wife says I am. I can actually walk smoothly."
  • "I've taken a lot of courses, yet this one will come with me for the rest of my life. I'll use this information and apply it to everything I do."
  • "A lot of older people say 'When you get to a certain age, it's all downhill.' I realize that I have an opportunity to turn it around right now."
  • "We always want to go for complicated stuff. I realized that the basic movements we learned are the building blocks for all movement."

As I left this workshop, I was so incredibly grateful for the learning that I received through the older participants and the group as a whole. When people come together in the pursuit of their willingness to shed old habits and views, and learn – even at an advanced age – it is deeply inspiring.

Hanna Somatics Retreat - Hollyhock

HollyhockBeach-3_5B872-1

Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island, BC was founded in 1982 as a center for skill-building and life-long learning. They seek to inspire, nourish and support people whose work serves and educates others in bettering the world.

I love the people who come to workshops at Hollyhock – open, curious, positive – the kind of people who make me more optimistic about our society and the world.

- Andrew Weil, MD

The Myth of Aging at Hollyhock | August 24 - 28, 2016

You can register here or call Hollyhock at 1-800-933-6339 x232 to reserve your spot.

We will explore what Thomas Hanna, Ph.D called "“The Myth of Aging.” This is the Image 14commonly held belief that limited movement, disability and decrepitude is the inevitable result of aging. In reality, it is the way in which we unconsciously adapt to the physical, psychological and emotional stresses of our lives – the accidents, injuries, surgeries, traumas, adaptive behaviors – that determines whether we will become “creaky and old” or maintain our physical freedom, self-awareness, and independence. Participants will experience why it is time to turn the page on that perspective.

Through lectures, movement sessions and interactive participation students will learn:

  • The root cause of most chronic muscle pain – Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and how to reverse it IMG_2442
  • How your movement habits and reflexive responses to stress contribute to conditions such as low back pain, neck, shoulder, hip and joint pain, sciatica, and chronic headaches
  • How all humans respond reflexively to stress within three full body reflex patterns
  • How to lengthen muscles and re-set muscle function without painful stretching
  • A simple daily routine of somatic movements that, when practiced regularly, will relieve chronic pain and maintain freedom of movement for the long-term. The result is more fluid, efficient movement, improved breathing, drastic reduction of functional muscle pain, and improved somatic awareness.

Learning [at Hollyhock] is authentic and powerful. The ripple effect far exceeds the physical boundaries of this special place.

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.

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!

 

 

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?

Movement Mornings: Do You Start Your Day With Movement?

I am always inspired when I meet people whose curiosity about movement takes them into exploration outside the box. One such person is the ever-curious Panayiotis Karabetis of Movement Mornings. I was a recent guest on his podcast  and we had a blast recording it. Here are some highlights from our discussion:IMG_4689

  • Pandiculation vs. Stretching
  • How to move “somatically”
  • Martha's 3 should's in life
  • Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Hanna
  • A brief history and explanation of Hanna Somatics
  • Sensory Motor Amnesia
  • Making room for play in your life is important
  • Falling apart as we get older is a choice
  • Pain-free moving starts with walking

Click here to listen and enjoy!

Here's what Panayiotis has to say about Movement Mornings and its dedication to sharing the good news about movement:

As movers, we're motivated by a unique force that makes our fidgety goals impossible to ignore and that's what Movement Mornings sets out to explore. Each month, we dive into the morning routine of influential people in the movement community to share new insights and inspire us to get better at what we love doing most: moving!

Train for More Than the Gym - with Somatics!

Earlier this year I was interviewed on En*theos by one of the innovators of the functional fitness movement, Frank Forencich. In his most recent book, Beautiful Practice, he writes:

We are stuck in the middle of a mismatch. Our ancient bodies, wired by evolution for survival in a wild, natural habitat, are struggling to live in radically different  modern world. Challenges are everywhere: overwork, sedentary living, toxic foods, social chaos and habitat destruction surround us. This is what I call “The Primate’s Predicament.”

And now we’re suffering. Our bodies are suffering with lifestyle diseases, our minds are stressed, our spirits are confused. And our primitive, habitual responses just aren’t working.What we need is a practice, not just to alleviate our suffering, but to live the beautiful adventure we call life.

Movement is probably the most important element in the adventure of Life. Human beings learn through movement; it is in our nature as self-learners of the highest order. We have adapted over time because of the ability of our cortex to do one thing: LEARN. The question is, what is important to learn and adapt to and what is potentially harmful? How many people realize that learning how to relax and recover is a critically important aspect of good health? Stress resilience is a skill.

Humans adapt or die

I consider Hanna Somatic Exercises a critical part of one's daily practice. Our birthright as human beings is to move easily and effortlessly, yet it takes practice and skill. Learning to prepare yourself to move with intention and voluntary control can spell the difference between "successful" aging and the traditional idea of aging: inevitable decrepitude, pain, a cane and a slow demise.

What we are missing is the understanding that every part of the human body is interconnected. We are not "a knee," "a hip," "my tight psoas," or "that painful IT band." We are a system that moves in patterns, as an integrated whole. If one part of the system is out of balance, it causes an imbalance throughout the entire system. This system we call our "body" is efficient in the best of times, and completely out of control in the worst of times when, as we adapt to stress, we forget what it feels like to move and sense as we did when we were children. Somatic Exercises recreate the basic movements of bending, reaching, twisting, side bending and extending - the non-negotiable basics of all movement that came so easily to all of us long ago. They remind our brain who is in control!

Tomorrow in Astoria, NY I will lead a Somatic Exercise Coach Training for a group of fitness trainers at the Matrix Fitness Center. It will be the first such training of personal fitness trainers whose goal it is to learn more about how Somatic awareness, the first step to any movement practice, can positively shift the course of one's training regime, whether the goal is to lift weights, play tennis, do yoga, dance, train for a marathon, or simply walk without pain.

A somatic perspective is long overdue in the fitness arena. Many people don't feel as if they've gotten anything out of their workout if they aren't hurting; somehow, they say, they "just don't feel anything." The belief in "no pain, no gain" is the quick road to misery and a short-lived athletic career. There is a more intelligent way to approach movement - one that the trainers tomorrow will begin to experience: Less is more and slow is fast when it comes to learning how to move well.

The Key to a Healthy Life: Never Stop Moving

According to a report in the Lancet from October 2009, half the children born since 2000 can expect to live to be 100.  When I read that I thought, "That's not possible! Most of the kids I see today - at least where I live - are chauffeured around by their parents and never go outside to play. You can't stay healthy if you don't move." In a New York Times Health article, Jane Brody states that, "there is no virtue in simply living long; the goal should be to live long and well." She discusses how diet, proper nutrition, and supplements are important to long-term health. The second ingredient to aging well is - you guessed it: movement. Vigorous, aerobic movement. There are so many possibilities for incorporating movement into your life - and as many excuses not to (I'm too busy, I'm too tired when I come home from work, I don't like exercise, it's boring...)

I grew up in an era when physical activity was a given. I walked to school, walked to my friends' houses, hiked in the summer, and took dance lessons during the school year. Everyone I knew walked, played outside, hula hooped, rode a bicycle, or skateboarded. Movement has always been my friend, rather than something I have to check off my list every day to make sure it gets done. I'm fortunate that way; no one has to convince me that movement is good for me. It was always part of life... not an after thought to it.

Without movement I get agitated, distracted, and tired. How many of you notice the connection between the amount of time you spend moving, and your inability to focus, your agitation level, or physical discomfort? Not exercising per se, but moving. Having a movement-filled life just may bring back the joy of movement for some people.

Outdoors, with a friend, in nature = good brain health

Here's another movement benefit that may get you off the couch: great ideas often come from movement. Einstein said that not a day went by when he wouldn't walk in the woods around Princeton with a companion; he felt that his best ideas came from this kind of movement. And indeed, according to studies highlighted in the book Spark by Dr. John Ratey, the combination of movement, companionship and nature result in the highest level of release of an important protein called BDNF (Ratey calls it "Miracle-Gro for your brain").

I'm also very fortunate to have a mother who has never taken the time in her IMG_0058busy life to "slow down, and take it easy." She's 86 and still hiking; in the photo at the right you can see us together on our trek in Nepal. The common myth about aging is that we inevitably become decrepit as we get older; most people succumb to, yet it never registered with my mother. She's always moving: hiking on the weekends, taking long morning walks up and down the hills of our town, and climbing mountains in the Himalayas, Africa, Australia and beyond.  She is just what Jane Brody's talking about: she is in perfect health, has rarely taken prescription drugs, and has a wit as sharp as a katana.

I aspire to be like her as I age. There is so much information and support for those of us who want to stay healthy for as long as we walk this earth.  Life is short, so take control where you can, starting with your health.

A Somatic Year in Review

P10205992013 has been an extraordinary year of growth, expansion, and learning for many of us in the field of Somatic Education. Never before have I met so many inspiring and eager people from all backgrounds wanting to learn how to get back to the basics of movement in order to live healthier, more functional lives. Those I have met have wanted simple, sensible answers to the questions: how can I move more easily and how do I get rid of chronic muscle pain? I have had the good fortune to train students in Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Norway, and the United States in the clinical methods of Hanna Somatics and proper teaching of Somatic Exercises. The work of Thomas Hanna is spreading across the world and I, for one, couldn't be happier. It only means that around the world people are learning to regain body awareness and control as they eliminate chronic pain and take back control of their lives.

One of the things we teach in Hanna Somatics is that what we think of as the inevitable decrepitude of aging is instead a loss of voluntary muscular control, which develops due to stress adaptation. When we learn to take back control of our bodies, muscles and movement it positively affects our  health, and by extension, our very quality of life. Hanna Somatics teaches one to regain freedom - of body, mind, movement and life.

I will leave you with an edited (and abbreviated) quote from Thomas Hanna from his groundbreaking book, Somatics: Reawakening the Mind's Control of Movement, Flexibility, and HealthIt sums up a New Year's message that I hope you will return to throughout 2014:

To say that aging is an adventure is the same as saying that life is an adventure. Indeed, each individual life is the greatest adventure... The human race is changing. At the present moment, this change is accelerating, and is charged with the thrill of danger and promise.

We must make our way through this great time of change, expecting that it will be good, and intending that it will be good. We must make our future the way we want it to be. This is what human freedom is for. And, in the process, we may discover that the myth of aging has been replaced by another, brighter myth. If it is true that, in the deepest reaches of the human heart, we all live according to myths, we may find that, from the ashes of the old myth, a new myth of aging is arising: that life is a continuous process of growth and expansion.

And may 2014 be just that for all of you. Thank you to all who have made this past year one of growth, expansion and giving to others through the work of Thomas Hanna. I have been helped by many and I thank you all for your support.

Using the Feet for Better Movement

I have a client who complained to me that she can get down on the floor, but she can't get up. She loves to garden, but has resigned herself to bending over at the waist, with knees bent slightly, in order to plant, dig ,or pull weeds. This, she admits, only causes back pain.

Use full body movement to get up off the floor.

Last week I taught her a simple way of getting up off the floor. She can get onto her hands and knees with no problem. It's getting from her knees to her feet that poses the challenge. I taught her to tuck her toes under (like a runner at the starting line), then rock herself back and forth, from her hands to her toes - sensing the shift in weight from her hands to her feet. Then, when she felt balanced, she pushed with her hands and rocked back onto her feet, and slowly came up to standing. She did it twice and was very excited!

Get to know your feet. They're a crucial part of the sensory motor system.

When she returned to me last week she told me that she had a lot of trouble with the exercise and wasn't sure she could do it. She also mentioned "I absolutely hate going barefoot, even at the beach. It's torture!"  Sensing the root of her problem, I immediately segued into a lesson about her feet. For 20 minutes I had her play with her toes: stretching them, pulling them, seeing how far apart she could get one from the other, slowly pointing and flexing. I told her that the feet are one of the body's most important sensory organs, and that, when constantly confined to shoes, they lose muscle control and sensation.  Loss of awareness of one's feet, and the wearing of cushioned shoes is also implicated in an increased number of falls in senior citizens. I suggested taking every opportunity she could to walk barefoot.

When you can sense your feet you will move more easily.

Finally I had her stand up. She was shocked at how she was able to sense her feet and move them easily. She exclaimed, "I can lift my toes! I can't remember the last time I did that!" She wondered if "making friends" with her feet wouldn't maybe make barefoot walking more pleasant. I assured her it would.

Then I explained that, in attempting to rock back onto her feet to get up, her feet hadn't been able to feel the ground and help her out. She'd been missing a crucial part of the movement! Without feeling in her feet she hadn't been "grounded" enough for the muscles of her feet to flex and push to help her get up. Once she regained voluntary movement in her toes and feet, then she her "getting up off the floor" exercise would be a breeze! Reeducating her feet would improve her balance and stability as well.

Take a few minutes and play with your feet.

Stand and slowly roll up onto the balls of your feet, and then come down. Pull your toes, and notice how far up the leg the sensation goes. Then take a walk. Your feet will thank you.

Being able to sense and move the muscles of the feet is another factor in relieving back, hip and knee pain. Remember that the body is connected as a whole. When we walk, if we're unaware of how our feet meet the ground, we may be pounding down in a way that actually contributes to knee and hip pain. This pounding can, in turn, work its way up to the back.

How Sensory Motor Amnesia Can Ruin Your Career

The Myth of Aging... and Injury

As a child, all I wanted to do with my life was dance.

At the age of 20 I left college and became a professional jazz dancer, but after only five years, and much anguish, I threw in the towel realizing that I had lost my form and could no longer dance the way I once did. My knees hurt all the time. Every time I thought I felt better, a new and different injury or pain would crop up.

I segued into modeling, teaching, and then massage therapy. In my mid-40s I  began to suffer from chronic hip pain that caused me to have to jettison one activity after another: kickboxing, step aerobics, running. I began to believe that which I'd been told by fellow dancers and doctors alike: "you're getting older, and after all those dance injuries, Martha, you probably have arthritis and will need knee replacements." I bought that idea hook, line and sinker. So I tried massage, Rolfing, chiropractic, acupuncture, stretching, physical therapy and yoga. Nothing helped my pain for the long term.

And then I was introduced to Hanna Somatic Education - and the concept of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

How Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) builds up over time

SMA is the state of habitually contracted muscles that have literally lost their physiological ability to release and relax. Gentle, easy Somatic Exercises helped me regain awareness of those "amnesic" muscles which had had to compensate time and again for one injury after another. I hadn't even noticed it happening! Within a very short period of time my hip and knee pain that had been plaguing me for decades went away. I could kneel for the first time in years!

Looking back on my accident history helped clarify the issue:

  • In college I'd torn the ligaments in my left ankle falling down the stairs. I hobbled around on crutches for over a month, compensating on my right side for my left sided injury.
  • I suffered an overuse injury to my right thigh three years later during a rehearsal the week before opening night. The show went on and I danced, compensating beautifully, and no one noticed how severely injured I was.
  • Then my knee issues began: First a surgery for a torn right meniscus and, a year later, two surgeries to shorten the ligaments on both sides of my knees, because my doctors insisted that I was "too flexible" and that that was the cause of my pain. Months on crutches once again.
  • 10 years later I had foot surgery for a painful bunion on my left foot (another month on crutches)
  • Another exploratory knee surgery, and a hamstring pull incurred while running

These are all examples of the Trauma Reflex which occurs reflexively in response to the need to avoid further injury or to nurture an injured limb.

A case of SMA, which started back in my teens, had set in motion a series of subsequent injuries born of muscular compensation. My brain could no longer coordinate my muscles to perform intricate movement patterns of dance - the result of years of sensory motor training.  Adaptive, accumulated muscle tension had caused my body to lose its balance, resulting in muscular asymmetry, tight, painful joints and unequal weight-bearing. Rather than notice imbalances in my posture or movement, the doctors saw the problem from a mechanical perspective: they surgically "fixed" what they understood to be the problem without ever questioning the origin of the problem. The surgeries didn't help in the long-run. My problem was functional in nature, not structural. One doctor I know phrased the issue beautifully:

"Hanna Somatics offers a scientifically sound method for the diagnosis and treatment of a whole range of complaints that frequently present as medical problems, such as fibromyalgia, pain syndromes and fatigue, but have their real origin in learned, often readily corrected postural errors."

–Bill Hanson, MD, Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School

Hanna Somatic Education taught me to move freely again. It gave me back my life and the ability to choose how I want to move. For those who have suffered accidents, injuries, surgeries or repetitive motion injuries, the muscle pain and stiffness you feel is reversible once you teach the brain to sense and move your muscles again. It just might give you back your livelihood!

The Myth of Aging

If you're not getting better as you get older, you're doing  something wrong. –Thomas Hanna

I have a client who came in with severe shoulder pain that had been plaguing him for years. He told me about his many car accidents, hours at computer work, and caring for a newborn baby. He told me that his doctor first asked, "So how old are you?" and then told him that nothing was wrong. My client was, understandably, annoyed that his doctors would insinuate that age would have anything to do with his pain.

Chronic muscular pain is not age-related.

It builds up over time as we respond to stress - accidents, injuries, surgeries, ongoing emotional or occupational stresses. It also results from not paying attention to the sensations of your own body. That feeling of muscular tightness, restricted movement and bad posture can not only be avoided, it can be reversed.

Modern industrial cultures encourage people to pay attention to things outside themselves: computers, spreadsheets, phones. Such cultures also produce people who don't pay attention to what it feels like to be in their own bodies. That sense of one's body in movement and space is called "proprioception." When you are "proprioceptively intelligent," meaning aware of the way in which you respond to stresses, you are more likely to be able to relax those muscles. If you are unaware of what you're doing, and unaware of the way in which your muscles are supposed to move, you are more likely to accumulate muscular tension.

Thomas Hanna, in his book Somatics: Reawakening The Mind's Control Of Movement, Flexibility, And Health, wrote about teaching a group of osteopaths, chiropractors, doctors and physical therapists in Australia. He taught them some of the procedures he used to teach people to reverse what is believed to be the inevitable breakdown of the human body as we age. He spoke about proprioception and Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). One cardiologist wrote in a paper that, what Hanna taught "has as much potential for understanding the mind-body relationship as Einstein's theory of relativity had for physics."

So next time you get to work and see 100 emails in your inbox, notice what your muscles do. Or when someone calls your name or tells you to "hurry up!" or your cell phone rings, notice what your back muscles do. Notice if you hunch your shoulders in traffic, or slumping over your computer. When you walk, notice whether or not your shoulders and hips move. These are first steps toward reversing the "myth of aging."

So You Think You Can't Learn Because You're Older?

I frequently hear my clients tell me, "not much is going to change at my age." Thankfully more and more is being written to prove how untrue that statement really is. The older we get, the harder it can be to change old habits, and yet the more important it becomes if we want to live fully and be in control of our lives. There was an interesting article in the New York Times about how to train an "aging brain." In it they discuss how "bumping up against people and ideas that are different." Scramble the neural pathways a bit to keep your brain developing well.

Somatic Exercises make you smarter and more aware.

This is what Moshe Feldenkrais called differentiation."  He taught that doing "un-habitual" movements that we normally don't do disrupts the habits in our brains and leads to more intelligent, and controlled movement and coordination of the body as a whole.  He went on to create some powerful movement sequences based upon his discoveries.  His "seated twist" exercise, also taught in Somatic Exercise classes, is the best example of this type of learning.

When you give the brain new, different and sometimes complicated feedback, the brain responds differently. IMG_1769You are setting down new neural pathways. Give the brain the same old, same old, and your habits remain the same.  Your brain doesn't  get any “smarter”  and nothing changes.  Mix things up a bit, add more movement, done in a slightly different way, or play with a different way of doing things (like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand) and your motor output will not only be different, but it will be more coordinated.

Here's an interesting fun fact:  it’s been discovered that the cerebellum, once thought to only be involved in monitoring movement,  is also linked to cognitive growth in the brain.   Frank Belgau, an educator and psychologist, performed an experiment with a group of special ed kids. He put them on his own version of the "bongo board" and had them toss bean bags back and forth for several minutes.  Here's what he observed:  their math abilities improved, as did their balancing skills. They realized that it not only helped them hone their spatial awareness, but that their thinking skills improved as well. Cool, eh?

This is exactly what we do in Hanna Somatics: we challenge the 7-9-07-bongopongbrain with new and different input, to teach the body to do new things and to hone the skills you already have.  This is an intelligent way to improve the muscular system.  It's also fun and easy.

So try something new and different each day:

  • brush your teeth with the non-dominant hand
  • use your mouse with the non-dominant hand
  • when you turn to look around behind you, rather than just turning your head and neck, try turning at the waist, first.
  • walk backwards (be mindful!)
  • if you carry a purse or laptop bag on one shoulder, put it on the other shoulder. Notice how your posture changes
  • take a dance class

Re-connect those neural pathways,  feed the brain and prepare to feel, move and think better than ever!