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.

Pain-Free At Work: A New Essential Somatics® DVD To Relieve Workplace Pain

"Workplace pain" is muscle pain that can develop due to the on-going or repetitive demands of your job. You don't have to sit at a desk, however, to experience "workplace pain." Teachers, nurses, construction workers, data processors, salesmen and women, lawyers, doctors can all develop chronic muscle pain. Sitting for long hours at your job can have an adverse affect on one's health. Office-Somatics-DVD

Stress has another downside: it puts your nervous system into a "fight or flight" mode. Somatic Exerices and frequent breaks to stand, move the arms, walk up and down the hall or simply stand up and "reach to the top shelf" allow the nervous system to relax.

A more relaxed nervous system has been shown to contribute to increased mental focus and creativity. It also directly contributes to improved self-awareness and optimum muscle function. This alone can save you countless visits to the chiropractor, doctor and physical therapist.

Available Now: Essential Somatics® Pain-Free At Work DVD

On this DVD you will learn seven easy, short Somatic Exercises you can do at your desk in order to remind your muscles that they don't have to stay tight and frozen in one position all day long.  Consider downloading this DVD to your desktop so you can remind yourself daily how to release and relax you neck, shoulder, back and waist muscles so that they function more efficiently throughout the day.

Click here for a complete selection of the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise DVDs.

Why is My Muscle Pain Coming Back?

How many of you do your Somatic Exercises and learn to eliminate your primary muscle pain complaint, only to have it begin to creep back up on you several months later? It would be great if we could "fix" ourselves permanently - do our Somatic Exercise practice daily and never again develop back pain, hip pain or neck pain.brain-side However, the nervous system doesn't work that way. We are not a machine that can be recalibrated once every five years.

We are an internally experienced, constantly changing system that adjusts and adapts to every piece of information and feedback in our environment. These often unconscious events occur on a second-by-second, minute-by-minute, and day-by-day basis - some of them we're aware of,  and others we're not.  What we can do today may be slightly different from what we can do tomorrow depending upon what is happening in our lives. This is why, when we teach Somatic Exercises (which are pandiculations of common movement patterns and stress reflexes), we ask the question, "does the cat or dog ever stop pandiculating?" No. Every time they get up from rest they lengthen their limbs and shake off the tension.

Hanna Somatics teaches us to be aware of and to unlearn our movement habits (hunching over a computer at work), and our mental and emotional habits. Movement habits make sense, but why our mental and emotional habits? Put simply: what's going on in your head is mirrored in your body, whether you realize it or not. The Red Light Reflex is a symptom of stress and worry (tight belly, shallow breathing), which can lead to back , shoulder, and hip pain if ignored.

Stress responses can cause muscle pain to return if you are not careful.

During periods of stress your deepest reflexive responses to stress will be the first thing to return in full force. It is the "path of least resistance" for your brain - a familiar habit. You may begin to slump and stop breathing deeply (Red Light), or tighten your back as if ready to run (Green Light), or tilt slightly to one side (Trauma). Often the reflex simply occurs in response to your stress. For example, you learn to eliminate muscle pain that developed due to compensation from an accident. You go about your life, yet you slip down the stairs and now your hip is hurting as it did before. This is not uncommon. What you choose to do about it is what matters.

For some people, given the knowledge and awareness they have from their daily Hanna Somatics practice, X lat arch and curlthey can bounce back quickly and say, "oh yeah, I know what to do and what to be aware of." For others it's as if they have to start from scratch again. They forget that the answer lies within their own brain.

When I am particularly stressed I tend to slump to the right or tighten my right hip when I walk. When I encounter these stressful periods I need to do my Somatic Exercises more than ever, and find ways to include some standing "reach to the top shelf," "diagonal reaches," (all from my book) or any other "movement snacks" into my day.

Remembering to do your somatic movement daily is as important as brushing your teeth, eating healthy food or getting enough sleep. When stress increases, so does muscle tension. Constant elevated muscle tension means that your muscles aren't getting enough oxygen or blood. Tight muscles are tired, painful muscles. This is your canary in the mineshaft.

Stress won't go away; it is a part of life. What matters is whether you know yourself well enough that you can sense your own reflexive responses to stress (mental, emotional, physical or otherwise) and whether you take the time necessary to regain voluntary control over yourself, your muscles and by extension, your life.

To purchase Martha's book or series of instructional DVDs, click here.

To learn more about Martha's upcoming schedule of trainings and workshops, click here.