More Power In Your Lifting With the Flower


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.

Hanna Somatics to Make You A Better Horseback Rider

Horseback riding is a wonderful sport that connects rider to horse in a dance that is powerful to observe and wonderful to experience. Over the years I have worked with many riders whose primary goal is to be able to get back on their horse and ride without pain. Nearly all of them have fallen off their horse, been bucked or kicked, or sustained a minor riding-related injury – after all, it's part and parcel of horseback riding. Even if their injury has not landed them in the hospital, it has a lasting effect on their riding ability in the form of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

It's not a wonder that Essential Somatics is attracting knowledgeable riding teachers who are taking an interest in helping their students get back on their horses, so that both they and their animals can continue to feel move freely and easily, and without pain.

I'd like to introduce you all to Lisa Weiben. Lisa is a Clinical Somatic Educator-in-training in the Canada 1 training class in Calgary, AB. She isa Centered Riding teacher, using Clinical Hanna Somatics with her horseback riders, both in movement classes and one-to-one clinical sessions at the Mountain View Training Stables. Here's what Lisa has to say about how Somatics can benefit horseback riders:

"Hanna (or Clinical) Somatics is about muscles and movement. Important things to everyone, but extremely important to anyone who rides a horse! It is wonderful for people suffering from chronically contracted muscles. Even if you don’t think you have contracted muscles, the contractions can build up over time and form specific patterns in the body.

The Somatic Movements are easy for anyone to do. A short daily practice of Hanna Somatic Movements can reset the muscles and prevent future tightness from occurring. We will always have stress in our lives, we may sustain injuries, or be in accidents, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t keep our bodies free from the muscles tightness that can limit our potential as a rider. We want to be able to sit on the horse as in balance as possible so that we can help our equine partners perform to the best of their abilities. Somatics can help us get there!"

To read Lisa's article in full, with specific tips for horseback riders, click here! Lisa offers one-to-one clinical Somatics sessions, Hanna Somatic movement classes, riding lessons in centered riding, Western Dressage, English Dressage, and horsemanship. If you're a horseback rider who wants to eliminate pain, get back on your horse, or simply improve your riding capability, contact Lisa.

And you don't have to ride a horse to do Hanna Somatics. If you are active, you can learn to stay active and improve your level of activity with less tension, and more intelligent and efficient movement. You don't even have to be in pain to enjoy Hanna Somatics; you just have to want to move! 

Injuries and Compensation Can Cause Re-injury

Recently I read yet another article about Carlos Beltran of the Mets and how difficult it's been for his trainers to get him back out on the field. Due to a knee injury... and another injury... and more pain... he just can't seem to get his form back. Is this surprising? It shouldn't be. Go back and read my three posts about the Trauma Reflex and hip pain (all of which applies to the knees as well). You'll see more clearly what I mean. In many cases of injury, a player isn't able to regain his earlier form, because the contraction pattern of the original injury hasn't been fully cleared up.

Carlos Beltran is a  $100 million player. The Mets are losing their money, yet spending much of it on therapies that aren't even hitting the mark. Surgery for a micro-fracture was successful; his follow up, however, could use a different approach. A Hanna Somatic approach.

Carlos Beltran is suffering from a classic case of Sensory Motor Amnesia.  According to one article,

"The 33-year-old developed the tendinitis while overcompensating for the right knee that underwent surgery last January. He was shut down for more than a week but resumed baseball activities last Wednesday and had a cortisone shot..."

He had surgery on his right knee for a micro-fracture, then developed tendinitis in his left knee. This is a classic case of injuries criss-crossing in the body. It happens not only to athletes, but to anyone who suffers a one-sided injury. It's called the Trauma Reflex. It contributes to back pain, shoulder, neck and hip pain and an uneven gait.

When athlete suffers an injury, the muscles on the other side of the body are instantly recruited to stabilize the injured limb. The original injury is "fixed" (in the case of Beltran), and the area goes through rehabilitation. The athlete is told that he's to good to go, except he's not. Not until the opposite side of the body - the one that learned how to "help out" as the injury healed - learns to relax and regain its original function.

Many players who suffer this kind of injury find that they just can't play (or pitch, run or catch) the way they once did. Their stats start to slip. What they're not aware of is that their finely tuned form - the "movement memory" that enabled them to perform at an elite level - now has a glitch in it. Read the article, Somatics and the Professional Athlete to learn more about how and why this occurs.

The keys to extending one's playing life as a professional athlete are simple:

  • Teach athletic trainers about the nature of injury and how the brain and muscular system respond to it.
  • Employ Hanna Somatic Educators to work with injured athlete
  • Teach the athletes a simple daily routine of Somatic Exercises as a "warm-up" and "cool-down" for their entire sensory motor system.

Why wouldn't you want to do that?

It wouldn't cost the Mets $100 million, though in my humble opinion, that would be what Hanna Somatics is worth to these teams.

"Dead Butt Syndrome" = Sensory Motor Amnesia

Dead butt syndrome is apparently a new syndrome that many runners are suffering from, but don't realize it. This newest "syndrome" is, from my Somatic Educator point of view, another nebulous diagnosis that seeks to put a name to something the medical profession still doesn't know enough about: Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

SMA can cause Dead Butt Syndrome.

SMA is the condition of chronically contracted muscles that occurs due to habituation from stress reflexes (accidents, injuries, surgeries, repetitive training). SMA, which occurs at the level of the nervous system, can cause hip pain, back pain, sciatica and a host of other functional problems. The brain actually loses the physiological ability to relax, release and control the muscles. Thomas Hanna, PhD, wrote about it in his book, Somatics: Awakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health. This book will change your perspective on your own body and your potential to regain mastery over your body.

When a muscle hurts or is dysfunctional, the problem is never in just one muscle. There is a lack of control in a specific action pattern and group of muscles that perform that action that causes a particular muscle to become sore. In Dead Butt Syndrome, the gluteus medius is allegedly the culprit in addition to "weak abdominal muscles."

Here is why I disagree:

There's always a full body pattern of dysfunction that needs to be awakened, addressed, and reversed when just one muscle is causing pain. It doesn't matter if it's the neck, the foot, the hip flexor, or the calf. If a group of muscles is chronically contracted, one's entire ability to move becomes unbalanced. These muscles are usually the ones with SMA. The sensory motor system simply needs to be improved (by relaxing these "amnesic" muscles at the brain level) so that balanced movement becomes "the norm" again.

Chronically contracted muscles may feel weak, but are, in actuality, so tight that their function becomes impaired.

In this "dead butt" hypothesis, it means that the gluteus medius is either chronically contracted or can't function properly because other muscles are so contracted that fluid movement of the back, waist, abdominals, and pelvis is inhibited. Chronically contracted muscles feel "dead" and weak because they don't get enough oxygen and blood, when in fact they are actually so tight that they can't relax!

I participated in a wonderful class the other evening taught by John Belkewitch of Day 1 Personal Training. We did all kinds of functional mobility drills that required focus and somatic awareness. The next day I was incredibly sore and tight - in my right thigh. What did I learn? I learned that my right side had more SMA than I realized, and was really tight.  My left side wasn't participating fully to balance my movement. The lesson here is that whenever one one part of your body is sore after a vigorous physical activity - suspect Sensory Motor Amnesia - and begin to notice more closely where you might have lost control of balanced movement.

To get to the root of your problem, attend a class, workshop, or private session in Somatic Education. You can save money spent on short term pain relief methods, learn to reverse pain for the long term.

How Somatics Can Improve Your Yoga Practice

The New York Times recently published an article about the different ways people are getting injured while practicing yoga. It reported that in pushing the limits of one's ability to stretch and bend, more people are getting injured. Yoga is an ancient philosophy of life which includes the practice of asanas, (postures) and its benefits are numerous: improved posture and muscle control, improved breathing, balance, and calming of the mind. However, when you push it, yoga can cause injury. I've had several Somatics clients who have been injured in yoga class. In fact, some of my clients are even afraid of yoga.

The three reasons people get injured when doing yoga:

  1. Having Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and not knowing it
  2. Lack of awareness of one's body
  3. Stretching too much

Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

When you have SMA you have muscles that are involuntarily tighter than they should be. This means that while you're trying to perform a yoga movement, the muscles required to perform the posture aren't coordinating properly. Some muscles are working while others are compensating and working too hard. You feel out of balance; you can do a posture on one side and have trouble with it on the other side. In Hanna Somatics we teach you to reverse your SMA through slow, gentle movement patterns that make you aware of which muscles are under your voluntary control and which aren't.

Lack of awareness

When you can't sense your muscles, you can't do what the teacher is asking you to do. You'll imitate a movement instead of initiate a movement from within. You'll push yourself farther than you can comfortably go because you can't sense and feel what you're doing. Somatics is sensory motor learning. We teach you to regain sensory awareness and motor control from the inside out through basic, slow movements done at your pace.

Stretching too much

Overstretching is common in yoga. When you stretch, you passively take a muscle farther than it can comfortably go with the intention of making it longer.  This can invoke the Stretch Reflex, which contracts the muscle tighter than it was before. Overstretching is one reason why some people feel tighter after a yoga class than when they started.

So how can I practice yoga without getting injured?

In Hanna Somatics we teach pandiculation - an active lengthening that begins with a contraction. It's what cats and dogs do when they lengthen their bodies after getting up from rest. It overrides tight muscles and resets the muscle length at the brain level. When you pandiculate, you only lengthen a muscle to its comfortable length. There is no forcing involved.

Somatics and Yoga aren't mutually exclusive. They complement each other beautifully! Hanna Somatics can jump-start your yoga practice and help you prevent many of the common injuries associated with yoga.

Somatics for Athletes

I received an email from a client who's a big baseball fan:

"By the sounds of it, I think John Maine, pitcher for the Mets, has Sensory Motor Amnesia... they fired a lot of their medical staff last year since, so many of their star players were injured all the time."

I read a New York Post article about the Mets and realized why my client might just be correct. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

"Maine insists he is fine physically but has no explanation for his struggles."

"Maine's off-balance throw skipped past Fernando Tatis at first base..."

Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) refers to the state of habitually tight muscles that have lost their ability to relax and coordinate properly. This occurs in response to accidents, injuries, surgeries, over training, and other stresses. In athletics, "movement memory" (sometimes called "muscle memory") is the foundation of consistent high performance. Through years of careful repetition and training, elite athletes learn to hit a 90 mph fast ball, kick a 35-yard field goal, or execute an intricate gymnastics routine. This means that an athlete can repeat an action consistently and reliably.

But what happens when an athlete gets injured, or suffers from repetitive stress? Injury causes reflexive muscular tightening and muscular compensation. One's movement is no longer fluid, and controlled and muscles don't respond quickly and efficiently. This can result in an eventual loss of athletic form, throwing off balance, coordination and reliability. A martial artist I know described moving with SMA as like  "trying to drive your car at 60 mph with the parking brake on."

A case of SMA could signal the end of a career for a professional athlete. John Maine's pitches become "off-balanced" and miss their mark, and despite no apparent physical "problem," he just can't play the way he used to. He's struggling. Jose Reyes of the Mets has been suffering from repeated hamstring injuries and no one can seem to help him either. An injured hamstring requires that the athlete recruit other muscles to help out. This throws balance and form off and the athlete works harder than necessary, which in turn can result in yet another similar injury.

Hanna Somatics could give the Mets some excellent day-to-day strategies to get back in the game and stay on top despite the accidents, injuries and stresses of their rigorous athletic training.

To PT or Not to PT

One of my clients recently suggested I read an interesting article in the New York Times about physical therapy. It was indeed interesting, because there are many different views on physical therapy. My personal experience with PTs has been purely one of post-operative rehab. I like my PT because he's not a big believer in movement that has no inherent function (such as the hip adductor machine). He taught me functional movements that helped me get my gait back, and said, "go outside and figure out how to make your own workout." Now that's good advice.

Does PT even work?

As the New York Times article discusses, physical therapy is often the first line of defense for doctors whose patients have chronic muscular pain despite clear diagnostics. PT is paid for by most insurance, yet the jury's still out as to whether or not it's actually is effective in treating chronic muscular pain for the long-term. I've met several very capable PTs who utilize myriad methods that help their patients feel better. But my concern arises from the large number of the people who come to me after weeks or months of PT because they simply do not feel better and have not regained their freedom of movement.

What can I do to experience results when recovering from an injury?

In my experience, the most effective way to eliminate chronic muscle pain is through education, not treatment. When muscles are chronically tight, as in the case of low back pain, it's because the muscles have habituated to whatever stress the person has adapted. Inherent in that is a full body pattern of contraction. From a somatic point of view, the function of the muscles needs to be changed in order for the muscles to relax and the pain to go away. The client has to learn to do that for him/herself.

Many PTs think that a muscle or joint is painful because it's weak. Often that's true, but in many cases it's not. In contrast to PTs, Hanna Somatic Educators learn to look at a client as a whole when treating pain or physical restriction in a certain part of the body. We want to know where the full body restriction is keeping the client from moving efficiently, or what full body pattern of holding is causing the pain. Where is the Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)? What is the client doing every day in order to teach the muscles to stay tight like that? How did the client respond reflexively to the trauma that might have taken place? How did they compensate?

Physical therapy has its place and is terrific post operatively or after a physical tear or break. I'm looking forward to the time when PTs and Hanna Somatic Educators can combine their training for maximum effect. I also look forward to a time when a doctor will give you a referral to a Hanna Somatic Educator if you are experiencing "unexplained" pain or movement restriction.