More Power In Your Lifting With the Flower

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Brian Justin is one of our 2nd year clinical-practitioners-in-training and is passionate about spreading the word on the benefits of physical activity for health, performance, and injury prevention. Brian is also a professor of kinesiology in Vancouver, BC, a boxing coach, and a strength and conditioning coach. His recent blog post discusses how the Flower can improve your workout routine.

"The Flower is an excellent somatic exercise to help restore ideal length to our pectorals. It utilizes pandiculation...This technique involves contracting a muscle so that it is tighter than its currently tight resting posture. Thereafter, it is lengthened at the speed of a yawn resulting in more length and reduced resting tension. Lastly, a period of relaxation occurs and this allows our brain to process the new information to gain control of the muscle... This happens all without stretching!"

Read more about what Brian has to say about gaining more power in your workout here...

If you are an athlete, fitness instructor, or whether you are merely searching for an effective method through which to improve your ability and performance, be sure to also check out our new Somatics for Athletics workshop, taught by Karyn Clark, CCSE and Martha Peterson, CHSE! In this two-day course, you will learn how Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is keeping you from reaching your maximum potential, how to bounce back from muscle injuries, how to apply Somatic Movements to your daily routine, and so much more.

Functional Fitness and Core Strengthing for a Purpose

We can all agree that it is important to be strong. We live in an era in which technology and machinery have replaced tasks that once required muscle, time and physical effort; we have washing machines, lawn mowers, tractors, cars, elevators, and chainsaws. We don't challenge our bones and muscles with functional, weight-bearing tasks during our daily life as often as we once did (this includes squatting down to use the toilet!). Manual laborers, fitness instructors, and professional athletes, among other occupations, are required to have a certain level of physical strength and movement. Unfortunately, many of these individuals often have extremely strong and overly-contracted muscles. Because their muscles cannot release and relax they are likely to experience muscle pain caused by sensory motor amnesia; they need to learn to relax their muscles before strengthening them any further. (In this Strong Core blog post I discuss what "the core" is and how excessive strengthening of the core can contribute to Sensory Motor Amnesia and muscle pain, thus inhibiting free and efficient movement.)

For many people, however, active movement isn't a required part of one's profession. You have a choice to either incorporate strength training and movement into your daily life, or not (and your decision will leave you with respective consequences). Motivation to move can be a big hurdle to overcome if you're not being paid to do it at work every day! The key is to make movement and strength training fun and purposeful.

Ask yourself: what do you want to be strong for? What is your motivation?

Do you want to be able to run a marathon? Climb a mountain? Bring your blood pressure down? Play with your children? Perhaps you want to just "be in shape." Think about what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. As Dan John, strength and conditioning coach, and author of Never Let Go, says,

"If it is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all."

Do every day what you want to be able to do in the future. Work toward your strengthening goals by incorporating functional and enjoyable movement into your routine. If you want to be able to climb a mountain, ditch the treadmill and walk a mile through your neighborhood or in a local park to get you started. If you want to play on the ground with your children, practice getting up and down off the floor. Every. Day.

Most of my personal fitness goals focus on the long-term. My biggest goal is to be able to walk up and down the stairs briskly (unaided) as my 87-year-old mother still does, so I make a point to walk an incline (stairs, a hill, etc.) every day. I want to be able to squat to the ground, carry my own luggage or groceries, and play "tag" with my grandchildren in the playground. Some of my favorite strengthening and movement practices that help me to work towards my goals are: Exuberant AnimalNia, and hiking. These movements will keep me strong and strengthen my brain in the process.

Martha's Tips for Motivating Your Movement:

  1. Find your "purpose for moving." What is important to you?
  2. Do your Somatic exercises before and after your chosen strengthening routine. Your muscles need to "reboot" in order to be fully functional.
  3. Enjoy your new routine and keep moving! This takes strength. It also takes a belief that it's possible.
Now get up and move!

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.

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.

How Clinical Somatics Can Bring Tiger Woods Back Into Competition

Tiger Woods is taking a leave of absence from golf. Even he seems confused about what the real problem is. Does he need to keep changing his swing? Improve his attitude with sports psychology? Get stronger? Tiger has tried just about everything, from the best back surgeons to his trusted physical therapists and coaches, yet nothing has worked for the long term. His story is, unfortunately, all too common. He is hitting his head against the medical wall because his trusted practitioners and trainers are trying to "fix" him from the outside in, when the problem all along has been happening on the inside - within his own sensory motor system.

Tiger Woods has Sensory Motor Amnesia.

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The reason none of his treatments are working for the long term is because Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) can only be eliminated by learning, through movement, how to release and relax his muscles at the level of the nervous system. He is unaware of how he has adapted physically to the accidents, injuries, and repetitive movements and stresses of his life. These have all taught his muscles to stay contracted and never fully release. These adaptations of muscular holding, all happening within the brain, have changed the way he moves and his once powerful and accurate golf swing has gone by the wayside. He can, however, get it back.

The brain teaches muscles how to move; that's how elite athletes learn to move so efficiently. Tiger's brain has taught him to contract his waist and trunk rotators in response to the constant twisting inherent in golf as well as in response to the accidents and surgeries he has experienced. This habitual pattern is called the Trauma Reflex.

Tiger can very easily get back on top in golf once he learns how to eliminate his Sensory Motor Amnesia and regain an accurate sense of himself - from the inside out. He has not only lost control of his muscular system; he's lost control of what it feels like to be Tiger Woods. Restoring muscle function and reducing excess muscle tonus is a learning process that will not come through traditional strengthening/stretching, PT or surgery.

Sensory Motor Amnesia can only be eliminated by changing the way the brain senses and controls the muscles

His doctors and trainers don't know what to do with him because SMA doesn't show up on MRI's, X-rays or blood tests. Surgery only exacerbates SMA because it creates even more muscular compensation and adaptation in the brain/muscle sensory motor connection. It doesn't address the root of the problem: his muscles are sub-cortically (involuntarily/unconsciously) contracted all the time and his brain cannot recruit his muscles accurately, nor relax them fully.

Mo Skelton, a physical therapist at McCurtain Memorial Hospital, recommends the following advice:

Woods must now take time to listen to his body, get off the course and fully restore his strength and mobility. Rest is not what he needs most. He needs strength. Woods must focus on strengthening his erector spinae muscles, his abdominals and obliques as secondary stabilizers, and his posterior chain for function. 

This is the the same recycled myth about muscle pain that fitness trainers have been teaching for decades: when you lose your form or experience back pain it's because you're weak. This couldn't be further from the truth. In actuality, muscle pain develops because the muscles are so strong they cannot, physiologically, relax nor recruit properly. Strengthening only makes things worse.

What Tiger Woods needs is not more muscles, a bigger squat or stronger obliques. He needs to learn to relax the muscles of his back and waist.

And I would add that yes, he needs to take time off and devote himself to learning to reverse his Sensory Motor Amnesia and regain skilled cortical control of his sensory motor system. It won't take long for him to be back on top. 

Tiger needs to learn how to pandiculate with Somatic Exercises, rather than stretch and strengthen and spend time working with a skilled Clinical Somatic Educator in a clinical setting. He needs to de-habituate the stress reflexes he is stuck in so he can regain balance in the center of his body and move freely again. I would love to see Tiger back on top of his game and back in control of his life. With Clinical Somatics he will find that not only does his life go better, but his golf game comes right back where it used to be - and possibly even stronger than before.

Here is a sample of a good place for him to start:

What Hanna Somatics Has To Teach The Fitness Industry

Here is a guest blog post from Chris Carlsen, a fitness trainer in Astoria, NY. This is his story of how he has come to combine Somatic Exercises and fitness training for a winning workout: Several years ago I read an article on “Somatic Exercises.”  To quote Thomas Hanna, "Somatic education is the use of sensory-motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of ones physiological process." To learn “somatically” means that the learning occurs within the individual. It is an internalized process. This mirrored my philosophy based on my training in kettlebells, movement assessments and human performance. I wanted to know more.

I found Laura Gates, a Certified Hanna Somatic Educator, based in New York City.  What I learned was unbelievable: practically every movement we did was related to an exercise or assessment.  “Part 2” of Hanna’s back lift 6Walking Exercises is the same "pushing of the knee away" that we do when we roll in the initiation of the Turkish Get-up. The “Flower” relates to the squat pattern (feeling the femurs move in the hip socket). The Back Lift retrains the connection of one hip and the opposite shoulder (T-Spine rotation).

Each educator may have different ways to explain movement, yet there is no denying that we are all helping to restore the same movement patterns. The power of Somatic Exercises comes from exploration of movement on the floor, as we did when we were babies. We are reeducating sensory motor movement without the stress of gravity or body-weight. This creates awareness and reverse Sensory Motor Amnesia. And, as with fitness, breathing guided every somatic movement.

Hanna Somatics has brought my personal training full circle; it is the line that connects all the dots. Enhancing my understanding of the mind, brain, body feedback loop and the central nervous system has improved every aspect of my training. My students' consciousness of their movement and posture has become more consistent and the Somatic Exercises have become great references for lifting cues. As for me personally, my lifts feel slower in my head but still strong and powerful in execution. Somatics will be something I incorporate for the rest of my life.

When Laura told me about the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coaching Training I could not pass up the opportunity to learn more and educate my trainers. The training was awesome. Martha Peterson and Laura are not only great teachers, but also passionate about helping others. My fellow trainers could feel the change in how their bodies felt immediately and could not deny its effectiveness.

How does Somatics fit into fitness?

Ground Exercise, Body Weight and Breathing

Weight is a stressor. Sometimes we need to take the stress of body-weight and gravity out of the equation to get the Training-img2nervous system to simmer down and absorb motor learning (movement patterns).  This is accomplished by somatic and corrective exercises on the ground. These types of ground exercises build a foundation for future loading; as we master them we can make these patterns stronger by progressing them to half kneeling and then standing. In this way we can determine if the pattern breaks.  Once we repeatedly stick form then we must add stress. It is like building a cushion.

Do athletes need to start here? More than anyone! To paraphrase Gray Cook, " We adopt poor movement as result of pain. Part of survival system allows movement around problems we cannot move through. When the pain is gone sometimes the poor movement pattern remains.”

As we go through life, stresses and injuries force us to reroute the "movement maps" we developed as babies.

Athletes are great compensators. They will find a way to get the movement done.  They are also very explosive; at times so much so that they cannot accurately feel their body’s sensations and be aware of their movement. Slowing things down to make changes and build back their speed with better control is what is required! Athletes also become asymmetrical because of repeated patterns. These asymmetries result from the three stress reflexes that Thomas Hanna writes about: the Red Light, Green Light and Trauma Reflexes. Getting rid of these reflexes and regaining symmetry is what reduces injury risk.

I have a weekly class I call "Recovery." In this 90 minute class we do Somatic Exercises, followed by dynamic mobility work and locomotion drills ( walking, skipping, carioca, shuffling).  The group's control and efficiency of mobility work has greatly increased after Somatic Exercises. Locomotion to me is “Somatics on your feet.” Locomotion drills set a foundation to progress students to more uncontrolled environments such as agility and speed drills. This allows students to pick up on their movements, and for me to pick up movement hiccups.  You can surely bet if there is movement inefficiency with no load, there will also be inefficiency with weights.

Brilliant generals are said to possess “coup d’oeil”, which in French means power of the glance. It is the ability to make sense of the battlefield.  Hanna Somatics enhances the power of my glance.

Chris Carlsen is the owner of Iron Lion Performance and Director of Fitness at the Matrix Fitness Club in Astoria, New York. He participated in the Somatic Exercise Coach Training in 2014.

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]

Train for More Than the Gym - with Somatics!

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

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

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

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

Humans adapt or die

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Move More, Get Stronger, and Live Longer

My clients often ask me, "Now that I'm no longer in pain, what kind of exercise should I do so I don't hurt myself again?" Good question. Here's my answer: Once you've reversed your Sensory Motor Amnesia, it's imagesimportant to integrate your new awareness and control into full body movement. Exercise is fun and good for you, so have at it! It's also important to strengthen the new, more balanced posture and movement.

Do what you love to do now that you have awareness and control of your body and movement. Paying attention to your movement, and exercising and moving within your comfort range is what will help you prevent injury. Challenge yourself, yet be mindful not to go beyond what truly feels good.

On page 30 of my book, Move Without Pain, I write about walking, one of the most basic, fundamental activities in the human vocabulary. I write about how movement, rather than exercise is the key to long term health. Create a movement-filled life and you will generally find your health and fitness to be better than you  realize.

Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longershares a similar outlook (as discussed in this May 2012 New York Times article).

She says:

I wanted people to understand... how little exercise you can do in order to get lots and lots of health benefits. Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.

Those who know me have heard me mention my mother, Meg Peterson, as a living example of how a movement-IMG_0058filled life has kept her strong, fit, and still hiking at 85 years old. Yes, she was blessed with good genetics, but more importantly she refused to slow down as she got older. She takes out her own trash, mows her own lawn, walks several miles daily (and incorporates hills when possible) and doesn't shy away from using the stairs instead of an elevator. And yes... she does her Hanna Somatic Exercises!

8 Ways to Be Fit and Healthy: (without "exercising")

  1. Walk instead of using the car whenever possible
  2. Do your own gardening
  3. Use the stairs instead of the elevator
  4. Ride your bicycle to work or to run errands
  5. Hand-wash your car instead of taking it to the car wash
  6. Shop locally and carry your groceries home on foot
  7. Put on music and dance while you cook
  8. Walk around your house while using the phone (instead of sitting still)

I have often had clients tell me that if they don't feel dead on their feet after a workout, that they haven't exercised hard enough. Robert Sapolsky, author of the best selling book about stress called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, presents some interesting - and disturbing - facts about the negative affects of extreme exercise on bone mass and stress hormone levels(pg. 123). If you love to run marathons, that's great. Just be aware of the need for bringing your nervous system out of the fight or flight mode (which causes stress hormones to flood your body) afterwards. Do your Hanna Somatic Exercises to reboot the muscular system and give yourself time to recover.

If you aren't an extreme exerciser, you're in the majority.  Always be sure to bring movement of all sorts into your day and that, in addition to sensible nutrition, should stand you in good stead for a long time.

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.

Improve Athletic Performance with Somatic Exercise Coaching

Somatics is an excellent adjunct to any training regimen because it supports and enhances a trainer’s work by fundamentally improving an athlete’s own internal awareness and control of his body. The outcome can be an athlete with a range of motion and coordination level he never had or knew he could have. Today one of the students from the January 2013 Essential Somatic Exercise Coach training in Leeds, UK sent me his impressions about the training (that he them posted on a weightlifting forum). He writes:

Here's a personal view on how this course has been working for me over the past couple of months:

  •  I've earned almost all the tuition fees back in a matter of hours.
  •  My physical trainings clients LOVE the results. It's an easy cross sell, too.
  •  The coaching style is very different and sometimes I feel like I'm making a hash of it compared to imagesMartha's instruction. But when the client stands up and moves around I can see that I've helped them to make a noticeable difference.
  •  I've been able to gift my work to a young weightlifter who was all but ready to quit due to chronic pain that wasn't showing up on any scans (including an MRI).
  •  My personal practice got a big boost.
  •  The other day I was able to use some of the principles to correct an "unpacked" shoulder in the Turkish Get Up very quickly.
  •  I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing the clients' reaction of delight when they stand up to assess themselves after the first session. Helping people feels great.

Never train something you can't feel.

In athletics, “movement memory” (sometimes called "muscle memory") is considered the foundation of consistent high performance. This refers to learned physical movements - everything from walking, rolling, crawling, running - to elite athletic performance. The essence of movement memory is the brain's ability to sense what a movement feels like and to then coordinate muscles to execute that movement at will and with enough precision to meet the demand of the moment.

When muscles become habitually contracted due to an accident, injuries, overtraining, improper training, or repetitive tasks, the brain no longer senses them, nor controls them voluntarily. Movement becomes less efficient and less coordinated. This condition is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). When you train muscles you can't feel or control, you get hurt, your form is "off" and your playing days could be limited. Don't despair - this condition is rapidly reversible if you know what to do, what to look for, and how to do it.

Somatics Exercises are corrective exercises that prepare you to move better.

Hanna Somatic Exercises teach your brain to reset muscle length, restore optimum muscle function, and eliminate Sensory Motor Amnesia. They are complementary to any Image 19movement discipline - from Yoga, Pilates, NIA and dance, to kettle bells, football, powerlifting, running and cycling.

Somatic Exercises put you back in control of your body and of the ability to extend, flex, side bend, rotate, and twist without limitation, and prepare you to move freely so you can do more of what you want to do. They are what you should be doing before you train every day.

The longer you train, the harder you compete and the higher you strive...the more you need Martha Peterson. Somatics is, without question, the simplest, fastest way to "forget" injuries and overcome training errors. Injured as a Highland Games athlete, I did a lot of thing to fix my hip, and, to be honest, a lot worked. But nothing transformed me more than Martha's simple techniques. Martha is the "go to girl" for male athletes looking for the pain-free edge.

- Dan John, author of Never Let Go

The next Somatic Exercise Coaching Training is coming up - February 7-9, 2014. Click here for more information and to register early.

Somatic Squats

Properly executed squats are one of the most useful movements you could do on a daily basis. Having the ability to squat down to the ground uses all the muscles of the core in a coordinated movement that is a catch-all exercise of strengthening. Despite the emphasis on core strengthening anddeep-squat the finer points of how to squat properly I've seen a tendency in many athletes toward habituating the Green Light Reflex. This means that the muscles of the back of the body (the "posterior chain") - become tight and stay tight. If the back of the body is tight, the front of the body, and especially the hip flexors, co-contract. It's a full body pattern response to stress.

There is a need for a different kind of squat, done as more of a somatic release - after a training session of vigorous athletic squats. The "laundry squat," also known as a "frog squat" is a simple squat that, when done fluidly and effortlessly, allows for coordination and communication between all of the sinawsouqjoints, from the neck and mid-back all the way down to the knees, ankles, and rounded pelvis. There should be an easy, coordinated "distribution of labor" that feels utterly natural and effortless to do.

Most Westerners don't squat in our daily lives, so if you don't want to lose the ability to bend the knees, hips and ankles to get up and down, there's no time like the present to begin bringing this quintessentially human movement back into your life.

Try this "Somatic Squat" for improved flexibility when squatting.

The "laundry squat" is simple: you sink straight down to the ground, the tailbone drops, the backCave - India 2 lengthens, the pelvis gently rounds under a bit and the weight  settles on the heels and the mid-foot. The upper body is slightly forward. It's the preferred squat of millions of people in Asia and Africa. And of me, when I'm in a cave in India (at right).

I understand that many people are afraid to squat; perhaps they've had knee surgery, hip problems, an accident or injury. Any kind of injury, as you already know if you've been following this blog, has the potential to create Sensory Motor Amnesia in the brain/muscle connection. This means that you lose an accurate sense of how you move your body and where it is in space. Perhaps squatting is scary because you've lost the connection between the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back.

Whatever your fear, I invite you to begin to explore this important and basic human movement. View the short video below for a fun exploration that can begin to create more awareness and freedom through the shoulders, back, and hips. By exploring and differentiating the twisting of the shoulders and hips, and gently increasing movement in the ribcage, you might find that the front movement of squatting becomes a little easier. This exploration is also useful for anyone with scoliosis whose ribcage feels more compressed on one side. I enjoyed making the video - and yes, it helped me squat more smoothly and effortlessly.

This "laundry squat" exploration is taken from the book Mindful Spontaneity by Ruthy Alon. Enjoy it and let me know how it works for you.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUaRC67zj2I&w=560&h=315]

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.

Muscle Confusion and Somatic Differentiation

"Muscle confusion" is marketed as a new, cool, breakthrough discovery that is the outstanding characteristic of P90X, a very popular fitness routine/method. I've discussed this concept before, and it bears repeating: "Muscle confusion," is a bit of a misnomer. When you mix up your routine with different kinds of ballistic movements, you're not actually confusing the muscles. You're disrupting the circuits in your brain, and giving the brain new and different feedback and stimulus. Your brain actually teaches them to become smarter through increased sensory feedback. The biggest benefit of this kind of training is increased sensory awareness and motor control. A more accurate word for "muscle confusion" is "differentiated movement." This term was coined by Moshe Feldenkrais, creator of the Awareness Through Movement exercises and Functional Integration. Feldenkrais began to see in his own work how breaking down patterns of movement into little seemingly unrelated sequences brings an almost instantaneous improved coordination and range of motion in the muscular system.

One of the best example of differentiated movement is the somatic exercise called the "seated twist." It is a profoundly effective exercise for relieving neck and shoulder pain by breaking down all the movements inherent in a full spiral twist of the body.

In this exercise you learn to differentiate the head from the trunk, eyes from the neck and head, upper body from the lower body for increased movement and freedom of restriction of the neck, shoulder girdle and trunk. Increased range of motion and rapid pain relief occurs not through force, but through intelligent sensory integration and re-patterning of muscles that had forgotten how to move properly.

Other examples of differentiation and "muscle confusion" are brushing your teeth with your left hand (if you're right handed), walking backwards, or running, then stopping to do 5 jumping jacks, then running again. You're essentially distracting the brain from its habitual ways of sensing and moving. Current studies on brain plasticity tell us that "mixing it up" and creating a challenge for your brain helps the brain adapt and grow new neural connections. This is what creates the "big results" of P90X.

Somatic Exercises before your workout will create even smoother, more intelligent and coordinated movement.

If you want to take the results touted by P90X to an even higher level, add a short routine of somatic exercises before and after your workout.  Somatic exercises are - for most athletes - profound differentiation. Why? Because these exercises are done SLOWLY, with attention to the end range of the movement - something few athletes, with the exception of dancers, do when preparing to move. What, you may ask, is there to learn from moving slowly if your sport involves ballistic movement?

Slow movement "wakes up" the muscles safely and allows the brain to accurately sense what is happening in the body. Athletes learn to compensate due to accidents, injuries or over-training.  This can create an imbalance in the somatic center and accumulated muscle tension that gets in the way of smooth, efficient movement.  The end results of such compensatory patterns is one of moving like a car with the emergency brake still on.  Somatic Exercises teaches you to eliminate this kind of accumulated muscle and movement tension so the brain can recruit only the muscles necessary to get the job done.

Any sport or vigorous workout like P90X requires balance, muscle coordination, and mastery of specific movement patterns - flexing, extending, side bending, twisting, rotating. The more "body smarts" you have, the less likely you are to get injured from overuse or carelessness. Somatic Exercises are a missing link in athletic training that can help you differentiate yourself into improved coordination, muscle function and movement you never thought you could do.

Learn More From the Experts in Movement, Fitness and Health

Laree Draper has put together an impressive list of experts on fitness, movement, nutrition, weight lifting, pain/injury and health for a series called "Movement Lectures." I had the honor of being invited to include a lecture about Hanna Somatics. If you'd like to hear my lecture, and learn more from others in the fascinating field of fitness, movement education and health on her site. You can download lectures (which include a pdf transcript) and listen to them whenever you want.

The more you learn, the better informed your choices will be. Education is the key to retaining mastery and awareness.

Somatics, Differentiation, and Kettlebell Training

Improving range of motion is easy with "differentiation."

A UK kettlebell instructor who incorporates Hanna Somatics in his training, sent me a link to a hip mobility exercise video clip from "Kettlebells From the Ground Up." It demonstrates a simple hip mobility exercise that can help to improve one's Turkish Get-Up.

My client knew I would appreciate the teaching in this video. The technique shown in this video, which enabled the athlete to improve his range of motion is called "movement differentiation." This technique was popularized by Moshe Feldenkrais and is widely used by Hanna Somatic Educators as well.

Differentiation = improved sensory motor control

Differentiation of movement elicits almost instantaneous  improved coordination and range of movement to the muscles. You "disrupt the circuits" in your brain by separating the larger movement into smaller movements that, seemingly, have nothing to do with one another: moving the ankle by itself, then the hip by itself, the back to the ankle. The ankle, knee and hip are related, yet most of us forget that the more aware you brain is of the body as a whole, the easier it is to perform any given movement. The biggest benefit is increased sensory awareness and motor control.

When you give feedback and new stimulation to the brain by focusing conscious, voluntary attention on these areas through movement, the outcome is instanteous improvement - not with force, but with intelligent sensory appreciation of what you're doing. Just like "updating the software" on your computer, the motor output in your brain is "updated" so it can run more smoothly. Muscle length and function improve as well, without forceful stretching.

The seated twist (at right, and on my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD) is a perfect example of a Somatic Exercise that elicits extraordinary instant improvement in one's ability to release tight neck and shoulders through differentiation.

Try this Somatic Exercise for hip mobility in the Turkish Get-Up.

The Hip Lift and Reach Somatic Exercise is similar to the movement pattern you want to execute smoothly in the Turkish Get-Up. It targets all the muscles that attach into the pelvis and hip joint - the waist, back and abdominals - for freer hip movement.

Here's another simple differentiation you can add to the video link from Kettlebells from the Ground Up:

  • Inhale and gently arch the lower back as you outwardly rotate the leg and outwardly rotate the arm/shoulder. Allow the shoulder to press down into the mat as you rotate the arm. This brings in gentle movement of the back muscles.
  • Exhale and relax the back slowly as you bring the leg and the shoulder back to neutral.
  • Repeat 3-4 times slowly.
  • Repeat the entire sequence, and add the head turning slowly toward the arm/shoulder as it rotates outward.
  • Test out your range of motion, by first lowering your leg to the ground, then bringing it up as high as is comfortable.

Notice the changes in your hip and shoulder coordination. Let me  know how it goes!

Visit the Essential Somatics® store to purchase my pain relief instructional DVDs.

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.

How Somatics Can Help Rowers Relieve Muscle Pain

Rowing is one of the oldest sports in the modern Olympic games. It is still popular today in high school and collegiate sports (more commonly known as crew), and as a workout routine at the gym. There are two different kinds of rowing:

  • Sweep rowing, in which the rower has one oar, held with both hands, and rows on one side of the boat
  • Sculling, in which the rower has an oar in each hand.

Sculling is the form of rowing most of us are familiar with. It's the rowing used at gyms on rowing machines. When you add the element of competition - or the goal of getting a workout through vigorous repetition, there are several things to watch out for in order to prevent injury or muscle strain.

Most rowing injuries are caused by poor technique or overuse. Overuse can cause Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The repetitive action of rowing can cause low back pain, knee problems, shoulder pain (rotator cuff), arm and wrist pain, sciatica, rib stress fractures, and chronically tight quadratus luborum (QL - "hip hiker") muscles.

Rowing is a wonderful full body sport, using the muscles of the back, lats, quadriceps, abdominals, biceps, triceps, rhomboids, trapezius and gluteal muscles. As the legs extend and push forward, the abdominals, arms, lats, rhomboids, and shoulders contract to pull the oars to the chest. Those who work out with rowing machines will likely not row with the same speed, force, and duration as collegiate rowers. However, since the muscles involved in both "gym rowing" and competitive crew are the same, proper technique and rhythm is critical no matter what your goal if you want to prevent an overuse injury.

This video explains proper rowing technique for "gym rowers" using the same technique used in competitive crew.

There is a lack of full extension through the front and back of the body in rowing.

As in cycling, the body contracts forward into a Red Light Reflex, but with full extension of the legs and trunk, due to being in a seated position. Here's an excellent slow motion video that demonstrates proper sculling. While smooth and powerful, notice how the muscles of the front and back of the body never fully lengthen. The chest muscles never fully expand, and the oblique muscles of the waist are slightly contracted; this causes the intercostal muscles between the ribs to become tight and the ribs to pull down toward the hips.

Low back pain, tight shoulders, and tight hips are common in rowing.

It's pretty clear that the repetitive pulling of the oar forward will, over time, cause the rhomboid and trapezius muscles to stay tight. If one rows with an arched back, or a twist in the pelvis, as with "sweep rowing," strain is put on not only the shoulders, but the low back and hips as well.

In the photo at right, notice the torque of the trunk to the left in the first rower. Here's a video that shows the same torque that occurs if you're "sweep rowing." The muscles of the waist and trunk rotators repetitively contract in the "catch" phase of the stroke. Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in the QL's (quadratus lumborum) and a slightly hiked left hip would not be a surprising outcome for this rower after  an extended period of training.  This is a classic trauma reflex - habituated SMA may be useful for crew perhaps, but potentially painful and disruptive for daily movement and a smooth walking gait.

Sensory Motor Amnesia can develop due to repetitive movement, even if the movement is done properly. In order to prevent SMA, try incorporating Somatic Exercises into your daily workout routine.

Somatic Rowing warm-up:

Somatic Rowing cool-down:

For pain in the arms and wrists, refer to this video and blog post.

Contact Martha for information about how Hanna Somatics can help your collegiate or professional sports team prevent overuse injury and recover faster from workouts.

Many thanks to Kanwei Li, a former collegiate rower, for his photo and input.