6 Somatics Exercises for Pregnancy

Here is a brief "Somatics Journal" from one of my clinical Somatics students who just had her third baby. It is her experience of doing Hanna Somatic Exercises before, during and after her pregnancy and integrating the awareness she gained from it. Enjoy!

I wanted to share my Somatics experience during the delivery of my daughter and during the last few weeks, back at home, exploring ways to avoid unnecessary pains and discomfort in my body.

It is amazing how awareness and connectedness to your body can make the childbirth experience so different.

It wasn’t easier or less painful for me, yet in the moment of truth, when I had to help my baby and push her out, I could actually imagine and picture the muscles in my body. I could see which muscles should work when I needed to push and which muscles should stay relaxed, long and open, in a way that would help me work in the most efficient way. In every contraction I actually did Arch and Curl. Then I completely relaxed my muscles in between the contractions. I felt in control of my body and the entire process. This was much different experience from my other two deliveries. I was part of it, I helped it, I had control!

Back home, there was lots of physical and repetitive stress:

Holding my baby for hours, breastfeeding her in an uncomfortable position that didn't feel good in my body. Holding her in one arm and playing with my other two kids, using the rest of my body, trying to find balance and ease. Challenging!

Thankfully, at the end of the day (well, there isn't really end of the day when you have a baby) when the other kids were asleep, I had my “Hanna Somatics cat stretch” - I had my awareness - just me taking care of my body and reminding it that it could be different. Pandiculating, feeling my muscles, isolating the areas needed to be taken care of, enjoying the movement, allowing my body to flow in such a natural, relaxing way.

It takes me about 15 minutes a day to awaken my muscles, to activate my joints, to find again the way to move freely and remind my brain and my nervous system how my body, my muscles can and should work. Three weeks after having my baby, I was laying on my yoga mat and what I felt was discomfort in my back - a huge arch in my lower back. Both my shoulders were rounded forward and it felt like someone was  pulling them up to my ears and I could not control it. I was looking for that feeling of “melting” into the mat, and just couldn’t feel it.

An easy daily movement routine to regain control of your body:

Arch & Flatten - I start to feel more in control, my movement becomes more fluid, smooth. I feel a wavy movement in my entire spine and can actually feel it and imagine it moving from bottom to top. My neck joins the movement and then the head and chin move as well. My entire body is in that movement and I already have much more control than I had when I started.

The Flower - this is where the front of my body really opens, and the shoulders release down. It BiaELA7BTfeels great because it releases my upper back. I still don’t feel comfortable laying on my belly and doing the Back Lift, so I just do a variation of it while lying on my back. After doing it, I can sense the connection between my upper body and my lower body.

Arch & Curl - I love this one! When releasing the front of the body, on the way down back to the mat, I release so slowly that I feel each vertebra, one by one, as it touches the mat. My elbows open to the sides and I go all the way down until my shoulders and elbows touch the mat. It is a complete release of my upper body when I do it slowly and control each muscle that is part of that movement.

Side Bend  - After holding my baby for only four weeks now, I know I still need to restore balance between the right and left sides of my body. This is the best exercise to restore balance. I do it first with my hand on my hip, just to feel where the movement is and which muscles are working. When doing it with my arm holding my head, I feel the entire side of my body lengthen and open all the way to my armpit.

Steeple Twist - I love connection I feel when I do the Steeple Twist the upper and lower body and sides of my body - when everything moves from the center. I'm like a well-oiled machine.

I do my Somatic Exercises every day. Sometimes I add my own movement variations and allow my body to choose the way it wants to move, in the most natural way. At the end of each practice, I stand up and feel taller, softer; I feel good in my own body, I feel that I have control again.

I thank Hanna Somatics, as well as my Nia movement practice for this. I feel lucky that I’m able to choose awareness and movement as a way of life.

 

My Daily Somatics Hip Pain Relief Routine

In my last labral tear update I wrote that an habituated Trauma Reflex is always a part of the posture of someone with a labral tear. Whether you get surgery for your tear or not it is critically important to regain full muscle function of the muscles of the somatic center if you're ever going to move efficiently again.

My daily pain relief tips for hip pain

Pandiculation - first thing in the morning! I never get out of bed without pandiculating. I wake IMG_3791up and take a few minutes to yawn out my arms and legs - my own natural version of the Human X - "hike" my hips up and down, and twist the center of my body, letting my head and neck move with the movement (like the Washrag).

A daily Somatics routine of between 10 - 15 minutes, morning and evening.

  • Arch and Flatten - sometimes moving into the Flower (especially if I've done a lot of computer work that day).
  • Cross Lateral Arch and Curl
  • Back Lift
  • Arch and Curl with psoas release
  • Side Bend - I prefer the "arm sweep variation"
  • Washrag (or Steeple Twist)
  • Walking Exercises

A varied routine, with movements such as:

  • Hip Lift and Reach
  • Propeller
  • Arch and Curl with Psoas Release (find it here on Laura Gates' DVD)
  • Arch and Flatten with Cactus Arms
  • Side lying shoulder and hip circles (relaxed shoulders help release the hips)
  • Seated Somatics
  • Standing Somatics (from my book)

Pandiculate often during the day! I make movements up: rolling my hips, shoulders, squatting, Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.33 PMreaching my arms up, twisting our my center, swinging my arms, bending to the side.

Stand up frequently if you're doing desk work. I stand up frequently and do "Reach to the Top Shelf," sometimes 15 times a day!

Sun Salutation - done very slowly and somatically. I take all the time I need to sense the flow of the movement without stretching or holding stretches. I do about 3 rounds 3-4 times a week.

Walking, walking and walking.  Walking integrates my movement and allows me to coordinate the whole body. Walking is, after all, the most important movement any human being needs to be able to do easily and efficiently.

Stair climbing or hill walking. Incorporating stairs or a hill allows me to strengthen and coordinate my hips, back, legs and waist within a functional movement. I can really tell what's out of balance when I go up and down stairs. It gives me a chance to go back, notice what's not moving as freely and see how I can tweak it.

In my next post I'll share with you movements that don't feel good for me considering that I have a labral tear. They might feel good to those with no structural hip issues, but not for me! So I honor what my body has to tell me and stay away from them. There are so many movement choices, why stick with something that doesn't feel good?

How Hanna Somatics Helps Me Move Well Despite Labral Hip Tears

It’s time for an update. Several years ago I wrote several blog posts about hip pain, labral tear surgery, and how to help alleviate hip pain - not as a quick fix, but for the long term. Since then I’ve had countless emails from readers asking advice about hip pain and labral tears: which exercises are best for it, can Hanna  Somatics really help and advice on whether to have labral tear surgery or not.hips

So where do I stand now that I’ve had labral tears for several years, a very active schedule and haven’t had surgery?

I’m moving really well. I feel strong, I am still quite flexible and I know how to honor my limits to keep myself out of pain. You see, I am a poor candidate for surgery (I also have osteoarthritis in my hips from years of dance training and injuries), so there has only ever been only one clear choice for me: to incorporate the exercises, concepts and principles of Hanna Somatics into my daily life. This includes awareness of my emotional responses to stress, my postural habits, and my daily movement habits.

That means that I have had to walk the talk and be the example of what Hanna Somatics has to offer those in pain: the ability to become self-aware, self-monitoring, and self-correcting in their movement and muscular control. I know which activities help me and which ones don't and I know that if I "push on through" because I want to be competitive, and I ignore how my body is feeling, I will be sore for a few days afterwards.

I was diagnosed with labral tears after recovering from a skiing accident, which resulted in an ACL tear. As a Somatic Educator, I knew that my tears were the cumulative result of years of Sensory Motor Amnesia as well as minor, but very important, imbalances in the center of my body. For some people labral tears occur suddenly due to an accident or over time due to overuse; baseball players, martial artists and dancers are athletes who frequently suffer from labral tears, all due to repetitive movements.

The Trauma Reflex contributes to labral hip tears

If you have a labral hip tear, you've probably had an accident, injury, surgery, or performed repetitive IMG_3857actions - all of which evokes a sudden and powerful reflex called the Trauma Reflex. The brain, the command center of the muscles, loses its ability to contract and lengthen the muscles of the waist and trunk voluntarily and equally. You find yourself slightly tilted to one side, the pelvis twisted and leg length  a bit  uneven. Your gait changes and smooth walking or running becomes a thing of the past.

Here is what I have advised my readers:

If you have a labral tear and decide to have surgery, the surgery won't fix the muscular imbalance that you undoubtedly have in the center of your body. Only you and your brain can do that through sensory motor retraining. Then, once the tear is fixed, it's important to restore full muscle function, balance and coordination through Clinical Somatics sessions and daily Hanna Somatic Exercises. If you don't, you just may experience continued tightness in that hip, or aches and pains in other areas of the body due to compensation.

If your goal is to avoid a hip replacement (or put it off indefinitely) then the smartest thing you could do is to get the muscles which attach into and move the hip socket to release and relax. This is what I have done. Reduce excess muscle tension and free up your movement. This will take the pressure off the injured area and help you regain freedom of movement.

No matter what you decide, improved somatic awareness and control is what will change the course of your recovery from one of pain and limited movement to one of greater movement and self-control.

So what does my daily practice look like? There are so many Somatic Exercises to learn and choose from, yet some are what I call the “non-negotiables.” All this in my next blog post...

Politics Can Be a Pain in the Neck - Literally

The midterm elections are over. The results are in. But are the aches and pains of election season over in your body? Did political ads create residual aches and pains? Political ads are designed to elicit emotional reactions and responses - those of anger, fear, hope, or excitement. political-attack-ads-slide11-1Emotions create muscular tension in the body, as the brain responds to any and all feedback in the environment, whether mental, emotional, physical, or even imagined! Political ads, repeated over and over again can cause tension in your muscles that, after a while, your brain can no longer voluntarily control.  Just as a baseball player practices swinging a bat repeatedly; it commits an efficient, effective swing to muscle memory, just as our emotional reactions to overplayed political ads create habituated muscular tension. It can become embodied stress that we feel at a loss to control or change.

First comes awareness, then comes change.

For example, if your response to a political ad caused you to feel fear, worry or a sense of instability ("That's it! I'm moving to Canada!"), the muscles of the front of your body contracted strongly. This is called the Red Light Reflex - a primal response to fear which causes us to withdraw inward. It contributes to most chronic neck and shoulder pain, shallow breathing and fatigue.

If your response to those ads is anger, panic or agitation, you may feel the muscles in the back of your body getting tight, as if to flee, take action - "Do something for Pete's sake! The country is falling apart!" This is the Green Light Reflex - the root cause of most chronic back pain.

If your back, shoulders, neck, etc. hurt more than usual in the last month, it is probably due to some  very effective political marketing strategy. Beware - the holiday shopping season is upon us already and is no different in its affect on the body!

The stress of political campaigns will never go away - especially if you read newspapers and watch television. The good news is that humans have an innate ability to self-teach and choose their actions based upon trial and error and new information. Our enormous and impressive brain can learn whatever we put our focus on. We can also unlearn that which is not working to our advantage.

When you understand that change is effected first through awareness (How do you respond to your life stresses? What does it feel like to live in your body?) and then through action (what can I do to make a difference in how I feel?), you will be on the road to taking back control of your muscles, aches and pains and quality of life.

Click here to purchase the Pain-Free Somatics DVDs.

Click here to take a Somatic Movement class.

Click here for free self-care Somatic Movement videos.

Thank you to Tricia Engelking, RYT, SEC for her inspiration in writing this post.

All images taken from clotureclub.com

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.

Sedentary Living is a Dangerous State of Being

Frank Forencich is the author of Change Your Body, Change The World and other books about human movement, health, and physical happiness. He is a pioneer in the field of  functional training and health education and one of my favorite teachers. The "standing Somatics" movements in my book, Move Without Pain, were inspired by some of the fun and functional play-based movements I learned at his seminars.

Frank wrote a wonderful endorsement for my book. In addition, he sent a note to my publisher:

I would like to see you put this warning on an opening page: "Before beginning a program of physical inactivity, see your physician. This warning would make the essential point that inactivity is the abnormal state. Movement is biologically and medically normal. Sedentary 'living' is the dangerous exception that requires professional oversight. Until health publishers make this point clear, readers will continue to live in fear of physical movement. We need to step up." 

Good point.  And yes, I did add his warning in my book!

Normally, people are advised to consult their doctors before undertaking an exercise routine. However, movement is not the expertise of doctors. While they understand that inactivity causes myriad health problems, they don't know how to help those patients who begin to lose their freedom of movement.

Most of the people I work with have run the gamut of doctors, surgery, drugs, physical therapy, massage, dry needling, and core strengthening. By the time I see them they have diagnosed themselves - correctly - with Sensory Motor Amnesia.  They are aware that they have forgotten how to move freely and how to control their movement, but they don't understand how it happened.

So how does one begin to restore freedom of movement? And more importantly, how does one let go of the fear of movement?

Simple facts about the brain and muscle connection can unlock the "mystery" of chronic pain and limited movement.

Let's clear up a few misconceptions about how limited muscle pain and limited movement develop:

  1. Limited movement doesn't happen to you; it develops from the inside out. This is due to stress responses such as accidents, injuries, surgeries, and ongoing repetitive stress.
  2. Most muscle pain problems are not the result of weak or faulty structure; they are the result of a loss of proper muscle control at the brain level.
  3. Your brain responses to everything that happens to you by contracting muscles in full-body patterns and habits. In order to regain movement, you need to retrain your brain to retrain your muscles so they can release, relax, and move freely again. Only you can change what's happening in your own body!

For those who are embarking on a program of fitness training or exercise I would suggest that you go back to the basics first: add Hanna Somatic Exercises to your routine. Test yourself and see if you have voluntary control over the major muscles of your core: the back, waist, and 1-At the Top of Table Mountain, in the Mt. Baker region, Washington State IMG_6587abdominal muscles. This is the safest and simplest method to restore somatic awareness and muscles control. No forceful stretching or painful procedures involved. Somatic awareness and mastery of "the basics" is what will enable you to climb the stairs un-aided at 90-years-old, carry your own groceries, run, or play with your kids.

When you get back in touch with your muscles you will regain control, become aware of even the smallest movements, and improve your coordination, balance, and proprioception through daily Somatic exercises. These exercises remind your brain how to control your muscles without the interference of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The more we move, the more choices we have. We can look at a situation and assess how we'd like our bodies to respond: jump, break a fall, climb, squat, walk, run, tiptoe, hike, dance, lift, throw, carry. Movement mastery means freedom to be creative in our movement and chosen activities, age notwithstanding.

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.

Compression Fractures, Back Pain, and How to Get Relief

I just received this testimonial from a client from upstate New York who came to see me. He learned how compensation to a severe injury experienced had caused muscular pain, and how to begin to reverse it. He is now doing a daily routine of Somatic Exercises to keep the muscles of his back, waist, and hips more relaxed for easier, more comfortable movement. Read his testimonial below...

Trauma compression fracture pain - solved:

I recently suffered my second trauma compression fracture to one of the vertebrae of my back.

The treatment for this fracture was to wear a rigid back brace during all waking activities.  I had significant pain with this injury and needed strong pain killers for two months just to function. Having gone through this healing process five years ago I was familiar with how long it takes to get back to what I would call full functioning. I am a long time Tai Chi student and also enjoy many other physical activities and challenges. As a result of my recent injury I researched body work and decided that Hanna Somatics would be very complimentary to my Tai Chi practice.

I had two private clinical Somatic Education sessions with Martha Peterson in December 2011. Prior to the first session I was not able to lay flat on my back.  Martha worked to help me understand how to move my upper back muscles and I was able for the first time to lay flat on my back. During the second session we worked on the Trauma Reflex, specifically with the Side Bend and Hip Hike practices.

After this practice I was able to lie flat with zero pain. This was a huge improvement for me and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks!

As the days have passed there is still much work and healing for me. I know all this is a process of two steps forward and one step back. From my own experience of teaching Tai Chi and healing from injuries, I recognize that Martha is a superior and passionate practitioner. I look forward to future work with Martha and know that each session will be an adventure in healing and gaining control of how to move effectively with less pain.

Thank you Martha!

D.L., People Manager, Anheuser-Busch

3 Myths About Perfect Posture

There are varying opinions about what "perfect" posture is, and many people who come to me explain their muscle pain, saying that they've always had terrible posture. Posture isn't something you're born with - it's something that develops in response to your movement habits and responses to stress. Here are a few myths about "good" posture:

Myth #1 - As long as your neck is straight, and your spine is aligned, you won't have back pain.

Many dancers with beautiful, long necks and straight spines have terrible back pain! A long neck and straight spine can be caused by strongly contracted back muscles and postural conditioning that says "pull your chin in, pull your shoulders back, and all will be well." What happens with this posture is that the straight neck is met with an opposite arch in the lower back - an arch that is often exaggerated and causes back pain.

Myth #2 - As long as your posture is "correct," your movement will be effortless and efficient.

No doubt about it - aligned posture results in more efficient movement. However, if the aligned posture is one that you've put ON your body, as opposed to one that you've DEVELOPED from within your own sensory awareness and movement, you just might be using muscles less efficiently. Some standing postures, like "tadasana" (mountain pose) in yoga, are great for doing yoga poses, but very fussy and inefficient for all around daily movement.

Here's a good example and one I use all the time when teaching my clients how to walk:

Nearly half of the construction workers in India are women; they balance rocks and other heavy things on their heads. They don't take posture lessons to learn how to do this. They learn by doing - meaning they have to figure out what to do in the center of their bodies that will allow them to carry weight on their head (the periphery). They let their pelvis move when they walk, they take smaller steps, and they keep their torsos long and lifted out of their hips. Their posture develops from their daily functional movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myth #3 - There is one, "perfect" posture that fits everyone.

The one thing I found while researching the "perfect" posture is how many different opinions there are about what it means to "stand up straight" or stand in "alignment." One posture expert says that we should allow our pelvis to be anteverted:

"Proper posture is standing with your tailbone back and ribcage forward, shoulders slightly behind the body. Your pelvis is tipped forward and sacrum angled back. The lower border of your rib cage is flush with the abdominal contour."

Another fitness expert teaches people with back pain to drop the tailbone, tuck in the lower abdominal muscles and relax the shoulders to neutral.

The most common advice for back pain sufferers in regards to posture is to tuck the pelvis forward (retroverting) in order to lengthen the back muscles and take the load off the muscles. What this actually does, while momentarily relieving muscle pain, is to cause the front of the body to contract and round forward. This is not a good strategy for efficient, pain-free movement.

How do I find "perfect" posture?

Here's a simple exercise to help you figure it out:

  • Stand in your normal posture, whatever that is for you. Notice where your discomfort is - in the lower back, hamstrings, neck, shoulders or hips. Walk around the room for a minute, paying attention to the way in which your feet meet the floor (do you heel strike? Roll out? Roll in?).
  • Stop and put something light on your head, like a pillow, as in the photo.
  • Hold it gently on both sides with your elbows out and up. Notice how your ribs have to lift in order to allow your hands to reach up to the pillow. Breath into your ribs and let them expand gently. Notice how the abdominal muscles lengthen, yet contract to support the spine and the center of your body.
  • Walk slowly, letting your hips sway gently. Imagine that your pillow is a load that must not fall off your head. Breathe deeply as you walk.
  • Now take the pillow off of your head, bring your arms to neutral, and just stand. Relax your buttocks and breathe easily.

How centered does your posture feel now? Do you feel "straighter?" Taller? Is it easier to stand up and feel supported in the center of your body? This movement exploration is like the old fashioned exercise of putting a book on your head in order to achieve good posture!

Visit EssentialSomatics.com for more tips and information about Hanna Somatic Education. Learn to relieve muscle pain easily, rapidly and effectively with my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.

Pain Relief For Carpal Tunnel and Arm Pain

I'd like to share a story sent to me by a client how Somatic Movements helped her relieve her arm pain, wrist pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome and become more aware of how she works at her desk:

Lately I've been having hand, wrist, and forearm pain. It had been getting worse for about 2-3 months. In the last 2 weeks it's been so painful that it also reduced my grip strength severely. I need my hands for my work, so this is not acceptable. Most of the pain is centered on my right forearm near the elbow, and around the wrist when using the mouse with my computer. The pain and problem even affects my ability to take notes with a pencil! I spend much time at the computer, running my own businesses. I do a lot of research using only my mouse-hand to click.

I told Martha about the problem and she told me that the issue was probably Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in my arm, which affected my hand. The muscles had "forgotten" to stop contracting. I now know a lot about SMA and Hanna Somatics, but I was thinking that I had a repetitive stress injury. Martha reminded me that "repetitive stress injury" was about contracting the same muscles over a long amount of time, and "freezing up," which was the definition of SMA.

We scheduled a Skype video session. I showed her my injured muscles as well as my health history. Then she showed me a series of Somatic movements designed to reduce the muscle tension and lessen my muscle  pain. She also asked me many questions about my posture and my [computer] working habits.

Later that night, the pain returned. I could see the difference between my mouse arm and my other arm: my mouse arm and hand was "thicker" and tighter. Hanna Somatics practitioners are trained to assess clients' muscle tightness to determine if the body is holding excess muscle tension. My arm was very painful and I could not even close my hand; if I could close my hand, the effort hurt. This is how I realize that my hand was stuck in a contracted holding-mouse position.

I repeated the series of forearm and wrist movements that Martha taught me over our Skype session. Instantly, after completing the series (it took about 5 minutes), I could feel my muscles relax, and my arm was not swollen or tight anymore. I could close my hand, too. My arm felt relaxed, which relaxed my body, and I was without pain. I remembered that Martha said that we are retraining the brain to relax the muscles.

However, I realized that when I returned to my computer, the pain and stiffness returned - I didn't even need to be "repetitive" in my movements.

I am now working on changing my posture, chair height, mouse position, and tension level. Martha even told me that tensing an entire arm, or leaning on my arm, can affect all the way down to my hand! It's been about 24 hours since working with Martha on my wrist, hand and arm. I can release my own pain, and now I am working on fixing the conditions that make the pain return. I am looking forward to working with Martha more to pinpoint my posture and tension habits. However I have learned to release any pain that arises... and soon will improve my body-awareness enough to keep the pain away forever.

In my next post I will share a video of the movements and techniques I taught this client during our Skype session. Stay tuned!

Tips For Getting The Most Out of Your Somatic Exercise Routine

Somatic Exercises, when done between 10 - 15 minutes daily, are profoundly effective at keeping you pain-free no matter what your stress. However, the single biggest benefit of Somatic Exercises is one of IMPROVED SENSORY MOTOR AWARENESS. This means that the exercises help remind your brain to FEEL (sensory) and MOVE (motor) your muscles so that your self-awareness is more accurate and your muscles move more efficiently. Recently a reader told me that he does his Somatic Exercises faithfully, but finds that the same problem - a tight back, sore neck, achy shoulders, "that low back pain on the right side" - keeps cropping up. Why is this?

The answer is that you need to apply the awareness you gain from the Somatic Exercises to everything you do during your day. Here are a few coaching tips to help you apply the improved awareness and muscle control you gain from Somatic Exercises to your daily life:

  • Become aware of movement patterns inherent in your job. If your is a repetitive physical job (gardening, landscaping, typing on the computer, driving, lifting packages, holding children), begin to notice the pattern of movement and the muscles involved that contribute to your pain.  Gardening is usually one-sided, as is holding children. Driving requires sitting and using one leg to accelerate or brake more than the other.
  • Become aware of how you sit. Is your pelvis at an angle? Is your back over-arched? Do you shift/slouch into one hip? Do you slump forward? Arch & Flatten, the Back Lift, Cross Lateral Arch & Curl, and the Seated Awareness Exercise target the back and abdominal muscles and help to improve awareness of how you sit. Find them on my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.
  • Do a few minutes of seated Somatic Exercises every hour if you work at a desk. Even 5 minutes every hour can remind your muscles that they don't have to stay "frozen." This will keep your brain in voluntary control of your muscles so they can be as relaxed as possible.
  • Become aware of how you drive. See "how do you sit" above. Many of us clutch the steering wheel when stressed. This locks down the shoulders and creates upper back and neck pain. The "seated twist" is great for reversing tension that comes from driving.
  • Use a mirror to help you see your own posture. Becoming aware of what you really look like - as opposed to what you think you look like - helps you to self-correct so that what you sense internally agrees with what you see in the mirror.
  • Become aware of how you reflexively respond emotionally to upsetting events or the need to get something done. This is hugely important!  Our brains adapt to stress by tightening our muscles - even when we're not moving. The Somatic Exercises teach you to regain voluntary muscular control, but you are the only one who knows how emotional upset affects you. Do you tighten your back? Hunch your shoulders? Stop breathing when worried? The Steeple Twist and Human X are wonderful catch-all movements that relax the front, sides and back of the body for a full body stress-buster.
  • Add more movement to your day. There are lots of great functional movements you can do that take only a few minutes. This helps to differentiate your movement habits.  Here's a link to some great ideas for "movement snacks" from Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal. My Reach To the Top Shelf movement takes 2 minutes to do and can be done anywhere:

Stand with feet apart and both arms up. Slowly reach up with the right arm and let the entire right side of your body lengthen. Allow the left hip to slide upwards (look closely at the middle photo) as you roll up onto the ball of the left foot.

Come back through neutral and reach up with the left arm as if reaching for something high on a shelf. Allow the right hip to slide up as you roll up onto the ball of the right foot. Be sure to keep both knees straight. Repeat this sequence 3-5 times, reaching with one arm, then the other. You're lengthening one side of your body as you shorten the other side! It's like a full body yawn!

Massage is Better, But Somatics is Best for Chronic Back Pain Relief

A new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, concludes that,

"Massage therapy may be better than medication or exercise for easing low back pain in the short term."

The researchers found that, when used to treat low back pain, massage therapy was superior to painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy. In Sweden, however, a recent study found the Sensory Motor Learning, which is another term for Somatic Education, is even better for back pain. This study concluded that it is a superior "evidence-based" treatment for back pain.

In light of NHI's conclusion that massage therapy is superior to standard medical practice, in addition to the Swedish study, I'd say that it's time for a rigorous clinical study on Somatic Education.

Eliminate pain for the long-term.

If passive massage therapy is effective in alleviating the symptoms of back pain and allowing one to continue to be active, then it would stand to reason that an active modality that engages the client in changing the state of their own muscles, would work even better.

I've been a massage therapist for 25 years.  I still give massages, but I let people know that if their pain is chronic (and not just a need for stress reduction), they will get more out of Somatics than out of massage. Once they learn to reverse their pain, they enjoy their massage much more!

Most massage therapists are well trained and certainly well-intentioned.  But even massage therapy doesn't get to the root of why we develop back pain, and how to address it so that people learn to eliminate it.  Chronically tight muscles that are "on" 24/7 have learned to stay contracted (this is what Somatic Educators call Sensory Motor Amnesia), and no amount of kneading, pounding, or passive stretching will change that situation until the brain gives the muscles a signal to relax. That can only come from the client on the table!

Hanna Somatics doesn't just teach people how to reverse their chronic muscle pain. It also teaches them to improve their posture, and improve their flexibility without painful stretching. You also learn to become aware of your movement habits, which helps you regain mastery over your movement in order to prevent injury or recurrence of your pain.

There are a lot of benefits of massage: increased lymph circulation, increased oxygenation of the tissues, and reduction of anxiety are among the benefits. Massage therapy gives you an opportunity to relax, stop moving, stop thinking, and let go. This is why it's so pleasant. It's a mini-vacation. There are no full body brain stem reflexes being invoked while getting a massage (we hope!), so the constant "looping" of brain to muscle "contract" messages takes a break for just a short while.

But because no reeducating of muscles takes place during a massage, the benefit is short-lived. Those in pain who are looking for hard answers and sensible solutions to back pain - and who don't have the money for a weekly massage - can grow frustrated with the need to rely on someone else to alleviate their symptoms.

I welcome a study that compares current medical protocols, massage therapy and Somatic Education. Let's compare, for instance, Hanna Somatic Education, the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, physical therapy, massage therapy, Rolfing, and Pilates (these seem to be the most common "alternative methods" for pain relief) and see which method confers the most benefit for the fewest dollars across the board. It'd be a huge study, but one that would be worth the effort.

Pain Relief DVDs for the Whole Body

I have gotten some wonderful feedback from people about my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.  Here's what people are saying:

This DVD is great! So clear and concise!

  • I'm very pleased with the DVD... It's a class act all the way through. Even my wife was impressed with it on our initial passthrough viewing, and was inspired to get down on the floor several times when something looked especially intriguing.

I just watched your DVD and wanted to tell you how impressed I am with it. It's wonderful!

  • Excellent work on the DVD!  I've run through the complete program twice... and have incorporated the 10/15 minute variations prior to training along with playing around with some movements post-workout.  The DVD/audio has really helped with synchronizing breaths with movements.

I got the DVD... have been through the exercises a couple times.  I can feel a pretty significant difference in the looseness of my hips and back before and after the exercises.

My Pain-Free DVDs will be coming out in the Fall!

On June 20th and 21st I collaborated once again with Coastline Pictures on a series of instructional DVDs that will cover how to release muscle pain for more targeted areas:

The movements you will learn will help you to reverse conditions such as plantar fasciitis, hip joint pain, TMJ, sciatica, knee pain, piriformis syndrome and shallow breathing. You will also learn wonderful, safe "no-stretch stretches" for the hamstrings, calves and psoas muscles.  These DVDs will also be high quality and easy to follow - packed with new movements you can do anytime, anywhere for easy pain relief and improved awareness.You will continue to improve your posture, while educating your brain and muscles to improve balance, coordination and efficiency of your muscles and movement.  These will be a wonderful addition to your Somatics library!

I've received several emails from health professionals who wish to introduce Somatic Movements to their patients. These additional DVDs - just like the first one -  have been created with the understanding that anyone can learn Somatics. The concepts, methods and movements of Hanna Somatic Education are communicated with enough clarity to enable anyone to learn how to reverse their own pain.

To purchase my "basics" DVD, Pain Relief Through Movement, visit the Essential Somatics® store.

Movement That Is Important Should Be Practiced Every Day

My clients are often shocked at how quickly they are able to regain their mobility and reverse their pain using the methods and movement of Hanna Somatics.

They've tried massage, physical therapy, Rolfing, trigger point therapy, chiropractic, injections, surgery, stretching, yoga, and much more, in an effort to eliminate their back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee and foot pain. Many of my clients are, quite frankly, a little skeptical of how quickly they're able to reverse years of chronic pain.

I tell them honestly that the simplest, yet hardest, part of staying pain-free and in control of their body begins when they walk out the door: that's when you have to start paying attention to your daily movement habits.

Taking only a few minutes a day of Somatic Movement practice can make all the difference in their overall health, injury prevention and rehabilitation - especially for those who have suffered injuries throughout their lives. Some people ask me, "so how long do I have to continue doing my Somatics? The rest of my life?!"

You brush your teeth every day, don't you?

If you want to move well for the rest of your life, just take 5, 10, or 15 minutes every day to refresh your muscular system so that your muscles never forget how to move. Reversing your pain and then thinking that you never have to bother with your movement again is like an athlete who gets to the Olympics and thinks he can stop training! Becoming an expert in your own movement will improve your overall health, as well as save you healthcare dollars.

What do you want to be able to do for the rest of your life?

There is an essay in Strength Coach, Dan John's book, Never Let Go, in which he describes the coaching method of Olympic gold medalist and wrestling coach, Dan Gable. The method is quite simple:

                          If it's important, do it everyday. If it's not important, don't do it at all.

This method is sheer brilliance. When it comes to normal, functional, everyday movement (all sports training aside) there are some basics that are non-negotiable. Check out these movements and the Somatic Exercises that address them:

  • Flexing (rounding forward)Arch & Curl
  • Extending (arching backard)Back Lift
  • Side bendingSide Bend, Reach to the Top Shelf
  • TwistingSteeple Twist, Washrag
  • Cross lateral movement - Cross Lateral Arch & Curl, Back Lift, Walking Exercises, Steeple twist
  • Squatting - all of the above

Here's a list of daily tasks that require the above listed movements:

  • Reaching up high to grab something
  • Picking up your own laundry basket and walking up the stairs with it
  • Getting out of your car
  • Twisting around over your shoulder to look as you back out of the driveway
  • Crossing our legs at the knee to tie our shoes
  • Stooping to pick something up, saving yourself when you trip
  • Getting up from a chair
  • Sitting/squatting on the floor to play with your child
  • Walking on uneven surfaces

A daily Somatic Movement practice keeps your brain in control of your muscles, prevents Sensory Motor Amnesia in the case of repetitive tasks and injury, and can be applied to any movement activity you're engaged in: dance, weight lifting, running, swimming, high jumping, frisbee, snowboarding, hiking, rock climbing. A daily practice also helps to prevent over-training injuries and help you recover from old injuries.

Locate a space at home where you can do your movements. Even if you have a favorite evening TV program, budget 5 minutes of Somatics before your program begins.

What's your schedule? Do you have the time, but just not know when to fit it in? There are options on my instructional DVD for shorter routines. Persistence, patience and consistency is the key.

How To Stretch Without Straining

Traditional stretching routines involve forceful pulling or pushing of muscles.

Traditional stretching routines focus on individual muscles rather than on any pattern or group of muscles. This approach to readying muscles for action can cause muscles to become tighter than they were when you started. What works better than traditional, passive stretching? Pandiculation.

A pandiculation is a conscious, deliberate contraction of a muscle, or muscle group, followed by a slow, controlled lengthening of that muscle - followed by complete relaxation. This intentional sensory feedback wakes up the brain (the command center of the muscular system) so that the brain can reset the muscle length and relax the muscle past its previous point of contraction.

You can pandiculate any traditional stretch and make it a "Somatic Stretch." By this I mean an intentional, mindful contraction of the muscles, followed by a slow lengthening of the muscles. When you pay attention to your movement instead of forcing a tight muscle to relax, you will begin the process of reeducating your muscles.

  • You begin to feel which muscles are involved in the movement (back, quadriceps, hamstrings and quadriceps, etc.)
  • You become more conscious of how far you can comfortably lengthen a muscle
  • You begin to feel how much better your muscle control is
  • You begin to learn which muscles, when working together can be involved in your "stretch" in order to more effectively reset muscle length.
  • You begin to learn how to reverse chronic muscle pain (back, neck, shoulders, hips, feet, etc.)

You can pandiculate any traditional "stretch" for greater effectiveness.

Here's a short video example of how to "stretch without stretching." It is of a traditional stretch that worked better when turned into a pandiculation. The young athlete in the video participated in his team's stretching routine. While he had good overall flexibility, his back and hamstrings were tight. This made static stretching a particularly unpleasant experience for him. He enjoyed the following exercise, however:

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Send me your most troublesome traditional stretches (the ones you keep doing because you're told that they're good for you), and I'll be happy to make a short video showing how you can make them into a pandiculation.

Learn how to stretch without stretching for improved awareness, muscle control and injury prevention - and how to move without pain to get the most out of the activities you love to do!

To learn these methods at home for long term pain relief and increased mobility, visit the Essential Somatics® store.

How To Relax Muscles For Rapid Pain Relief

There are so many options for teaching muscles to relax. How do I know which one to choose? I've been a massage therapist for 24 years. I still occasionally give  massages, though my practice is primarily Hanna Somatics.  Recently one of my massage clients told me,  "I'm finally able to sit cross-legged. After 10 sessions of _____ my legs are actually beginning to relax." Beginning to relax... after 10 sessions?! Now, I'm not going to tell you which method she's doing, because I really don't like to disparage any one approach.  However, when it comes to chronic pain or postural imbalances, Hanna Somatics is just about the most effective method available. Our expertise is in teaching you to recognize and reverse your Sensory Motor Amnesia (the root cause of most chronic muscle pain), and it works from the inside-out.

Myth: pain-relief takes time

I use to be a frequent visitor to my favorite Rolfer. I once believed that relaxing muscles and "fixing" chronic pain required a lot of time and that someone had to act upon my muscles from the outside to get them to relax. Most Rolfers ask for a 10-session commitment. They are taught that slowly, but surely, muscles will relax and structure will realign once fascia is relaxed around the muscles. Many massage therapists believe that weekly massages for long periods of time can get rid of muscle spasms. Even more physical therapists and doctors will say that back pain requires visits three times a week for sometimes up to 4 months! Fortunately, from a Somatic Education point of view, I know this to be false. My clinical experience tells me otherwise.

When you understand how muscles are controlled by the brain and the nervous system and how muscles can learn to stay habitually contracted it changes the game plan. When muscles become "frozen" in Sensory Motor Amnesia, the brain literally forgets how to relax the muscles. The muscles must be retrained from within. Machines, weights, kneading, and injections will not change the state of an involuntarily tight muscle.

Long-term pain relief starts now

Through active participation and the technique of pandiculation, muscles can change their contracted state in minutes. Through daily practice your muscles can stay balanced and coordinated for the long term. Forget 10 sessions - how about only 4 or 5 - and sometimes even less. When you experience the rapid change in sensory motor control and self-awareness that you can achieve in one or two clinical sessions of Hanna Somatics, it can change your life and your perspective.

My client who has gone to 10 sessions of _____ could have achieved the same results in 3 sessions of Somatics. She could also relax her contracted shoulders which are out of balance.  Once she did that she could go to _____ and get strong and conditioned more effectively.

Want to keep doing the things you love? Try Somatics.

Once muscles have been reset at the brain level, and your body and movement are balanced and symmetrical, then you can go off and enjoy all the myriad disciplines out there that are fun to do. You'll enjoy your massage more thoroughly, you'll get more out of your weight training, yoga, Pilates, running, or whatever else you love to do.

The commitment to keeping yourself feeling good is yours. I wrote a blog post about how good health is a long-term commitment. It doesn't take long to learn to relax muscles and rid yourself of pain. It takes a lifetime of awareness and joyful movement, however, to keep yourself feeling good. And that, my friends, is free.

Quick Relief For Painful Knees

An old friend stopped in for a brief visit over the summer. He was planning an extended trip overseas and was very concerned. His left knee caused him severe pain, especially when walking or kneeling, and he wanted desperately to be able to enjoy walking while on his trip. He asked me, “Could you please look at his knee? The doctors have all said that I need a knee replacement.” Father Peter is a 82-year-old retired Episcopal priest, still active as an assistant rector in his church in Maryland. He had spent the past several years caring for his ill wife who had just recently passed. He had lifted her, wheeled her around, and sat for days by her bedside. Now, after the death of his wife, he had trouble walking. What he found most troubling, however, was the fact that he couldn’t kneel properly in church. Peter's posture was good - erect and balanced. So where was the problem?

I explained to him that certain muscles involved in sitting, walking and moving his legs were probably tighter than they should be. When muscles are involuntarily tight due to having been overused they don't function well. We needed to restore his muscles to a healthy functioning.

Tight thigh muscles and an immobile kneecap will cause pain.

tendons-of-the-knee-478x500Due to the brevity of our impromptu “session,” I had Peter sit as I palpated his quadriceps muscles.  His right leg was softer, the muscles more pliant. His left leg was hard as a rock. I gently moved his right patella up and down, side to side. There was only slight resistance. His left patella, however, wouldn't move. It refused to budge no matter the direction I moved it.

I explained to Peter how the patellar tendon, which is an extension of the quadriceps tendon, passes over the kneecap and attaches into the tibia. If the quadriceps are too tight (or suffer from Sensory Motor Amnesia), the tendons put pressure on the kneecap, and make it impossible to move. This can cause pain when sitting, kneeling, or walking upstairs – all the activities that bothered him.

Tight muscles require pandiculation to relax and release.

In Hanna Somatic Education our clients learn to pandiculate tight muscles. This resets the muscles length at the level of the central nervous system. Keeping this in mind, I taught Peter to pandiculate the right quadriceps muscles: he extended his leg fully to voluntarily tighten his quadriceps muscles. I told him to watch how the thigh muscle "drew the kneecap up," as if it were sliding on a track. He then slowly relaxed his thigh muscles and watched the kneecap slide back into place. Then he completely relaxed his thigh.

When we did this same movement for the left leg/knee, it was more difficult. At first he simply couldn't move the thigh muscles. He contracted every muscle he could think of except his quadriceps! His brain had simply lost sensation and voluntary control of those muscles, which caused them to "freeze up" and stay tight. After several slow, patient attempts in which he really had to concentrate and focus his attention on the feelings in his muscles, he was finally able to firmly and voluntarily contract the thigh muscles. He watched in amazement as his kneecap slid upward, and then downward, as he slowly and voluntarily relaxed the muscles. We repeated this movement several times (with his foot turned inward, then outward) until the kneecap wiggled easily.

Father Peter stood up, walked around the room, and to his utter amazement pronounced himself pain free. I gave him some gentle, easy Somatic Movements and concepts to do at home that would help him reinforce his progress.  Just yesterday - a month later - I  received this email from him:

Prior to our Somatics session I was hobbling and limping to ease the pain.  Now I go for my evening walks marching like a soldier !!!
To learn the methods and movements of Hanna Somatics for rapid relief of muscle pain purchase my instructional DVD here.

How To Save Money, Time and Agony When It Come To Muscular Pain

It is an understatement to say that most people in the industrialized world live a stressful life. One article from UW Today states,

"Low-back pain continues to impose a huge burden on industrialized societies, in terms of symptoms, medical costs, productivity, and work absence. Annual costs related to back pain in the United States alone may run as high as $100 billion per year."

By the time most people come to see me they've spent a minimum of $1000 in their attempt to cure their pain. Medical copays, personal trainers, months of physical therapy, special exercise equipment, pillows, and pain-relief gadgets can add up. There are myriad treatments as well that attempt to "fix" back pain, and many clients who come for Hanna Somatics sessions have already spent weeks (and often years) doing them in their search for relief from muscle pain and tension: massage therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, physical therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, MRIs, X-rays, medication, to name a few...

Why don't these therapies and popular methods of pain relief work for the long term?

Doctors and therapists who perform these methods approach the problem as a medical pathology. Muscle pain and dysfunction isn't a medical problem, but a functional problem. There is no doubt that poor muscle function can cause structural issues; an uneven gait or limp can cause hip damage. However, preventing structural issues in the first place is of paramount importance. But many doctors don't know how to effectively address muscle and joint pain and postural problems.

So how can I relive my pain for the long term?

The only effective approach to sciatica, piriformis syndrome, low back pain, poor posture, scoliosis, shoulder and hip pain, herniated disks, decreased flexibility, and joint pain (to name a few) is, in most cases, to improve the function of the sensory motor system so that the entire musculoskeletal system functions optimally. This is a functional approach to a functional problem.

To improve the function of the sensory motor system, it is essential to address the root of the dysfunction: Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

Muscles move bones and the brain controls the muscles. If muscles are pulling and pushing on bones and nerves, causing tingling and pain ("entrapment"), there is a reason for it: there is something that you are doing to cause your muscles to contract and stay contracted. Any reflexive response to stress will become habituated in the muscles. That means your muscles will become "frozen" and "stuck." Tight muscles cause pain. Relaxed muscles relieve pain and allow our bones and structure to become balanced again. No doctor or therapy can fix your crooked posture, tight buttock or rounded shoulders. Only you can.

Hanna Somatic Education will give you the tools to address your SMA and to correct it in the future... for the rest of your life.

Pain-Free Pain Relief

I just read an article in the New York Times about Dr. Vijay Vad, a sports medicine specialist from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. He is a doctor who believes in the "power of the mind-body connection" and who sees yoga, exercise, and other alternatives as positives strategies for pain relief. This is truly good news!  With Hanna Somatics I see firsthand how chronic muscle pain can be reversed when the client understands how the brain controls the muscles, and how one's emotional and psychological habits affect one's muscles. He said something, however, that I firmly disagree with: when asked whether or not one needs to be willing to "get worse in order to get rid of pain eventually?" he responded that yes, when it comes to exercises sometimes you have to be willing to deal with getting worse before you get better; that's called "pain desensitization." I don't exactly know what kind of exercises Dr. Vad is referring to, but I teach a method to relieve back pain, neck and shoulder pain and other chronic muscular dysfunctions in which there isn't any "pain desensitization."

The pain doesn't have to get worse before getting better.

Hanna Somatic Education teaches you to relax muscles that have become so tight that nothing you do relaxes them for the long term. It teaches you to use the sensory and motor tracks of your brain to reset and lengthen chronically tight muscles and move - from the inside out - more efficiently.  It's a process of improving the functioning of those tight, painful muscles so that  your exercise or yoga is more effective. You gain awareness, control and balance through gentle, easy movements that anyone can do. After doing Hanna Somatic Exercises, some people report soreness (because, after all, they're relaxing tight, "frozen" muscles and using them in a way they haven't in a long time), but rarely pain. If you're experiencing pain, then you're doing something wrong.

I have seen people relax tight back muscles in one hour of gentle movement and report relief that chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists couldn't achieve. The best thing about it is that they were the ones improving their own bodies and muscular function. You improve muscle function, reverse chronic pain patterns and improve posture, all through a pain free series of gentle movements. Nothing painful or difficult about it.

Practice Makes Improvement

A student of mine recently told me, "you know, I think I'm finally understanding that old habits die hard." She went on to explain that her private one-on-one Somatics sessions had immediately helped to relieve the pain she'd had for years - but that only after several months of doing her daily 15 minute Somatics routine were the changes beginning to stick. What she told me was that permanent change was due to her consistent, patient and diligent self-monitoring and self-correction. Can you imagine if a baby could learn to walk perfectly in one day - or even one week? Can you imagine learning to become a ballerina in a week? Or a Tiger-Woods-level golfer in a month? We all understand that mastering physical skills takes weeks, months and sometimes years to become "second nature." Bad posture, chronic pain and tight, contracted muscles don't happen overnight. They seem to creep up on us because we don't pay attention. Just like a sloppy golf swing or free throw. So changing our "technique" of moving requires diligence, persistence and follow-through.

Yes, private Hanna Somatics sessions can teach you, in some cases, to instantly rid yourself of nagging pain. However, if you want stay that way, it's crucial to consistently practice moving better.  No one ever got good at anything without learning more and practicing.  This is how mastery is achieved. Here are a few things you can do weekly to ensure that you, your muscles and your movement feel good, easy and in control:

  • Do a daily 15-minute Somatics routine
  • Attend a weekly Somatics class
  • Do 3 minutes of gentle Somatic Movements at your desk once every hour during your work day
  • Take a minute to look in the mirror once a day and notice your own posture. If you're out of balance, close your eyes and see if you can self-correct it.
  • When you're walking, notice the way in which you walk

So if you'd like to save money by staying healthy and out of pain, take the time to practice.  We will probably never be perfect, but we can always improve!