Freedom and Habits: Can They Exist at the Same Time?

How easily we allow our old habits and set patterns to dominate us! Even though they bring us suffering, we accept them with almost fatalistic resignation, for we are so used to giving in to them. We may idealize freedom, but when it comes to our habits, we are completely enslaved. Still, reflection can slowly bring us wisdom. We may, of course, fall back into fixed repetitive patterns again and again, but slowly we can emerge from them and change.

While this quote comes from Rigpa, a Buddhist website, it is the same philosophy underpinning Hanna Somatics. From a Hanna Somatics perspective it means that set patterns and habits, while useful in many ways, can dominate our posture and movement if we are unaware of them and unable to control them.  The fixed habits of walking that develop through trial and error as toddlers are critically important. They allow us the freedom to move forward in life. Yet, when other habits take over and become fixed patterns, like slumping at the computer, gritting our teeth when we're angry, tightening our bellies when we're anxious, contracting our back muscles as we rush through our busy lives - we gradually lose our sense of well-being and our freedom. Unconscious habits can change who we are.  getty-cartwheel

Habitual responses to stress become muscular habits at the level of our brain and nervous system. Once we develop a habit we are helpless to change it until we spend thoughtful time becoming aware of:

  • What the habit feels like (back pain, hip pain, sciatica, neck pain).
  • How it shows up in our bodies (slumped shoulders, face forward, leg length discrepancy).
  • How it is limiting us ("I used to dance and now it just hurts my hip... I can only walk a few blocks and then my back gives out...").

Many people feel defeated: "Well, I'm not getting any younger." "It's all down hill from here..." or "I probably ache because of my age." Many accept their unfortunate limitations with fatalistic resignation. They feel trapped and frustrated by muscle pain and few sensible solutions as they seek a solution to their pain "out there" - massage therapy, bodywork, physical therapy, the latest trends and remedies to relax muscles. They don't realize that in most cases the answer lies within their own brain and sensory motor system, and how an awareness of what they're doing repeatedly, (whether emotional, physical or psychological) can be the piece of the puzzle that they're missing.

This is the message of Hanna Somatics: freedom comes through awareness of one's ability to sense and control oneself from the inside out as they move through life. It is a patient and persistent practice of awareness - of what it feels like to be you, how your old habits have created habits of pain and limitation, the meaning you have given to what has happened to you over the years, and how you can change limitation to freedom - on your own, from the inside out. We need habits in our lives; they create a necessary element of stability - in movement. It's whether these habits serve us or not that is the question.

What does freedom look and feel like to you?

How To Know If You're Out Of Balance

Daily stress teaches our muscles to contract in very specific ways. If the stress is on-going or repetitive enough we may even feel as if we're "stuck" in our stress. Over time we may find that we feel out of balance. An imbalance in the center of the body will show up as an uneven gait, twisted pelvis, slumped shoulder on one side, one-side muscle pain or quite commonly, a "hiked" hip. Overly contracted muscles pull us off balance and add excessive stress to our joints. They can contribute to arthritis, joint pain, back, iliotibial band pain, neck, shoulder and hip pain. The key is to learn to ride the waves of stress in our lives - not get stuck in them. One of the biggest benefits of Hanna Somatic Exercises is learning to find neutral in the center of the body and bring the brain back into control of the muscular system. It's one of the most important skills necessary to become stress resilient.

In this video below you'll learn an easy and quick way to determine if you're out of balance. Don't worry! If you are, you can begin to learn how to regain muscular balance and symmetry with Somatic Exercises.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/srE5f0-N5tE]

Click here to purchase Pain-Free Somatic Exercise DVDs.

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How To Get The Most Out of Somatic Exercises

Here is a short video with helpful tips about three exercises which most people need some guidance on. I sent this video link out to everyone who purchased my "Pain Relief Through Movement" DVD. I'm making it available to everyone who's learned Somatic Exercises - even if you haven't purchased the Pain Relief Through Movement DVD. Here are some highlights. Read them, then watch the video!

Arch and Flatten:

When you do this exercise, you should feel your back muscles gently contracting and arching as the pelvis rolls forward. You should sense equal effort on both sides of the spine, and then, as you slowly and gently release back to neutral on the mat, you should sense both sides of the back "landing" together.

If you're slightly tighter on one side of your body than the other, you will probably sense more weight or pressure into one hip as you "inhale and arch, and tip the tailbone down in the direction of your feet."  You will feel that you're tilting into one hip. This may cause your lower back to feel sore. It may even cause an uncomfortable pinch. The aim is to sense the gentle arching and flattening right down through the center of your tailbone. The recalibration I demonstrate will help you find "neutral" in your pelvis as you pandiculate the muscles of the back.

Back Lift:

If you are tighter on one side of your waist than the other, maybe from a previous injury or accident, you probably have a Trauma Reflex in the center of your body; you'll feel as if you're off center or heavier on one side of your pelvis than the other as you lie on your front, ready to do the back lift. When you lift the leg you may feel as if you're "tipping" into one side of your pelvis and it will be more difficult to lift the leg.

Gently "anchoring" the pelvis of the non-working leg as you lift elbow, cheek, head and hand, will help you more fully regain balanced control of your back muscles.

Side Bend:

Many people tend to do the side bend and slightly arch their lower backs, twisting slightly into a typical pattern of the Trauma Reflex. This will cause a slight pinch in the low back. If you have sciatica, it will not feel good, as it is only re-creating the pattern that caused the problem in the first place.

Do the side bend as if you're up against a flat wall. Better yet, do the movement against a wall if possible! This will help you make sure that when you contract your waist muscles as you lift your top foot and your head ("making an accordion out of your waist muscles"). You'll be more able to sense the waist muscles contracting and lengthening instead of using the muscles of the lower back to help out.

Here is the video. (In case you're asked for a password, it's DVDthankyou1):

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Let me know how it goes and whether or not these tips were helpful to you.

For those of you would like to learn how to skillfully teach the Somatic Exercises to others, my Somatic Exercise Coach Training (Levels One and Two) is for you. This popular training has been taught in the UK, Canada, Germany, Canada and Australia and people are learning to relieve their muscle pain and move more freely the world over thanks to the skills of Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coaches.

Martha is available for phone consultations, workshops, private clinical sessions. Click here for more information.

Learn to relieve back, neck, shoulder, hip, and joint pain easily, safely, and intelligently using methods taught nowhere else!

Relieve Hip Pain Easily and Quickly

Everyone these days seems to have hip pain - and it's usually one-sided. To demystify this right from the start, most chronic, one-sided hip pain is due to habituation of a very common reflex: the Trauma Reflex. This is a reflex that is invoked involuntarily in response to accidents, injuries, surgeries, or falls. It can also become habituated due to using a computer mouse, holding a baby on one's hip, or holding a heavy bag on one shoulder. The muscles of one side of the waist and trunk become tighter than the other side. This changes the way you walk and can lead to plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, and sciatica.

You must change the sensory motor nervous system in order to relieve muscle pain.

Think about it: if you could relax the muscles you would, right? But you can't. This is because you have learned so well to adapt and adjust to the stresses of your life (physical, mental, emotional, and occupational) that you don't even notice your movement or posture until pain sets in. The key to long-term pain relief is to learn to "reboot" your brain and nervous system so your muscles learn to fully relax. You are the only one who can do this; in Hanna Somatics we teach you how.

The first step is know what to look for. I like to ask clients to pay attention to specific things as they walk: Do both arms swing gently? Does one hip move more than the other? Do you land more heavily on one foot or the other? Do you notice a difference from one side to the other? Invariably even clients who say, "I've never paid attention to how I walk," will tell me that they notice one side moving while the other side feels stiff.

"Dorothy" came to me with pain in one hip, and discomfort IMG_1865when walking. She was very active, and loved to garden.  Notice in the photo at right how the right hip is higher up than the left hip. Notice the hem of her shirt; it curves up and to the right. Her right arm and hip are touching. Notice the difference on the left side; her back is more relaxed and there is space between her arm and hip. Her right shoulder slumps down while her left shoulder is level. This is a typical Trauma Reflex posture.

It wasn't surprising that Dorothy had discomfort when she walked. She was literally out of balance, with one foot and leg moving differently from the other, like a car with a flat tire. This kind of muscular imbalance creates hip pain on one side of the body; if it is not addressed it can also contribute to structural damage.

Dorothy didn't notice these imbalances until I pointed them out. She initially said that she felt IMG_1866balanced and even! Why? Because this "out of balance" posture had become an unconscious - therefore, uncontrollable - habit. In order to release the muscles around the hip joints and pelvis and relieve her hip pain, she needed to learn to regain conscious awareness and voluntary control of the muscles of side bending and twisting - the very ones that were hitching her pelvis up and tightening around her hip joint.

After only one session, she was able to relax her right hip so that it was even and level with her left hip. Notice the difference in the level of her hips in the photo to the right. The hem of her shirt is even as are her shoulders.

After a hands-on clinical Somatics session that addressed the muscles of the Trauma Reflex, I asked her to walk down the hall one more time. She noticed that her gait was smooth and effortless, and her hip pain was greatly relieved. I sent Dorothy home with several easy Somatic Exercises (arch and flatten, the side bend, and the washrag) - to do at home to reinforce the improvement she had made. I saw her her a few more times to help her release the muscles of the back and front of her body, and she reports that she continues to feel looser and more comfortable both in her hips and in her walk. It's amazing what a little awareness and movement can do!

Why Is One Leg Shorter Than The Other? The Trauma Reflex!

Here are three frequent questions my clients ask me:

Why do I have one leg shorter than the other?

Why do I have hip pain, knee or foot pain but only on one side?

I'm told that my pelvis is rotated because I have a weak core. Is that true?

The answer:

Leg length discrepancy, one side hip, knee, and foot pain, sciatica, tilted posture, piriformis syndrome, and a rotated pelvic are all the result of an habituated Trauma Reflex. No, the core is not necessarily "weak." It is likely so strong and tight - within the pattern of the Trauma Reflex - that the center of the body cannot fully relax, rotate and side bend evenly on both sides.

When you respond to any physical trauma, a sudden blow to the body, a slip, fall or crutchesaccident of any kind, the brain instantly, involuntarily, and often violently, contracts the muscles of the waist (the oblique muscles), the trunk rotators (lattisimus dorsii, abdominals, adductors and abductors of the legs) and the muscles that allow the pelvis to swing freely (quadratus lumborum and iliopsoas) in an attempt to avoid injury or to prevent further pain after the accident has occurred. If you've ever prevented what could have been a terrible fall you know the wrenching pain that comes with the sudden twisting movement that helps you regain  your balance.

If the accident is severe or violent - a car accident or a sudden slip on the ice, for example - the brain Trauma reflex - frontteaches these muscles to stay tight and contracted. If you injure yourself on one side of your body and need to protect that injured limb until it is healed (as occurs when using crutches), you can inadvertently learn to walk with a limp once the injury is healed. A one-sided job, like sitting at a computer and using the mouse all day with one hand can create a strong imbalance on one side of the body.

When muscles stay tight the brain loses the ability to fully contract and release the muscle. The ability to fully release the muscle is what gives the muscle power. This state of elevated muscle tonus and tension that won't relax is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. In the case of an habituated Trauma Reflex your brain integrates and organizes this learned and involuntary full-body imbalance into a "neutral" and "balanced" that, as those of you have ever suffered an accident or injury, can sense is out of balance, tilted, rotated and uncomfortable. Not to mention inefficient.

How do you learn to regain symmetry and balance in the center of your body? Muscles that have learned to stay tight and contracted due to stress must learn to relax, release, and move freely again. It's muscle reeducation. Many people can benefit from one-on-one clinical sessions with a qualified Somatic Educator skilled in the methods of Thomas Hanna. However, many people can also easily learn to do this on their own, at home.

The video below can help you learn to lengthen both sides of the waist evenly so you can regain your internal awareness ("somatic" awareness) and proprioception for improved balance and a smoother gait. This easy awareness exercise is best done after you learn to relax and release the waist muscles by doing arch and flatten, the side bend and the washrag.

To learn more Hanna Somatic Exercises and learn to relieve muscle pain and improve mobility, and somatic awareness, you can purchase my Pain-Free series of DVDs. Enjoy the video and enjoy standing tall!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb5Ip0H6jTk&feature=youtu.be]

Eliminate Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis with Hanna Somatic Exercises

Plantar fasciitis and heel pain affects approximately 2 million people a year in the United States. People stretch, ice, foam roll, get acupuncture, and wear night splints and orthotics. This article from PubMed Health is reflective of the medical practice's current view on plantar fasciitis, pain in the connective tissue of the bottom of the foot. The medical field believes that the only way to treat it is to address only the problem area of pain, rather than taking into consideration one's daily movement habits as a potential contributing factor to this condition.

Plantar fasciitis is the result of overly contracted muscles of the lower leg, and  an imbalance in the somatic center.

As a Clinical Somatic Educator, I teach people to eliminate chronic muscle pain by restoring their brain's control of muscles and movement. From my clinical  experience, most heel and foot pain, including plantar fasciitis, is the result of  improper weight bearing, which originates in the muscles of the center of the body, adversely affecting one's gait. It's another classic example of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The most common pattern of muscular dysfunction responsible for plantar fasciitis is an habituated  Trauma Reflex pattern in the center of the body. This occurs due to compensation from an accident or injury, or repetitive one-sided work (like holding a baby on one's hip - also a contributor to sciatica). It looks like my client in the photo at right.

Notice how this client's right hip is higher than the left, and his weight is mostly on his left foot. His pelvis is slightly rotated, causing unequal leg length discrepancy. The back muscles on the left side of his body are tighter than on the right. This full body pattern causes the muscles of the lower leg (which help to move the foot) to adapt to receiving unbalanced weight.

The most effective method to long-term relief from plantar fasciitis is Hanna Somatic Education.

  • Become aware of the imbalance in the center of your body so you can learn to release this pattern and regain symmetry and balance in those muscles.
  • Learn to release the overly contracted muscles of the lower leg and feet. Muscles that do not function properly can only improve their function through movement. This is why passive therapies (trigger point, massage, stretching, etc.) for leg and foot pain do not work in the long term.
  • Become aware of your gait. Do you heel strike? Do you scuff your feet? Are your hips stiff when you walk? Movement in the center of your body affects the movement at the periphery of your body; a tight center will make your feet will suffer when you walk.
  • Reverse a gait imbalance to help prevent plantar fasciitis from returning.

Once the back, waist muscles and hips are relaxed and balanced, (and your gait is smooth and even), plantarfascitis, foot, heel, and lower leg disappear rapidly.

A client came to me with severe plantar fasciitis. I saw her for one clinical Somatics session. She learned to release and rebalance the muscles of her back and waist and become more aware of her walk. She also learned five easy, somatic movements to do every day to reinforce her progress. She sent me this email several weeks later:

I'm doing very well, was VERY diligent about doing the exercises and felt terrific in doing so, the results were great. I've fallen off the wagon a bit since returning from vacation but am working towards starting up again on a regular basis. The plantar fasciitis is nearly gone, I have very few symptoms now and can give credit to the exercises, walking and sitting differently, and going without shoes as often as possible... Seeing the wonderful results has encourage me to move ahead with an additional session!

Learning to restore somatic awareness and brain control of your muscles is the first step to eliminating not only plantar fasciitis, but other painful conditions, such as sciatica, back, neck, shoulder pain, TMD/TMJ, frozen shoulder, hip and knee pain and tension headaches. Visit the Essential Somatics® store here.

 

Pain Relief for Sciatica and Knee Pain

Recently I read an article about a new medical technique that addresses sciatic pain. The woman in the article - a hairdresser - was overjoyed that, through surgery, she was able to get relief from her sciatica. I'm happy to know that some people can be helped through medical intervention, but the problem still remained: there was no guarantee that her pain wouldn't return; as is common with many medical approaches to functional problems such as sciatica, the patient never really found out how she had created her sciatica. Without addressing the root cause of her pain - a chronically tight buttock muscle - her pain will most likely return. Sciatica pain occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs through the buttock and down the leg, is compressed by the buttock muscle or tight back muscles on one side. Doctors will inject medication to either deaden the nerve or relieve the compression, rather than treat what is causing the pain to begin with. If you become aware of your pattern of movement that is causing your muscles to become contracted, then you can change your movement and get rid of the pain.

So if your sciatic nerve is being pinched by a tight buttock muscle (the piriformis) what is causing the muscle to contract? Sciatica is a full body pattern of muscle dysfunction that develops in response to habituation of the Trauma Reflex,  which causes one to walk with a painful, uneven gait. This can also cause knee pain.

Whatever we do consistently becomes a habit at the level of our brain and nervous system.

If we stand with a baby on our hip, our waist muscles learn to stay tight on one side to make a perch for the baby. If we have injured ourselves and use crutches to get around, one side of the waist becomes tight to protect the injured limb. These are examples of adaptation to stress that cause our muscles to accumulate more and more muscle tension.

The only way a muscle contracts is if the brain, the command center of the muscles, sends it a signal to contract.

If the message to contract is constant, then the muscle learns to stay tight, even when you're sleeping. Add to that tight back muscles, and you have a textbook recipe for sciatica: tight back muscles and one side of the waist/hips that are tighter than the other side.

Sciatic pain can be reversed through Somatic sciatica exercises and sensory motor retraining.

If you have sciatica, take a moment to notice how you move. Is one hip higher than the other? Are your back muscles contracted constantly? Do you walk with an uneven gait? Is one knee painful when you walk? Do you stand with more weight on one leg than the other? Would you like to learn to regain balance and control in the center of your body so the hips, back and waist muscles can relax and take pressure off that sciatic nerve?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, click here for a few Hanna Somatic Exercises; they are perfect for improving awareness of one's movement, and restoring full brain control of the muscles that cause sciatica. Hanna Somatic Education can teach you to rid yourself of sciatic pain for the long term and help you regain control of your body... without surgery.

 

How to Regain Your Form: Horseback Riding, Falls, and the Trauma Reflex

I got bucked off of a horse and landed hard enough on my right hip to warrant a trip to the ER. Luckily, nothing was wrong in the x-rays. Fast forward a few years and I started to notice pain in my hip flexors when riding. I would get off of the horse and feel stiff - more on the right than the left. Years went by and my pain included both hips, and back pain. When I sit for a long period of time, I stand up like a 90 year old woman. When I read through your website, I find myself feeling like someone can finally describe my pain!

"Laura" came to me for Hanna Somatics because she realized that her back and hip pain was probably due to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) - the condition of chronically contracted muscles that results from muscular adaptation to stress (accidents, injuries, repetitive movement). She wanted to learn to relax her back and hip joint muscles, which had become taut and painful from years of compensating from her original riding accident as well as from long hours in the car and at the computer.

A fall off a horse evokes the trauma reflex and contributes to hip, neck, and shoulder pain.

Laura had developed a typical, habituated Trauma Reflex pattern of compensation: one side of her waist muscles and trunk rotators was tighter than the other side. This occurred due to her sudden fall off her horse many years earlier. Her brain - the command center of the muscles - had forgotten how to control her muscles and no matter what she did to try and relax them, nothing gave her long-term relief. This is a common response to an accident.

In order to ride she had developed compensatory patterns that enabled her to stay on the horse, even though one hip couldn't move as well as the other. Her brain had expertly compensated by over-tightening her hip flexors as she rode, sat at her computer, or drove her car.

Laura also had slightly slumped and tight shoulders - indicative of the Red Light Reflex pattern. She said she had been kicked by a horse and knocked flat on her back on the ground. She was stuck in a dark vise of muscular contraction, as occurs with whiplash. Fluid movement of the spine was almost impossible.

When the back muscles are too tight, one's riding form is stiff. The back doesn't relax and coordinate with the muscles of the front of the body. The brain recruits muscles it doesn't need to help you stay balanced on your horse. The horse no doubt senses your tension and you ride as if you had the emergency brake on. Neither horse nor rider is happy.

The only long-term solution is to retrain the muscles of the back, waist, and front of the body to relax and lengthen again. This will restore proper balance, symmetry and muscular coordination.

Here are some conditions that are the result of an habituated trauma reflex:

  • Sciatica
  • Restricted and painful hip joint
  • Leg length discrepancy
  • Loss of balance due to uneven weight distribution/tilted posture
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Uneven gait, with more pressure into one hip/knee/foot
  • Knee pain
  • Plantar fasciitis

Laura, my equestrian client, learned to use the technique of pandiculation to relax and lengthen her back, waist, and hip muscles. This eliminated her pain because her brain learned to voluntarily release and relax the muscles that had been tightly and painfully contracted. She now practices the gentle, easy Somatic Movements I taught her to do at home; these movements reinforce the brain's ability to self-correct should stress threaten to take over.

Despite her car commute and long hours at the computer, Laura is moving well and back in control of her body. No more visits to the chiropractor, physical therapist or doctor for her pain! Horseback riding is also still very much a part of her life - but now it's easier to do.

To learn to relieve muscle pain easily and rapidly on your own, check out the Essential Somatics® store.

 

Swimming as a Useful Somatic Activity

I recently received this email from a client while I was on vacation:

I thought I'd pass along an interesting experience I've been having. I remember you telling me that after the Exuberant Animal day-long play session you had, you said that despite the fact that you expected to have soreness, you didn't. You said it was probably because all your muscles worked together in a natural, coordinated way. I've recently discovered that swimming has the same effect for me.  I've  begun swimming regularly and it dawned on me one day that after 20 - 30  minutes of that exercise I feel no soreness at all.  How odd!  For me at least, swimming, combined with Hanna Somatics is a terrific combination.

How funny that I would receive this email while I was away in New Hampshire, hiking in the White Mountains, and swimming in the chilly waters of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Swimming gives you the opportunity to use all the muscles of your body in smooth, balanced coordination.

Without pressure on your joints, your muscles get a strong workout as they push and pull against the weight of the water. The crawl stroke is a perfectly coordinated movement; the back and waist muscles shorten and lengthen in coordination, as you twist and turn. The lengthening and reaching can help improve your ability to stand tall with both sides of the trunk long and even. Swimming can be done year round, too, which makes it a wonderful daily activity.

If you have ever suffered a trauma - be it a broken ankle, knee surgery, or slip and fall - you may already notice that one side of your waist and trunk is tighter than the other. You may feel "tilted" to one side, or you may have a leg length discrepancy. You may want to consider swimming as a "somatic activity" that can help to retrain the muscles that learned to stay contracted due to your trauma.  If you have sciatica, scoliosis or hip pain on one side, swimming can help you to figure out where you're tight and where you're not. Don't worry! This awareness is simply giving you information about where your brain has lost voluntary control of movement that used to be natural, efficient and effortless. The first step to regaining fuller, freer movement is through awareness.

A good way to determine whether you may have a trauma reflex getting in the way of smooth, efficient movement is by doing the crawl stroke. If you find that it's easier to reach forward with one arm more than the other, try the Side Bend and Washrag Somatic Exercises. Then return to the pool or lake and see if your stroke has evened out. All the muscles involved in the Trauma Reflex (the trunk rotators) can learn to release, relax, and coordinate efficiently through the retraining that swimming offers.

Muscle Pain: Is It Really A Medical Condition?

Today's healthcare system is swamped with people experiencing chronic muscular pain. Upwards of $86 billion is spent on low back pain alone. When people visit a doctor for back pain they are looking for answers:

  • How did this happen?
  • What's wrong with my back?
  • Can you fix it and make it go away?

The statistics surrounding the costs of back pain are frightening. There is a good faith attempt to help people with low back pain, yet there is no useful education in medical schools that can applied to educate those with chronic muscle pain and give them information that makes sense.

Sensory Motor Amnesia causes chronic muscle pain.

The reason that doctors are seeing little improvement in health is because they're asking the wrong questions and trying to use MRIs, X-rays, and blood tests to diagnose something that is unmeasurable with those tools. Most chronic muscle pain is the result of  Sensory Motor Amnesia and muscular dysfunction, not an inherent structural breakdown in the body. Examples of Sensory motor amnesia are:

  • low back pain
  • sciatica
  • TMJ
  • neck/shoulder pain
  • poor posture
  • shallow breathing
  • leg length discrepancy
  • sacroilial dysfunction
  • hip joint pain
  • inflexibility
  • uneven gait
  • plantar fasciitis

Muscular dysfunction is a subjective experience that cannot be measured by medical diagnostics.

Medical diagnostics only see the end result of sensory motor amnesia, such as herniated discs, nerve impingement, or joint compression, all of which are caused by involuntarily contracted muscles pulling on bones. Because the muscles are controlled by the central nervous system, they must be taught how to release, relax and coordinate properly so that the body can return to a pain-free state. We adapt to stress by tightening our muscles in specific ways; we can learn to release them fully, regain balance, strength and freedom of movement. It's a task we must do ourselves. No one can "fix" us.

You can learn to reverse your pain with simple Somatic Exercises and a dose of self-awareness.

What is required is not "treatment," (which acts upon the body), but Somatic Education (which works from within). Below is an email I received from a woman who read my book, Move Without Pain, and purchased my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD. She is a shining example of how one can apply the tools of Somatic Education to reverse years of chronic pain:

I started having back pain while attending nursing school in 2002 at only 20 years old. Having complete trust in modern medicine, I went to my primary medical doctor. Through standard medical protocol, I endured years of multiple MRI's, steroid injections, physical therapy sessions, chiropractors, and finally 2 separate surgeries removing disc bulges. Ten years later, still in pain, the only thing anybody could diagnose me with was pelvic muscle dysfunction.

I decided to try Hanna Somatic exercises. After each session, I felt relaxed and had better posture, but still had some sciatic pain. I knew, from reading [Martha's] book, that it was vital for me to become aware of how I was moving throughout the rest of my day - and especially of my posture and different habits I had acquired over time.

I began to notice a link between my habits and my sciatica. Activities such as sexual activity, standing on one leg to shave the other in the shower, and standing throughout the day with one hip sticking out, (like the posture of a mother holding a baby on her hip) would cause more sciatica. It would make a muscle in my hip and buttock cramp, fatigue and subsequently cause inflammation and pain. Just becoming self-aware of how I stood throughout the day made all the difference!

As I look back on all the doctors I have seen, I realize that the best diagnostic tool was myself. Practicing Hanna Somatics and becoming more self-aware in the other 23 hours of my day has brought my pain level down to almost nothing now. I am confident as I continue on this path I will be able to completely recover, become strong again and live pain-free.

If you're interested in learning to reversing your own muscle pain and seeing similar results, check out the following:

Alternately, if you're a doctor or medical professional, please check out our Somatics Guide for Physicians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somatic Exercises for limping

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

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

* found on the Pain Relief Through Movement DVD

Explore Your Movement and Relieve Your Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Essential Somatics Workshop Is a Big Success in India

I just finished up two days of Essential Somatics "Pain Relief Through Movement" workshops here in Chennai, India. In addition to the two workshops offered, I've been working with private clients in order to help them to reverse the muscle pain that they hadn't been able to get rid of up until now: back pain, sciatica, neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain. The classes were packed, and all were amazed at the differences not only in their movement, but also in the decrease in their pain level.

Here's a group photo from Leapwellness Studio in Chennai:

Essential Somatics workshop attendees in Chennai, INdia

Several participants were overjoyed to learn that the problems they were told they had were functional problems reversible through Somatic Education. They learned that many functional muscular problems develop due to our movement habits, and to repeated response to stress reflexes, like accidents, injuries, surgeries and repetitive stress.

One woman was told that she had one leg longer than the other and she'd have to learn to live with it. This, she was told, was why she had sciatic pain. She couldn't walk for more than 25 minutes before her pain set in. She not only attended the workshops, but came to see me for a private, clinical session. At the end of the first workshop (Releasing Legs and Hip Joints), and her session, her legs were the same length and she was walking with a smooth swing in her hips. No pain, equal leg length.What had she learned? That raising children and holding them on her hip had caused her to become tighter on one side of her waist than the other. She'd set herself up for the pattern that creates sciatica: tight back muscles and one side of the waist muscles tighter than the other.

Another participant arrived with terrible neck pain; his physiotherapist had "worked out the knots," but the pain was still there. After the Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders Workshop, he left the studio pain-free, with Somatic Exercises and techniques that gave him the tools to stay pain-free, and to "fix" himself should the pain return.

Yet another participant – one of India's top professional golfers – had lost her balance after recovering from a severe virus. She learned that even serious illness can cause our muscles to contract and compensate, which can lead to muscle pain and loss of coordination and balance. The end result for her, after two workshops and one private session was a renewed sense of balance and an easy, more efficient gait.

Interested in an Essential Somatics workshop in your area? Get in touch!

Workshops are easy to set up and your clients with muscle pain will thank you for the new information they can learn that will help them continue doing what they love to do!

Pain-Free Sitting at Work

Tonight I'm teaching a class called, "Pain Free At Work." The beauty of Hanna Somatics is that it's full of easy to understand and easy to apply principles and techniques that can be done anytime, anywhere - even while sitting at your desk or work station. In tonight's class, we're going to do simple, seated Somatic Movements to remind muscles that they don't have to stay tight and "frozen" while you're at your desk. Many people underestimate how the way they SIT can contribute to back pain, sciatica, hip joint pain, neck and shoulder pain, and poor posture.

Tonight, students will learn how to sit up "straight," bend to the side, move their hips, and relax their muscles when they have to sit for long periods of time. These movements are great for those who drive a lot, commute, or work on computers.

In a Somatics class several weeks ago, students learned a sitting  exercise that taught them to  experience the difference between sitting with a tight back and sitting with a relaxed back. If you slouch, sitting with a straighter spine will feel odd, only because whatever you do habitually becomes "the norm" for your muscles. When you learn to change your posture and sitting from the inside out,  it will take time for that new posture to feel "normal." All that is need is patience practice, much like improving your golf swing or learning a new dance step. This is called "sensory motor learning."

After this particular class I heard two of the students remarking "how amazing it is to learn to sit properly!"

These two women were business executives who sat all day long at their desks. I heard them talking about their chairs - which ones were advertised as "the best for your back," and which ones were, in fact, really comfortable. One woman laughed and said, "well, my chair is cheap, and comfortable, even though it's not supposed to be!" Interesting.

Many people think that the solution to a problem, (finding a "good" chair or a common sense approach to chronic pain that works) needs to be expensive and complicated, but this is not necessarily true. Pain can disappear after only a couple of clinical Somatics sessions, and a good chair doesn't have to cost $1000. The photo on the right shows the chair the "Anne" recommends. It's the Nominell Swivel Chair from IKEA. It costs $139.00.

One of the businesswomen contacted me a few weeks after the class and told me that what she noticed about her IKEA chair was that it allowed her to sense her body weight, balance, and posture. It provided good feedback so that when she slouched, or over-arched her back, she was better able to self-correct.

Sitting on chairs, with our legs at right angles to our hips, isn't a great thing to do for hours at a stretch, but you can learn how to sit without pain.

Somatic movement explorations (and a good chair!) can go a long way toward helping you be pain free at the office - or in your car - whenever you want! So come to class and learn how to work pain-free: Nov. 11, at Shakti Yoga and Living Arts in Maplewood, NJ - 7:45 - 9:00pm.

Lumbar Supports Don't Prevent Back Pain

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

Back pain is a result of chronically contracted back muscles.

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

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

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

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

Full Body Movements Can Relax Painful Muscles

The body moves as one intelligent, whole system. When muscle pain occurs, the system itself simply needs improvement.

Most people find Hanna Somatics (also known as Clinical Somatics) because they have an issue that their doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and energy healers can't seem to fully address. A muscle, or a part of the body hurts (that is not related to a pathology), and most practitioners focus on that one area in order to try and "fix" it.

Eliminating muscle pain is an educational process.

Hanna Somatic Educators teach people to remember how to move the way they once did. That, simply put, is an educational process. Rather than focusing on one specific area of pain or one muscle group that needs to learn to relax and release, we address full body movement patterns. This, I've found, is a missing link for everyone who walks through my office door. The body should move as an integrated whole, beautifully coordinated – not as a series of separate parts.

Sometimes our clients teach us as much as we teach them. Last week I worked with "Sharon," an older client with scoliosis, stenosis, and sciatica. She realized that her muscles are stuck in a pattern of non-movement and that retraining her brain (the command center of the muscles) to remember how to move her muscles is reversing her pain. Now she not only walks longer distances without pain, but her tilted posture has improved so that standing "straight" is less of a strain.

Break bad movement habits out of gravity and new movement is easier to integrate while in gravity.

However, she's uncomfortable working on my table. Hanna Somatic Educators normally work with a client on the table first, because the brain will re-engage old patterns of muscular holding while in gravity. But with Sharon we threw out the rule book and did something new. I got her on her feet and said, "let's move."

She stood slightly away from the wall and "reached up to the top shelf" to begin to re-pattern the movement of the hips - one hip up, the other down, as the waist lengthened on one side and shortened on the other side. We played a few slowly paced Exuberant Animal resistance games of reaching across to your partner's hands (like "Patty Cake"), to lengthen the trunk rotator muscles on one side.

Sharon's AHA! moment came when I reminded her to allow her hips, legs and knees to move along with the movement. She'd forgotten that the whole body moves as one. She was like a child learning a new dance step. What fun! Between each movement game she walked up and down the hallway to integrate the new awareness she had created. No pain at all. She was overjoyed.

Here's a short video of some similar movements to what I did with Sharon. It's from a recent Exuberant Animal weekend. Enjoy!

[wpvideo diBOv96H]

Top 3 Myths About Poor Posture

I've heard several very common misconceptions people have about their posture.

Thankfully due to advances in Hanna Somatic Education and neuroscience, more people are accepting the fact that they have the ability to change their posture through diligent awareness and practice. At one time I accepted the idea that I simply had "bad knees," (after all, I'd had 4 knee surgeries!), and one day I would need a knee replacement. On top of that I believed I probably had arthritis, which accounted for my inability to kneel for any period of time. After studying Hanna Somatic Education and regaining a new awareness of my movement, I realized I was wrong on all counts: I'm arthritis-free  and more happy kneeling now than sitting in a chair!

Myth #1: Poor posture is hereditary.

Sometimes it seems that way. Mother and daughter have identical posture. The son walks exactly like his dad. But the latest scientific research on "mirror neurons" in the brain, suggests otherwise. Mirror neurons are key neurons in our brains that fire when we watch others perform actions. In working with children I often see an imitation of their parents' posture. We are their first teachers, after all. One young woman I worked with had straight, tall posture until she hit about fourteen years old. Then, under school stress, she began to imitate her mother, slumping forward in a slouched posture. She is now aware of her tendency to slump when stressed (a symptom of the Red Light Reflex), and is able to voluntarily self correct.

Myth #2: Poor posture is the result of weak muscles.

Posture is a learned, habituated way of holding yourself in response to life's stresses. Even in cases of scoliosis, there is an adaptation to a one sided trauma that creates a side bending/twisting. We learn to hold ourselves according to has happened to us and/or what we do every day. That being the case, when our posture is one of imbalance (i.e. muscles too tight, shoulders slumped forward, side-leaning), proper coordination of muscles is thrown off. The end result is unequal control of agonist and antagonist muscles. What is required here is full body, functional re-education of those muscles so that coordination is regained and balanced posture is more easily maintained.

Myth #3: Your posture has "always been that way."

Again, with rare exceptions, posture doesn't happen to you. Our posture is a look into how we adapt to our surroundings. Our posture is a snapshot of our accumulated tension and, in many cases, our attitudes toward life. We are creatures of adaptation, physically and emotionally. If we sit at a desk all day, we will adapt in order to be able to do that all day. Maybe we'll over-arch our lower backs into the Green Light Reflex of forward action. If we are worriers, we will probably tend to hunch our shoulders and slump and get stuck in a Red Light Reflex. This can cause painful neck and shoulder problems. If we have suffered a traumatic accident, we might tend to lean more to one side than the other. This posture can cause sciatica, hip pain, plantar fasciitis and knee pain. It's called the Trauma Reflex. Posture is an on-going, fluid process of being.