Breathe Smarter, Not Harder

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In a recent Fundamentals Immersion Course, I asked the participants to share one aha! moment from the weekend – something they learned about themselves, or about Somatic Movement that was profound for them.

One participant said that “playing with his breath” unlocked his movement. He realized that he had been working too hard to “inhale, and exhale, and inhale, and exhale” as if doing movement drills. At a certain point in the weekend I guided the participants “go with their own breath cycle” and take two breath cycles (a full inhale, gentle exhale, then inhale and exhale gently again) to move into arch and release to neutral. We did the same with the back lift – and the movements felt freer and easier – more pleasant and natural. He was amazed.

Sensory Motor Amnesia and chronic stress can literally take our breath away and we find ourselves “reverse breathing:” sucking our bellies inward as we inhale rather than letting our bellies soften to allow the air to be drawn into the lungs. Breathing itself is a pandiculation – a gentle contraction and release of the diaphragm – so there’s no need to be overly rigid about your breathing. Sometimes we need to experiment with our breath in order to get the most sensation and control out of a movement!

Pandiculate your breathing

Try this: Lie on one side (for the Side Bend). Make sure your head is supported by a pillow or rolled up towel. Take the hand of the underside arm and place it, as feedback, on your topside ribs. Place your topside arm over your head for the “arm sweep variation” of the Side Bend. Inhale, and as you exhale fully, squeeze all the air out of your topside ribs and move into your “accordion,” tightening the waist muscles to allow the head and foot to float up naturally.  As you release, take two full breath cycles to release back to the floor, inhaling gently into your own hand so you can feel what’s opening and releasing through the side of your body. Can you sense more when you take more time to breathe? Repeat that again.

Then, come up into your side bend, hand still on your waist – and stop! Inhale deeply into the underside ribcage. Take your time and allow your ribs to spread open like little mouths sucking in the air. Exhale, and then continue with two breaths to lengthen and release.

Do this on both sides.

How can you play with your breath to get the most out of your practice? Try it and see.

The Fastest Route to a Pain-free Body: Clinical Hanna Somatics sessions

Janet (not her real name) came to my office this week complaining of hip pain. Walking upstairs was painful and laborious - and she was only in her 30's.  She had, as she put it, "a list a mile long of things I've tried" in her search for long term pain relief.  "I'm told I have piriformis syndrome. If I could just get my right buttock to relax, I think I could finally begin to feel better," she said. In a Clinical Somatics session that focused on the Trauma Reflex, Janet learned - very quickly - to release her tight waist muscles, ribcage and trunk rotators.I taught her to release the entire pattern of contraction that was causing her buttock to spasm: her tight buttock, abdominals and abductor muscles. Working with sensory feedback from my hand, she contracted these muscles as a pattern, then slowly released them into a fuller, more relaxed length. This technique is called assisted pandiculation - it resets the muscle control, function and length at the level of the central nervous system.  Twice more she pandiculated those same muscles, until she reached her own comfortable limit, flopping her leg inward easily.  She also learned the Back Lift to begin to relax her tightly contracted back muscles.

What happened next took me by surprise:

She began to yell, "Oh my God, oh my God! I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"

"Are you alright? Does anything hurt?" I asked. She'd scared me!

"No, no, no, it's just that I finally relaxed my buttock! I've been saying this all along and nobody believed me! This is my eureka moment!"

Janet left the office with an ability to move her hips in a way she hadn't been able to for eight years.

Most muscle pain problems are functional in nature, not structural

Why did this clinical Somatics session help her when years of physical therapy, trigger point therapy, massage, acupuncture and medical treatments hadn't? Because Janet's problem wasn't structural; it was functional. She suffered from Sensory Motor Amnesia, the habituated compensatory response to two traumatic accidents. Her muscles had learned to adapt, resulting in a twisted pelvis, altered gait and tight hip joint.  As Janet learned to release the entire pattern of tightness on her right side (and compensatory tightness on her other side) and improve the function of her muscles, her hip pain abated, and her muscle coordination and balance improved.

Janet wasn't completely out of pain. She has more to learn and practice in order to change her old way of holding her body to a new, more free sense of movement. Her brain's "new normal" will take time to integrate. In addition to a few more clinical sessions I told her to attend every Hanna Somatic Movement class and workshop she possibly could.  Being free and in control of your movement involves life-long learning. I give this same advice to every client I work with. While private clinical sessions are profoundly and rapidly effective, attending only a few sessions is like taking a few piano lessons and expecting to perform like Chopin or Mozart!

People often ask, "why do I need to come to class if I'm doing private sessions and feel much better?" The answer is simple: life is dynamic, as is movement. Every day there is the possibility of change and stress. Classes gives you the opportunity to learn more, differentiate your brain and movement, and become more skillful. Learning to override old habits and takes time! The more you sense and feel as you move, the more you can learn. The more you can learn, the more you can master. The more you master an awareness of yourself, from the inside out, the more adaptable and resilient you will be throughout your life. Eventually efficient movement will become your brain's default mode as you become more self-monitoring, self-correcting, and self-healing. Varying your daily Somatic Movement routine with classes and workshops and fun, functional movement makes your brain smarter and keeps you out of pain.

Click here to find a workshop, class or training near you.

Click here to purchase Martha's Pain Relief videos.

Back Pain: It's Time To Ask Why

A mindful approach to back pain

A recent New York Times article discusses a new approach to easing back pain, called "mindfulness-based stress reduction." This method involves "a combination of meditation, body awareness and yoga, and focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of one’s experiences, whether they involve physical discomfort or emotional pain."

The article cites a study conducted on mindfulness meditation and behavioral cognitive therapy for back pain, which reports that "many people may find relief with a form of meditation that harnesses the power of the mind to manage pain."

It is a relief to see an article in a major newspaper that reports a different perspective (a somatic perspective!) on back pain. The somatic perspective is the understanding that we humans are not inanimate objects that can fixed like a broken toy or washing machine, but are self-guiding, self-sensing, self-teaching synergistic systems that are experienced from the inside out and, given the right feedback and stimulation, can improve through retraining of the mind, brain, and body.

Somatic Education pioneers as Elsa Gindler, F.M. Alexander ("the Alexander Technique"), Moshe Feldenkrais, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Thomas Hanna, PhD, have known for decades that by turning our attention inward to the sensations, through movement, of our own bodies, we can affect profound improvement and change our ability to function in an efficient, balanced, coordinated, and controlled manner. We can reverse the adverse effects of stress, relieve our own pain, and improve life through reeducating our brains and our movement.

This paradigm shift was bound to happen because, as the article states,

Sixty-five million Americans suffer from chronic lower back pain, and many feel they have tried it all: physical therapy, painkillers, shots.

This is something I hear every day when I work with clients: "I've tried everything to relieve my pain and only gotten short-term relief. There is something I'm doing - or have done that is causing the pain." I have written previously about the questionable use of MRIs as a diagnostic tool for back pain, as well as why muscle pain is not a medical problem, but a functional problem in need of reeducation.

The Importance of Asking WHY

And yet there is still something missing from the mindfulness approach to healing back pain: an understanding of why back pain (or neck, shoulder, hip, knee or foot pain) occurs and an interest in finding the answer. The simple question, "why does this happen?" is not being asked. When that question is left out of the equation, comments such as this one from the New York Times article, will be repeated:

It may not be for everybody,” [Dr. Goyal] said, noting that some people with back pain find yoga painful.

Until the day that researchers pick up the books and research of Thomas Hanna and begin learning about Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), brain reflexes, and pandiculation, nature's "reboot" for the sensory motor cortex, they will always come up short in their quest to help those in pain. SMA is what researchers and practitioners the world over are looking at when they study back (or neck/shoulder/hip) pain – they just don't know it.

Meditation is a wonderful tool for self-regulation, stress reduction, and pain relief, yet the root cause of muscle pain - the brain, and the way in which it habituates to stress reflexes, and thus organizes and moves our bodies - is where the gold lies. When you lose the ability to sense and move yourself fully, you will find yourself moving with less freedom, more pain, and more frustration. The answer lies within you and your ability to regain your movement. Without addressing the sensory motor system, brain reflexes, and how and why muscles become tight and painful, studies will continue to report that "this approach doesn't work for everyone."

And that would be a shame for those 65 million back pain sufferers across the United States.

Activation Exercises For Improved Athletic Performance - Part 1 - Strength Training

A lot of athletes have asked me for a daily routine of Somatic Exercises to serve as "activation exercises." Activation exercises are a short series of exercises that will prepare you to move well.

Hanna Somatic Exercises are activation exercises as well as "deactivation exercises."

A large component of strength is full muscle control. Traditional athletic training teaches us how to "activate" (or contract) our muscles. But there is very little emphasis on learning to "deactivate" (or relax) our muscles back to their original and optimum resting length. Hanna Somatic Exercises teach you to pandiculate, which allows you to fully contract, and then de-contract your muscles for more potential for strength. Pandiculation is the safer, more effective alternative to stretching.

A word before you begin:

These movements are movement patterns - not "exercises" as such. No stretching is required - just slow, yawn-like pandiculations. Please do not "do" these movements; "create" these movements through use of the breath, as you move slowly, with conscious attention to the quality of the movement. You can't sense quality if you're moving quickly! And your ability to do ballistic movement depends on your control and quality of movement. If you want to go fast, first go slow so you know what you're doing.

The point of Somatic Exercises is to to eliminate accumulated muscle tension before you begin training and then reduce any accumulated muscle tension after your training. Accumulated tension occurs due to over-training, injuries, accidents, poor postural habits and the stresses of daily life.  Address the muscular system at the level of the brain and nervous system, and you quickly restore full muscle length and function and relearn optimal movement patterns.

Here are a few Somatic Exercises that will ready your entire body in the same way a cat or dog readies itself for action every time it gets up off the floor. We have all seen cats and dogs pandiculate when they get up from rest. They do that reflexively. If they didn't pandiculate, they would lose the ability to move as swiftly and adeptly as they do.

As you move through these Somatic Exercises treat them as the preparation for movement that they are; there's no need to go quickly, there's no need to tick repetitions off your mental clipboard. Treat them like the lengthening yawn that they are. Put your focus on the patterns that you're moving through. Stop for just a few seconds between repetitions as well as each individual movement pattern in order to allow your brain to absorb the sensory feedback you are sending it. This momentary pause will integrate new proprioceptive awareness once you stand up again and begin working out.

Please note: It is assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of Somatic Movements. The best way to use Somatic Exercises to support your workout is to learn as much as you can. Consider having a longer morning routine in which you pandiculate the extensors, flexors and trunk rotators. Then, when you get to the gym, three short, slow Somatic Exercises will suffice to sufficiently "reboot" your somatic awareness and muscle control for full recruitment of the muscles needed for your workout and full relaxation when you're finished.

Try the Somatic  Exercises in this video. They are basic human movements necessary to all sports: extension, flexion and cross lateral movement. You can apply them to any sport:

  • Arch and Flatten - extension and flexion - and a return to and awareness of neutral
  • Back Lift - extension of the spine through the posterior diagonal line
  • Cross Lateral Arch and Curl - flexion of the spine through the anterior diagonal line

Thanks to Colm McDonnell of ClinicalSomatics.ie for his collaboration on this post.

Good Health Doesn't Just Happen

One of my colleagues recently wrote me an uplifting email. I thought I'd share it with you.

I had a doctor's appointment last week, complete with blood work (which I have done every 6 months). My lab stats were even better than they were last time - and last time my doctor said they were "perfect!" So despite my perfect stats, the stats just keep on getting better and better.  I had another doctor appointment yesterday, and told her about the stats from my last visit. She looked them up and she commented that "good health like that doesn't just happen."I feel I am living proof of the unlimited potential to improve all aspects of our health - not just relief of aches and pains - as we continue to strengthen sensory motor awareness.  I'm wondering who out there who has a daily practice of Hanna Somatic is experiencing the same benefits?

Improving one's sensory motor awareness - the sense of what it feels like to be "you" as you live and respond in your life - has myriad benefits: reduction of muscular pain, improved brain to muscle control, improved joint stability and strength, and increased neural pathways in the brain due to movement differentiation and pandiculation. A body that is under the voluntary control of one's brain is a body whose autonomic nervous system is also more likely to function optimally.

As a Hanna Somatic Educator and trainer my goal is to teach people to move through life pain-free, with choice, mastery and joy. It can be done.

The Mystery of "Muscle Knots" Solved: Sensory Motor Amnesia

There is some confusion as to what "muscle knots" are and where they come from. This article from the New York Times posits: "How do they happen and how can they be prevented? Are they harmful and should they be treated?" Allow me to answer these questions in the simplest way possible:

"Muscle knots" are not mysterious; they are areas of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

Sensory Motor Amnesia is habituated muscle tension that develops when we become habituated to stress and/or certain ways of moving. These areas of accumulated, learned muscular tension are stuck at the level of the central nervous system and cannot, physiologically, release and relax.

If you've ever had back, neck or shoulder pain and gone to a massage therapist to work the knots out of your back, only to have the knots return, it seems that there is little that can be done. Not so. The reason these knots seem to stick around despite the best massage therapist's effort, and why they don't show up on scans and MRIs is because what is happening in the muscle is a neurological event in the brain - a functional problem of the sensory motor system. SMA is not a medical problem that can be diagnosed through conventional medical methods. It is a functional  problem of the sensory motor system that can be easily "unlearned" through Hanna Somatic Education.brain-side

Muscle knots can be prevented first and foremost by understanding how SMA develops in your brain due to repetitive stress responses and/or repetitive, habituated movement habits. Muscles have two functions: contract and relax. When muscles can no longer fully relax this is an indication that you have accumulated muscle tension that you are no longer fully aware of. The only way to fully release these "knots" is to make sure that the brain is fully in control of the muscles.

Muscles knots are only harmful when they get in the way of free, efficient movement.

Movement is medicine, movement is life, and painful muscle tension can cause you to move less efficiently and, for most people, minimize the amount of movement you do. In order to live a healthy, free life we need to be able to move strongly, vigorously, and with endurance for as long as we live. If you're not planning on moving a lot then muscle knots won't hurt you. The lack of movement will, however.

Treatment of tight muscles doesn't work. Reeducation of tight muscles does.

If you want to untie a knot, you must look at the cord carefully then gently undo the tangle. Yanking on the cord will only make the knot tighter.

- Thomas Hanna

Muscle knots can't really be "treated" successfully - for the long term.  Treatment is what bodyworkers and doctors do when they attempt to fix tight muscles (or postural imbalances) from the outside; there are therapists who can help provide short term relief, yet muscle tension Pandiculation demonstrated (1)develops from the inside out (Sensory Motor Amnesia) and, since humans are self-regulating, self-sensing beings, not cars or bicycles that need fixing, their muscles must be educated so they can contract and release fully in order to get rid of muscle knots.

Through active involvement of the brain - rather than through manual manipulation - people can more easily and safely learn to  eliminate muscle knots, restore full muscle function in all planes of gravity and prevent them from coming back by doing three simple things:

  • Become aware of your daily movement habits and reflexive responses to stress. Repetitive contraction of muscles without full relaxation creates muscle knots.
  • Learn to pandiculate instead of stretch. Animals pandiculate up to 40 times a day!
  • If you have chronic muscle tension, learn how to eliminate your patterns of Sensory Motor Amnesia with a daily routine of Somatic Exercises**

Muscle knots are not an inevitable part of life; they are a symptom of stress adaptation.

**You can also learn to eliminate your patterns of SMA through a series of hands-on clinical Somatics sessions with a skilled and certified practitioner.

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!

How To Move Vigorously Without Stiffness and Pain - Hanna Somatics For Hiking

In the course of a typical training day in Clinical Somatic Education we have a full 60 minute somatic movement class followed by hIMG_4994ands-on pandiculation work and clinical practice, and more somatic movement exploration geared towards what we will teach our clients. Hanna Somatic Exercises, part of any Clinical Somatics session, are true "restorative exercises" that involve pandiculation rather than stretching. A hands-on, assisted pandiculation (the main clinical method used in Hanna Somatics) confers a deep release of muscles as well as renewed sensory and motor control. It sends strong feedback to the sensory motor cortex in order to "reboot" voluntary control of formerly restricted movement. The end result is that you are able to recruit and activate the muscles you need for a given action, rather than those you don't need.

Pandiculation and Somatic Exercises takes the brakes off your movement so you can move efficiently and freely in any given activity.

A recent training module in Norway lasted 10 full days. On a day off halfway through, we visited one of Norway's most spectacular natural landmarks: the Preikestolen, an extraordinary 604 meter cliff overlooking the Lysefjorden. The guide book said that the 2.4 mile would take two hours.

The path was rocky and steep, with giant rock steps and occasional boulders, as well as stretches of beautiful wooden walkways. We reached the top in 90 minutes, a full half hour faster than expected. After a simple lunch on a solitary outcropping of rock we literally skipped down the mountain, rock to rock, jumping and zig-zagging (and yes, walking when necessary). Our desire to skip, jog and dance down the mountain occurred spontaneously. It was something I recall doing as a teenager climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Rather than my knees and hips aching when I reached the bottom, my knees felt perfectly fine, strong and solid. My hips felt loose and relaxed.

The next day when we resumed class we discussed our hiking IMG_4979experience. None of us has daily access to a mountain like the Preikestolen or this kind of vigorous training on a daily basis, so we were elated, yet not surprised to discover that not a one of us was sore. Our hips, back, knees and feet felt great. Why was it that we could do such a strenuous hike and feel strong and exhilarated rather than sore and stiff the next day?

Somatic Exercises and pandiculation prepares you to move well.

The answer lies in what Somatic Exercises and pandiculation confer: brain control of muscles, efficient movement and optimum coordination. Yes, they also teach you how to relieve chronic muscle pain for the long term, yet that only occurs once you regain voluntary control of your muscles. 

If you want to be able to move vigorously in any given sport or activity - whether hiking, weight lifting, cycling, walking the dog, running, climbing stairs, or carrying your own groceries - you can do it without pain and residual soreness when you do Somatic Exercises. You may have discomfort while moving vigorously (muscles that are being taxed can feel uncomfortable when they're finally being used and stressed), but that's not the same thing as pain. Regaining freedom of movement and staying in control of your body and movement despite the stresses of your daily life is a learned skill that you can learn no matter your age. I can't wait for my next hike!

Click here for information about the Myth of Aging retreat at Hollyhock August 19 - 22, 2015.

Click here for information about the Myth of Aging Somatics and Yoga retreat in Bali in October, 2015. A full week of Somatic Movement, outdoor activities, Yoga and meditation.

Back Pain After Gardening?

I want to share the following article by Karyn Clark, one of my clinical students from the UK. For all you gardeners out there who are gearing up for the summer season, read this! It will give you some pointers about how to recuperate from a day of wonderful, yet repetitive gardening.

 

11160009_870839839648700_6727914488985578643_nThe author, pandiculating in her garden.

It struck me whilst out gardening over the weekend how many people like me jump at the chance of a nice sunny day to get out into the garden and cram in as much as possible before the rain comes or it’s time to go back to work. We pull, we dig, we shovel, we hit.

For many, we do more physical activity in those 4-6 hours than we have done since the last time we were out in the garden. People spend a lot of time reaching, bending and reaching, stretching up and reaching, pushing their bodies that little bit further to get to that last branch or weed at the back of the flower bed. They dig and plant, bend and pull. All in all, they spend the majority of the day with their back in an over-stretched forward flexion position. Then it happens...the stiffness, the tightening, the inability to move any further because of the back pain. For most it’s that deep aching across the low back. For others it's more intense radiating further into the buttocks or down the legs.

So what do we do? We hobble back into the house, chuck our clothes in a heap and sink into a nice hot bath. "Ahhhhhh," it feels so good! The pain is easier; we relax, as do the muscles, deeply.After a good half an hour we get out. Our poor relaxed muscles are required once again to jump to it and do their job, stabilizing and moving the joints of the body. As we get dried and dressed we sadly realize that the stiffness and pain is actually still there.“STRETCH” we think “I need to stretch!" NOW STOP! Lets go back over this:You’ve spent all day stretching, bending, reaching, attempting to contort yourself into positions that Iyengar would be proud of. Is stretching really the answer? I’m afraid not.

The science of stretching versus pandiculation

So you’ve been stretching inadvertently all day, evoking the "stretch reflex," also called the myotatic reflex. It is a pre-programmed response by the body to a stretch stimulus in the muscle. When a muscle spindle is stretched an impulse is immediately sent to the spinal cord and a response to contract the muscle is received. This reflex protects muscles from tearing.

By stretching further we continue to evoke and deepen the stretch reflex, yet many people when in pain are so desperate to alleviate it they continue to just push it that bit further in a vain attempt to release the pain. The best idea is to  stop stretching and try something different: pandiculation.

If the muscle is contracted and stuck in that pattern of contraction we need to reset the brain; after all it is the brain and the nervous system that controls the muscles, so lets start with that. We need to re-set something called the Alpha Gamma feedback loop, also known as Alpha Gamma Co-activation. This feedback loop ensures optimum functioning of the muscle's length from contraction all the way to relaxation.

A muscle starts at a certain length. When the muscle is stretched, the muscle spindle stretches and the fibres fire more strongly. When the muscle is released from the stretch and contracts, the muscle spindle becomes slack, causing the fibres to fall silent. The muscle spindle is rendered insensitive to further stretches of muscle. To restore sensitivity, gamma motor neurons fire and cause the spindle to contract, thereby becoming taut and able to signal the muscle length again.

When we pandiculate we start by tightening into the contracted pattern that the muscle is involuntarily stuck in and then lengthening out of it in order to retrain the muscle to relax. This re-sets the Alpha-Gamma Co-Activation loop. To pandiculate means to "yawn." When we yawn we contract and then slowly release, thus relaxing the muscle. Animals pandiculate, babies pandiculate, many adults pandiculate upon waking.

So the next time you’re gardening, firstly be kind to yourself, take regular breaks, lay down and pandiculate throughout day to help prevent the back from going into spasm. And if it it does, don’t stretch!

When your back starts to ache, lie down (like Karyn in the photo at top) and do the basic somatic movement called Arch and Flatten. This simple Somatic Exercise will teach your back muscles to release and relax. You can do it on the lawn in the middle of your gardening day. Allow the movement to flow with your breath and make sure it feels good. Arch and Flatten just may become your best friend!

Movements That Don't Feel Good For My Hip

As promised, in my last post I shared my daily Somatics routine. In this post I'll discuss the movements that don't feel good for my body and hip, as well as movements I enjoy that help me feel strong without stressing my hip and causing pain. To start, here's what I've learned about my labral tears:

Because I can't fix the structural problem I need to listen to my body, move in a way that feels good and stay away from movements that cause pain. I had to get past my self-competitive nature and embrace acceptance of what I can't change and know that I can be strong, healthy and happy without pushing my body into places that don't serve it. It's calling letting go of your ego. Not always easy.

Movements that aren't pleasant for me:

Running. Though I like to run a block, walk, run another block, then walk, I can only do this a few times. Not having equal structural stability in my right hip simply causes my brain and muscles to come down just a bit harder on the right side. I wind up quite sore for a day if I do this and it puts unnecessary stress on my hip joint. It's not worth it.

"Core strengthening:" Sit ups, certain Pilates mat exercises. Why? Because the more I tighten my "core" the more it hurts my right hip. Sounds odd, right? Not really. Many people with a labral tear also have a cyst on their hip. Their hip joint structure isn't symmetrical. This can create some sensitivity that those without tears don't have.

Look at an anatomy chart and you'll see where the abdominal muscles insert into the pubic bone, the pelvis and you'll get a better idea of how excessive strengthening exercises can create pressure and tightness into the hip joint.

The best abdominal/core strengthening for me is functional body weight movement like vigorous hiking. I also love the movements of Exuberant Animal. They're fun, functional, creative and strengthening.

Fast twisting movements: Zumba doesn't work for me. It's simply too fast and one is never able to get to the full range of the muscle, nor have enough time to learn to do the movement properly. Slow hip movements are great, but super fast? It serves no purpose that I can see.

Stretching: Stretching only makes muscles tighter and, when done statically, invokes the stretch reflex. I pandiculate - a lot. And it means that I move in a comfort range that is right for me and optimum for my muscles.

I have had to become extremely aware of my tendency to revert to the original pattern that likely caused the tears in the first place: the Trauma Reflex. When stress hits most people revert to their most deeply familiar habit. For me it's the Trauma Reflex. Don’t worry. The beauty of the human brain is that we have the capacity to be internally aware of and in control of these habits. This leads to the ability to be self-correcting, self-actualizing and self-healing. We can start all over again every minute of the day.

Becoming aware of how you emotionally respond to stress is a critical part of the process. Do you cringe into that hip? Do you tighten your back, hunch your shoulders? Does that hip begin to ache when you’re stressed? Has it never occurred to you that your emotional or psychological state is connected to how your muscles move and how you feel in your body?

The lesson is to learn to listen to yourself, sense the information your brain is giving you about your body and move in ways that create pleasure, learning, growth and strength. It's a life long process that makes us smarter and more resilient.

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?

Pandiculation - "Dynamic Stretching" Squared

In a  New York Times article about stretching, Gretchen Reynolds reported on the largest study ever conducted on the effectiveness of stretching. The results showed that...

Stretching makes no difference one way or the other as far as injury prevention is concerned.

The percentage of those runners assigned to do 20 second static stretches before every run, was identical to the group assigned to the "no stretching" regimen. The study was conducted over the course of three months.

Dr. Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the Web site The Science of Sport said, “There is a very important neurological effect of stretching. There is a reflex that prevents the muscle from being stretched too much." This is  what Hanna Somatic Educators have taught their clients for years: the reflex Dr. Tucker refers to is called the "stretch reflex." It is invoked by static stretching, and induces the muscle to contract back against the stretch, in effect making it tighter than it was before. This is a reflex that protects the muscle from trauma.

Reynolds goes on to write:

Dynamic stretching, or exercises that increase your joints' range of motion via constant movement, does not seem to invoke the inhibitory reflex of static stretching, Dr. Tucker said. When "you stretch through movement, you involve the brain much more, teaching proprioception and control, as well as improving flexibility."

Pandiculation improves muscle function at the level of the central nervous system.

Hanna Somatic Educators have been teaching students for decades not to stretch to change muscle length, but rather to pandiculate. Pandiculation is a brain reflex action pattern that animals do - often up to 40 times a day. Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does: he'll put his front paws out and contract his back as he relaxes his belly in a yawn-like lengthening. He may even do the same with his legs. This "wakes up" the muscular system at the level of the  brain and ensures the the brain is always in control of the muscles.

The action of pandiculation restores muscle length, function and brain level control of muscles and movement as it re-educates all movements of a muscle: concentric, isometric (when you hold the contraction for just a second) and eccentric. The brain "takes back" that part of the muscle's length and function that it had lost voluntary control of - the part that was "stuck" or full of tension. Pandiculation sends a strong signal to the sensory motor cortex, which in turn serves to "reboot" the function of the  muscles for greater sensation, motor control, balance, proprioception, and coordination.

Pandiculation of over-trained and tight muscles can prevent knee, hip, and back injuries when running.

Phil Wharton, well known author of the Wharton Stretch Book, now agrees that contracting a muscle first, then moving it through its range of motion is much more effective than simple, static stretching. Dynamic stretching, however similar to pandiculation, is not the same as pandiculation, nor is it as effective. The key to freer movement in any sport or activity is freedom of movement in the center of the body. If you don't release and re-pattern the large muscles of the center - from which all movement originates - you will experience only short term improvement. Think of an animal, first contracting its back muscles, then slowly and deliberately lengthening them only as far as is comfortable for them to go - then doing the exact same thing with the muscles of the front of the body.

You may have a favorite athletic stretch; explore a way to pandiculate it: tighten into the tight muscles first, then slowly lengthen away to the end of your comfortable range. Then completely relax. This can be done with hamstrings, quadriceps, waist muscles, triceps, biceps, you name it!

Here is a short video that shows a couple of easy pandiculations you can do prior to your run. Try them out and see what you think. To learn these and other Somatic Exercises that can teach you to reverse your pain and regain freedom of movement, click here.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8J5fDdCpF4]

Getting Back to Basics in 2015

2014 was a brilliant year for Hanna Somatics. Thank you to all those around the world - from Australia to Calgary, the UK, Norway, Germany, and the US - who supported me in my teaching and trainings. Thankfully, the word "somatic" is no longer foreign to most people's ears. New, more somatic, and exploratory movement disciplines are becoming more popular. Yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, personal trainers, massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths are teaching Somatic Exercises as a complement to their primary practice.

The people I taught around the world this past year are thirsting for a somatic approach to pain relief and mindful, life long movement. They understand that the body, which for many is the source of unhappiness, can be our own powerful "canary in the mineshaft" that signals an imbalance - in all areas of our lives. One of the safest gateways to "re-membering" who you are, what you want and what is basic to your quality of life is through your own somatic experience: your body.

Many turn away from the slow, mindful somatic exercises as "too boring" or "too slow." I understand that. Yet when it comes to learning to master movement, slow is the new fast.

We run marathons, but we cannot breathe into our bellies or swing our hips. We cannot move slowly, but we strive to do 100 sit-ups as fast as we can. We have back pain, but rush around taking care of others with no time for ourselves. We don't see that our emotions and lifestyle have a profound impact on our muscle tension and level of happiness. There's a disconnect here that, over time, will translate into a "what happened to me?!" experience that just may be your wake up call.

Enter "the basics."

I love Dan John's blog post, Going From Point A To Point B. His advice may be geared towards strength training, yet it is a life lesson that, to my ears, is purely somatic: if you want to get to Point B (the Olympics, Super Bowl, weight loss) you need to know where Point A is. Once you know where Point A is you can map out a direct line to your goal. Point A, from my perspective as a Somatic Educator is what it feels like to be in your body - right now, today. But there's more...

The Basics

A free and easy walk. If your goal is to run a marathon, but your pelvis is rigiIMG_7079d, your legs don't swing easily and you "clunk" when you walk... you need to learn to walk freely. The is the quintessential human movement. We want to be able to walk - unaided - well into old age.

Pandiculate often! If you still stretch, learn to pandiculate. Cats and dogs pandiculate up to 40 times a day. Pandiculation restores full muscle function and length. Just slowly lengthen out your limbs, as if you were just waking up from a nap.

The ability to hike your hips up and down (like a slow salsa). If you don't know where your waist muscles are and can't isolate them one at a time, it's time to learn. Hips and a pelvis that move up, down, forward and back contribute to fluid walking.

The ability to move your shoulders in opposition to your hips (think shoulder shimmies). Do your shoulders move in gentle opposition to your hips when you walk or do you walk like a refrigerator, solid as a block with no movement in the center, swaying back and forth? If yes, then this is why you might be losing your balance. If your shoulders are stiff, your hips will be stiff. They're connected. That's basic.

The ability to twist through the torso. If you walk stiffly (see above) and can't remember IMG_1769the last time you twisted your upper body in opposition to your lower body, it's time to regain that skill. Your spine needs to be able to twist to help you walk freely.

Sadly, many people have completely lost connection with a sense of what it feels like to be in their bodies. For them Point A is taking the time to learn to sense yourself. Take all the time you need because what you cannot sense you cannot control. This applies to your body, your life, your choices and your dreams. Change comes first through awareness, then patient, persistent and fun practice.

All these basic movement skills can be learned through Somatic Exercises.

Click here for Pain-Free and Move Without Pain DVDs.

Click here to attend a class.

Click here to find a practitioner who can help you learn to move well in 2015.

Video Tips: Eliminate Foot Pain, Plantar Fasciitis, and Heel Pain

Plantar fasciitis begins in the center of your body and works its way out to the periphery.

In this post I described the Clinical Somatic approach to plantar fasciitis.  It's not simply a condition of the feet, but a lack of control in the muscles of the lower leg as well. Let's recap the steps to eliminating plantarfasciitis (and other general pain in your feet):

  • Determine whether or not you have imbalances in the large muscles of your core: the back, waist, abdominal muscles. (Scroll down on this blog post for an awareness exercise that will help you.) Remember: accidents, injuries and stress can cause Sensory Motor Amnesia, which alters your sensory awareness of how you stand, walk, and move.
  • Begin learning how to relieve muscle pain and regain your sense of self-awareness. Restoring muscle control in the center of the body allows the periphery - the feet, knees and lower legs, to move more easily.
  • Here are some basic movements that will begin to teach you to release the muscles of the core for more ease of movement. A hiked hip or twisted pelvis can result in a leg length discrepancy, an altered gait and lower leg muscles that work too hard. The most common pattern of muscular contraction with plantar fasciitis involves tight gluteal muscles, a tight lower back on the same side as the painful foot, and tight lower leg muscles. In this post are links to several movements that will to slowly reverse some of the painful muscular tightness that adversely affects one's gait and contributes to plantar fasciitis.
  • Wear thinner footwear (or go barefoot, if possible). Lems Shoes and SoftStarShoes are terrific and comfortable shoes. Read this article about shoes, in which orthopedist Philip Lewin describes how there is a sensory foot/body, foot/brain connection vital to body stability, equilibrium, and gait.
  • Learn to stand straight  in a relaxed, tall posture.
  • Lastly, try the movements on this video to directly release the muscles of the lower leg. The best way to approach muscle pain is to release muscle imbalance in the center of the body first and then release the muscles of the lower leg for easy, smooth movement.  If you attempt to fix your pain by addressing just one area of the body it often doesn't work for the long term - just like attempting to spot reduce those thighs (or buttocks or belly).

Stretching does not eliminate pain. Pandiculation is more effective and safer than stretching.

The technique I demonstrate in this video is called pandiculation. It is not stretching! Stretching is passive and can cause muscles to become tighter. Pandiculation is active and teaches muscles to move more efficiently. It resets the brain's sensation and control of muscles and movement and is the most rapid and effective way to reverse chronic pain. Stretching is passive and does not reeducate muscles that have learned to stay tight due to overuse, stress reflexes or accidents. If you want more efficient muscles that can be recruited rapidly, learn to pandiculate.

 

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Click here for my easy-to-follow instructional DVDs.

Labral Tears - Surgery or Not?

Releasing painful muscles is the first step in hip pain relief.

In my last post I wrote about chronic hip pain, what is counterproductive for it, and what works from my perspective as a Hanna Somatic Educator,

  • Strengthening painful hip muscles can cause further pain or injury.
  • Learning to relax the muscles of the hip joint and the compensatory full body pattern of contraction in which the muscles are stuck can provide long lasting pain relief, relaxed hip joints, and balanced movement.
  • Understanding Sensory Motor Amnesia and the Trauma Reflex, the root cause of chronic hip pain, will help you understand how to intelligently regain pain-free movement of the hip.

Exercises such as the "clam shell" or "butterfly," and lateral leg lifts only serve to tighten the hip muscles even more, making it more difficult to move the hip. Often they create more pain, not less. Sitting with the soles of the feet together and pushing the knees out to stretch out the inner thighs can cause tight adductors to contract back against the force of the stretch. Even psoas stretches performed in isolation, can induce the stretch reflex, causing muscles to tighten back against the stretch. This further reduces the amount of control your brain has over your muscles.

Muscles that the brain cannot fully contract nor fully release are muscles that cause pain.

  • Address the pattern of contraction, not the individual muscles.
  • Pandiculation is the most effective way of regaining muscle function, improving movement and resetting muscle length. When you contract a muscle first, then lengthen and relax it you address muscle function at the level of the nervous system.

I hope some of you tried a few of the Hanna Somatic Exercises I included in my last post. Here is a wonderful variation of one of my favorite Somatic exercises: the Steeple Twist. This variation, made by Charlie Murdach (a Hanna Somatic Educator and Feldenkrais practitioner) shows how differentiating movements with the hips creates improved overall movement. Remember to go slowly and only as far as is comfortable. "Micro-movements" are perfectly fine!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGuBU-1M0xM&feature=relmfu]

All these movements are a good beginning to learning to relax the muscles involved in the "trauma reflex."

Improved body awareness and muscle control is crucial when you have structural damage.

If you know that you are injured, but your doctor tells you it's nothing to worry about, then it's critically important to focus your attention on how your brain and muscles are compensating to deal with the injury (Sensory Motor Amnesia), and how that is changing the way in which you move. Unconscious and habituated functional problems left unchecked can, over the years, result in structural damage.

Do you have to be A-Rod to get a good doctor?

About a year ago I finally convinced my doctor to give me an X-ray on my hip. I had intermittent hip pain that I knew intuitively wasn't merely a functional issue.  The X-ray showed a tumor on my hip and an MRI confirmed a tumor, the result of two labral tears. My surgeon, a well known sports medicine doctor here in New Jersey, took time to show me my results: labral tears, osteoarthritis, and a tumor. He told me that, "there's just not enough science out there about labral tears to go ahead and do the surgery."

Unrepaired labral tears could create the need for a hip replacement in years to come.

Before my appointment was over, I asked my doctor if he thought that not repairing the tear in my hip soon would set me up for a full hip replacement in the future, due to compensation over time. His reply: "Yes, that just might be the case."

As I said in my first post about hip pain, it didn't take Alex Rodriguez's doctors long to figure out that if the Yankees were going to get their star player back on the field, earning his millions and hitting home runs, labral tear surgery was a must. ASAP. Why was there no absence of scientific data there?

So where does this leave the rest of us?

Recovery from labral tear surgery is no walk in the park, especially if you have no addressed the Trauma Reflex that got you there in the first place; it can't be solved by surgery. Surgery helps to repair the structural damage (which is wonderful), but it doesn't address the Sensory Motor Amnesia that alters movement in the first place.

The winning combination: Surgery + skilled physical therapy + Hanna Somatic Education = focus on regaining full functioning of the body as an integrated whole

While the jury's not out about what route I will have the option to take, improving my own sensory motor system and paying attention to my daily movement habits is critical to create long-lasting pain relief.

 

Pandiculation: The Best Alternative to Stretching

The jury is out. Traditional stretching makes you tighter over time and is considered counter-productive and unnecessary. So what's the alternative? In the book, Somatics, Thomas Hanna offers the only alternative that really works to release tight muscles and re-set muscle function at the level of the central nervous system: Pandiculation. Since the beginning of time all vertebrate animals - and all humans - have naturally and spontaneously prepared themselves for action using the brain reflex pattern called pandiculation.

First let's take a quick look at why traditional stretching doesn't work. This simple explanation is excerpted from my book, Move Without Pain:

It's helpful to understand a few basic facts about muscles:

  • Muscles are attached to bones, and bones never move unless the muscles attached to them move.
  • Muscles never move unless directed to do so by the brain. The brain controls the entire muscular system. Muscles are controlled by the central nervous system.

When you stretch, it is safe to assume that there is some level of contraction or tightness in the muscle that you want to loosen.

Now let’s think logically: if you have a muscle that is chronically tight, you have a muscle that is holding tension. The involuntary part of the brain is, for some reason, telling that muscle to remain tight. That muscle is no longer under the brain’s conscious or voluntary control.

Physically pulling on a muscle with the intention of lengthening it by force or by use of gravity is... well... 1280px-Drew_Bledsoe_stretchingjust physical. It doesn’t require any deliberate action on the part of the brain. Remember—the brain controls the muscle.

Pulling a tense muscle past its maximum length evokes the stretch reflex, a protective spinal cord reflex that contracts the muscle back against the stretch in order to protect the muscles from trauma. Your nervous system is trying to help you. It’s saying, “Wait! Stop!” When we ignore the stretch reflex, we rish a further tightening of the muscle, or, in the worst-case scenario, a muscle strain or injury.

So what’s missing? In order to fully release muscle tension and restore muscle function, the brain needs to be involved. Only then will optimum muscle length and coordination be restored. Involving the brain will help disrupt the vicious cycle of contraction that keeps our muscles tight.

Pandiculation and Hanna Somatic Exercise is the deepest level of fitness available.

The alternative to stretching is pandiculation, a brain reflex pattern which "wakes up" your brain's ability to sense the muscles that are tight and painful, then allows it to restore optimum length and function in a slow, safe, controlled manner.  This voluntary actionIMG_3583 resets the brain to muscle connection in a way that stretching can't. It is the inability to fully control your muscles that keeps you from moving freely and efficiently. If your brain isn't in control of your muscles you wind up working too hard. You use muscles you don't need to use. This isn't true "fitness." The ability to access the full range of a muscle as well as relax it when it's no longer needed for an action is an essential part of fitness and strength.

Because pandiculation sends strong sensory feedback to the cortex of the brain, essentially "turning on the light" in your sensory motor system and improving voluntary control and proprioception you become more body smart. Stretching, which generally causes you to move into pain, overriding a protective spinal cord reflex (the "stretch reflex") makes you less aware of your body and can be potentially harmful.

A daily routine of Somatic Exercises is all you need to "warm up" for your sport or get ready for your day.

Since I started doing Somatic Exercises I've actually gotten better at soccer. I've had hip injuries in the past, but now I can use the muscles I actually need for kicking instead of muscles I don't need, which is what I used to do to compensate for my injuries.

Somatics added a whole new element of movement to my game.

- Z.I., United States Air Force

Somatic Exercises use pandiculation to restore brain control of muscles and movements. In arch and flatten you arch your back slowly and relax the front of your body; this is a pandiculation for all the muscles on the back of the body. The side bend is a highly effective pandiculation of the oblique muscles (waist muscles) of trunk rotation and side bending. This exercise is critical for a smooth gait and easy walking.

Somatic Exercises are simple and basic movement patterns found in all activities. They prepare you to move well in any given activity and can easily replace stretching as a more pleasurable and effective way of readying you for action.

For more information about how you can learn to properly teach Somatic Exercises, learn more about Essential Somatics® trainings. To contact Martha for a private clinical session of Hanna Somatics, click here.

Kinesio Tape: Does It Really Work?

In a previous blog post, Muscle Pain: Is It Really A Medical Condition, I wrote about why the study of Somatic Education should be a part of medical school curriculum. I'd like to take the discussion further. In the 2012 Olympics many saw an interesting addition to the uniforms of athletes: colorful stripes of tape on the shoulders, backs, and legs. This Kinesio Tape was the "therapy" of choice on the part of the supporting medical staff caring for the Olympic athletes. The goal was to ease muscle pain and improve muscle function.

Kinesio Tape is elasticized tape that is thought to relief muscle pain and improve muscle function. Statistical evidence supporting the use of Kinesio Tape is insignificant, yet more and more professional athletes are using it. Power Balance bracelets were all the rage not too long ago, so perhaps this is a similar trend. This tells me that people aren't basing their choices on science, but rather on celebrity popularity.

Kinesio Tape is not a long-term solution to muscle pain or muscle dysfunction.

Better movement doesn't come from applying Kinesio Tape to one's body any more than a better tennis swing will come from wearing the same tennis outfit as Serena Williams. Reeducating movement patterns will improve movement.

Here's why Kinesio Tape doesn't work and how you can get muscle pain relief and improved muscle function/athletic performance:

Kinesio Tape acts as slight sensory feedback to the muscles in order to give them a different sensation, yet that is not a strong enough level of feedback to reset the cortex for more optimum muscle function.

The sensory motor system of the brain controls all voluntary movement of muscles. When muscles are excessively tight, painful, or not functioning as well as desired, it is because they have learned to stay contracted at the level of the central nervous system; improvement in the sensory motor cortex is the best option for long-term improvement. A muscle that holds excess tension is a muscle that cannot fully release, nor contract. Muscles that are fully relaxed and low in tonus are more efficiently recruited for ballistic movement - the kind of action that is basic and necessary to all sports.

Pandiculation, a hard-wired brain reflex, is the most efficient method for restoring full muscle function and sensation. By contracting muscles and then slowly releasing them the brain is able to retrieve both sensation and full movement potential.

Nothing that anybody does to you can change what your brain and muscles are doing.

This means that instead of putting something on your body in a vain attempt to change the pain, you must teach your muscles to do something new and different from within to reset the cortex of your brain. Some clients have described their experience of pandiculation as one of a "software update" of the brain, so the muscles can move more efficiently and freely.

Hanna Somatic Exercises and clinical hands-on methods address Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), which is the root cause of most chronic muscle function pain. SMA occurs due to adaptation to stress - which includes athletic training and over-training, as well as accidents, injuries, surgeries, or repetitive stress. A short routine of Somatic Exercises or a series of hands-on clinical sessions can teach those who have "tried everything"  for pain relief - including Kinesio Tape - to eliminate pain for the long term. Back pain, sciatica, SI joint dysfunction, chronic neck, shoulder, and hip pain, and chronic headaches are all conditions easily eliminated with Hanna Somatic (Clinical Somatic) Education.

This method is the best kept secret in the field of healthcare, pain management, and athletic performance. Athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists and body workers can be at the forefront of athletic training and rehabilitation using the clinical techniques and movements of Hanna Somatics.  It's simple, scientific, easy, fun, and comfortable. And it will change your life and maybe even save your athletic career.

If you're interested in a participating in a professional certification training in Clinical Somatic Education, or becoming a Somatic Exercise Coach, contact Essential Somatics for information.

How Somatic Education Can Improve Fitness Training

I'm preparing for a series of upcoming presentations, each one to a different audience. I will be speaking and teaching to military personnel, fitness and strength trainers, people with back pain, and rehabilitation specialists. The terminology I use may be tailored to the audience, but the focus will be the same for all: the basics of Hanna Somatic Education:

  • Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and why it's one of the most important conditions to understand, when addressing muscle pain and dysfunction.
  • The Three Stress Reflexes that all humans respond with in regards to stress, and how they cause muscle imbalances and pain.
  • Pandiculation is the safest, most effective way to reset muscle function and length for pain free movement and optimum muscle control.

Fitness training can benefit from Somatic Education by incorporating a basic understanding of the simple points cited above.

Fitness training is sensory motor movement training.

Programming your brain is more important than strength training and aerobics. Central nervous system programming must never be neglected at all stages of training.

— Mel Siff

In the above quote, Mel Siff is talking about somatic education: the ability to train your brain to sense and control your muscles and movements. It's about more than just performing a movement with strength and power; it's about quality of movement. If your brain isn't in control of your muscles and movement, it doesn't matter how strong you are; your movement won't be effortless and efficient. Aerobic strength is important - but if your brain is recruiting muscles it doesn't need for a specific movement, because certain muscles are involuntarily and habitually contracted (Sensory Motor Amnesia), you'll be working too hard.

Sensory Motor Amnesia is the result of habituated adaptation to stress reflexes.

The brain and nervous system respond to everything in the environment - accidents, injuries, surgeries, sudden falls, long hours in a car or 40 hours a week on a computer. The brain teaches the muscles, due to continuous stress, to contract and adapt, altering the way in which you move - often without your even realizing it.

What your brain is no longer aware of can negatively impact your athletic form, "movement memory," and ability to recuperate from injury. This also creates postural imbalances (pelvic imbalances, leg length discrepancy) that can result in injury.

Training functionally "amnesic" muscles can, over time, result in chronic muscle pain and structural damage.

Stress reflexes occur in full body patterns of muscular contraction.

When stress occurs suddenly (accidents, falls) or over long periods of time (emotional stress, seated work), the brain contracts the muscles in a pattern - a kinetic chain. It's never just one muscle causing an imbalance or movement problem. A fitness trainer who is able to spot a full body muscular imbalance through proper assessment before training begins can help prevent injury and improve form and quality of movement.

Look at the weightlifter in the photo at right. Notice the slight imbalance in the center of the body: his waist muscles on the right are slightly shorter than on the left. The bar isn't level. Being able to see these slight differences and teaching an athlete to regain balance can keep him playing for a long time.

Slumped shoulders, overly contracted abdominals, over-arched back muscles and hips that don't move easily are all signs of sensory motor amnesia.

Pandiculation is more effective and safer than stretching.

Most people find stretching unpleasant and painful. Muscles that have learned to stay contracted must learn to release and this can't be done by stretching. Learning the subtle, but very important difference between pandiculation and stretching will set you apart from other fitness trainers. Your client will learn to reset their muscles - without strain - something they can also learn to do it at home with somatic exercises. As Mel Siff advises, they'll be training their brain to make their movements smarter.

Pandiculation uses all aspects of a muscle's ability: eccentric, isometric and concentric - all in one, slow intentional movement. Pandiculation increases one's awareness of the muscles involved in the movement pattern (envision a cat or dog "stretching" upon getting up from rest) and gets the nervous system ready for action. A trainer can learn to pandiculate any movement - from the "butterfly" to the "L" sit to the "woodchop." No matter the action pattern involved in your sport, you can pandiculate it.

Hanna Somatic Education simplifies things.

If you can see patterns in your clients (and yourself): flexion, extension, side bending, and rotating, and teach them to regain symmetry within these patterns, your clients' muscles will balance out, and their quality of movement will improve.

In Hanna Somatics, less is more. Slower is better for regaining muscle coordination. Then it's on to ballistic, quicker movement. And this is the territory of the fitness trainer.

Visit the Essential Somatics® store for our Pain-Free DVD series.

Contact Martha to find out how to bring her to your fitness center to conduct Somatics for Fitness Trainers workshops and clinical sessions.

Is Yoga Dangerous? Not When Done Somatically

In an article called "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," by William J. Broad the question of  yoga injuries is discussed. Many yoga teachers are hesitant to admit that they suffer from injuries. Yoga in its original form is a true somatic discipline ("somatic" meaning being aware of what it feels like to be you). The way it is taught in most yoga studios in the United States is more like fitness than mindful, somatic movement. For many Yoga students the element of somatic awareness is completely absent. The goal for many is to look like the teacher and get into the posture no matter what. This is how injuries occur.

"Athleticized" Yoga causes injury.

The rise in Yoga injuries and muscle pain says more about the way in which many embrace Yoga than it does about (most) Yoga postures. This is similar to Thomas Hanna's contention about the source of most back pain:

"The prevalence of back pain has everything to do with the kind of lives that we live and the kind of society in which we live."

We live in a culture that "athleticizes" everything, and Yoga is high on the list. Yoga can be practiced in a non-competitive way with the sole goal being one of mastering movement and improving posture and breathing. So can life. The answer lies in the awareness of what you're doing and how you're doing it.

3 Ways People Get Injured in Yoga

#1 They have Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and don’t know it. As you attempt to perform a Yoga movement, some muscles won't lengthen fully, while others over-work. You may be able to do an asana on one side (triangle pose, for example), yet not the same way on the other. You keep stretching and breathing, but the muscles don't release the way you're told they should.

#2 They don't know that they are stuck in a full body reflex pattern of muscular imbalance. SMA presents in patterns of contraction. If you've had a trauma, regaining muscular balance, symmetry, and coordination is critical before engaging in any sport - much less yoga.

If you do any sport or vigorous activity when your muscles are stuck in a specific Stress Reflex, you're bound to get injured sooner or later. Certain muscles will be recruited involuntarily when the muscles you're supposed to be using can't function optimally

(Hint: Our major goal in Hanna Somatics is to teach you to reverse SMA as it presents within the three somatic reflex patterns. It's easy and it gives you back control of your body!)

#3 They over-stretch.

You can read more about my take on stretching here. When you stretch a muscle quickly, or beyond its comfortable length, you will evoke the Stretch Reflex. It is a protective spinal cord reflex which contracts the muscle against the stretch to save it from injury. Over-stretching is a major factor in Yoga injuries, from hamstring pulls to lower back injuries.

Instead, learn to pandiculate. Pandiculation resets the muscle length and restores full muscle function at the brain level. In fact, you can easily learn how to pandiculate many of your Yoga stretches!

Ultimately, if you're getting injured doing yoga, you're doing something wrong – or you're overdoing it.

Hanna Somatics and Yoga complement each other. Hanna Somatics can improve your yoga practice and help you prevent many of the common injuries associated with Yoga.  Many Yoga teachers are in fact becoming Hanna Somatic Exercise Coaches and incorporating Somatic Exercises into their classes.

To learn more about Hanna Somatics and how it can help you eliminate chronic muscle pain and regain balance and symmetry, check out the Essential Somatics® store.