Every year, people of myriad backgrounds attend clinical sessions and Fundamentals Immersion Courses with Essential Somatics. These backgrounds include yoga and Pilates, dancers, medical professionals, teachers, stay-at-home mothers, movement professionals, biomechanics experts, business executives, mind-body coaches, life coaches, psychotherapists, physical therapists, kinesiologists, psychiatrists, professional athletes, strength coaches, and high school and college students (among many others). Though our students and clients have different movement training and different lifestyles, they realize that — after a clinical session or attending our Fundamentals Immersion Course — an understanding and experience of Sensory Motor Amnesia is what was missing in everything they’ve ever learned.
But first, Somatics
We all come to whatever method we practice or activity we engage in with a personal history. Our body is the geography of our history and — like it or not — it travels with us wherever we go and has an impact on everything we do. For this reason, the first thing to know about Essential Somatic Movement is that it is a foundational practice; it’s what you do before you do anything! It doesn’t replace your favorite activity, but prepares you to do it better.
What’s on the inside counts
Can you imagine buying a car that hasn’t been maintained in 30 years? It looks good from the outside: the paint is shiny and new, the seats have new upholstery. But then you take a look under the hood… How are things working from the inside out? Is everything running as it should? Do the fluids need changing? Do the tires need rotating? Does it need a new alternator?
Why does it make sense to inspect the inside of a car to determine how well it functions, but humans don’t apply the same logic to themselves? We tend to focus only on the outside and do not consider that we have more control over the inner workings of our bodies than we realize. We tend to ignore the simple fact that we function as a system — if one part of our body is affected, there will be a ripple effect throughout the whole body. Instead we resign ourselves to a life of struggle (“I must strengthen my core to prevent my back from hurting!”), acceptance of the cards we’ve been dealt (“My mother had hip pain at 40, so I guess that’s just what’s happening to me.”), or frustration (“I can’t believe I have to keep getting cortisone shots in my knee just to run without pain. Either that or I have to give it up for good.”) We tend to undervalue looking within and seeing from there how we can or cannot control ourselves. The paradigm shift from looking only at the outside to looking at the inside is what Somatic Education is all about.
Regain control by sensing yourself
The ability to sense and control one’s body is fundamental; it is how we learned to navigate the world and ourselves since infancy. When we habituate to our stress and lose touch with our innate ability to create and maintain our physical freedom and balance, everything changes: our movement, our self-awareness, our attitudes about ourselves, the language we speak, our mood, focus, health, sleep. No amount of meditation, affirmations, talking, or analyzing oneself from the outside is going to change it.
Acknowledging that your neck hurts all the time is not “sensing.” You need to get down on the floor and quiet your mind. Slow down and feel everything about what it is like to be you, lying down on the floor in that moment. What can you feel or not feel? What are you able to control in your movement? What is your breathing like?
Pandiculate your way to freedom
By doing this exercise, you may realize that your brain hasn’t forgotten how to retrieve free and easy movement; it’s simply gotten stuck in a feedback loop of tension. It needs new feedback and information in order to reset your ability to move. How the brain does that best is through pandiculation, nature’s original reset button done by all vertebrate animals. Every time you pandiculate, you gently contract into the tension of your muscles, then slowly release out into complete relaxation. This resets the nervous system’s control of muscle length and function. Through movement you take the same step all animals take multiple times a day and restore your ability to be present and balanced.
What comes next? Whatever you like! Take what you learn about yourself into your mind-body practice, your movement routine, your daily workout, your favorite sport, your job, and your life. Go ahead — be your own experiment and find out what it’s like.
Try this at home
Set a goal for yourself. Write down where you’d like to see improvement in your favorite activity, whether it’s your pace when running, the amount of weight you can lift at the gym, or a yoga pose you are learning. Commit to a short routine of Somatic Movements before you begin your favorite activity and do this for two weeks. Keep notes about the improvements you experience and how quickly you recover from your activity. How has a Somatic Movement practice positively improved your activity?
Now… get moving!