Takeaways from The Myth of Aging - Hollyhock 2017

"Youth has strength, but it does not have skill, which, in the long run, is the most potent strength.   Youth has speed, but it does not have efficiency, which, in the long run, is the only effective way of attaining goals.   Youth is quick, but not deliberate, and deliberation is the only way to make correct decisions...Youth has energy and intelligence, but it does not have the judgment necessary to make the best use of that energy and intelligence.   Youth is a state of be put behind us as we grow taller and deeper and fuller. Unless we understand that life and aging are a process of growth and progress, we will never know the first principles of living."  – From the book,  Somatics , by Thomas Hanna

"Youth has strength, but it does not have skill, which, in the long run, is the most potent strength. Youth has speed, but it does not have efficiency, which, in the long run, is the only effective way of attaining goals. Youth is quick, but not deliberate, and deliberation is the only way to make correct decisions...Youth has energy and intelligence, but it does not have the judgment necessary to make the best use of that energy and intelligence. Youth is a state of be put behind us as we grow taller and deeper and fuller. Unless we understand that life and aging are a process of growth and progress, we will never know the first principles of living."
– From the book, Somatics, by Thomas Hanna

 

This was my third year teaching The Myth of Aging course at Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Center on Cortes Island, BC. This course was a four-day immersion into Hanna Somatics: the principles, concepts, and somatic movements developed by Thomas Hanna that can guide people to eliminate chronic pain, tension and stress as they learn to reconnect to a safe, intelligent and empowering sense of themselves.

This year was like none I'd ever taught: 17 students, all from different backgrounds, abilities, and ages. These students came from education, nursing, business, yoga, coaching, massage, and physiotherapy backgrounds - and seven of them were over 70! Your age does not determine whether you "fall apart" as you get older; what determines it is how you adapt to the stresses of your life. More and more teenagers are displaying a stooped posture of rounded shoulders and depressed chests. This is no longer the posture of senility – it's the posture of stress. How you engage with what happens in your life, and whether you adapt to it and allow it to define you is what makes the difference in whether you will "fall apart" and slow down, or continue improving, growing, and learning. 

Of the 17 people in this course, there was a group of women all between 75 and 87 years old. They were hikers, musicians, adventurers, and all around butt-kickers: awesome, inspiring ladies who weren't going to slow down as they aged. But they had serious pain; for some, they knew it came from a life of emotional struggle. These women forced and pushed and muscled their way through their movement because it's how they'd learned to adapt to the struggles of their lives. It had worked – up to a point.

Like everyone else in the group, an "aha! moment" was when they learned that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, mindsets, and physical habits all show up in our bodies either as tension, or as space and freedom. We have the ability to improve our physical experience from the inside out.

These older ladies were the inspiration of the group. They learned that slowing down was the first step in improving their awareness and physical skill. Less is more, and slow can translate into quick, ballistic movement. Their pain began to wane, their bodies straightened up, their hips began to move, their faces changed, and their stories began to come out. It was clear that letting go of tension – through movement – was creating a new possibility of the future for them. They were beginning to hone the skills necessary to stay in the game for many years to come.

Here are a few takeaways from our group. I am always moved by what students learn when they turn their attention inward, use their brain, develop patience and compassion for themselves, and return to the joyful, curious movement they once had as children.

  • "Learning to let go in your body allows more of who you are to come through."
  • "This course was a game changer; now I know I can eliminate my own pain and continue to do what I love."
  • "This work has given me my life back. I am hopeful."
  • "I feel empowered!"
  • "I realize I'm not as 'galumphy' as my wife says I am. I can actually walk smoothly."
  • "I've taken a lot of courses, yet this one will come with me for the rest of my life. I'll use this information and apply it to everything I do."
  • "A lot of older people say 'When you get to a certain age, it's all downhill.' I realize that I have an opportunity to turn it around right now."
  • "We always want to go for complicated stuff. I realized that the basic movements we learned are the building blocks for all movement."

As I left this workshop, I was so incredibly grateful for the learning that I received through the older participants and the group as a whole. When people come together in the pursuit of their willingness to shed old habits and views, and learn – even at an advanced age – it is deeply inspiring.

Why Do I Have Shoulder Pain?

"Richard" was a tall, young athletic man who worked long hours as a computer consultant. He suffered a rotator cuff injury years ago in a car accident. This left him with chronic shoulder pain even after months of physical therapy, massage, and medical treatment. He said that he had never felt the same since and, despite the fact that he was only 38 years old, he was beginning to think that he was just "getting old." His daily computer usage only made his already painful right shoulder tighter than ever. He was close to developing a "frozen shoulder." The truth was that his shoulder wasn't frozen - the center of his body was.

The shoulder joint isn't just the joint itself; the muscles that move and stabilize the shoulder and coordinate synergistically to move what we think of as "the shoulder" originate in the center of the body. Tight chest muscles pull the shoulders forward and tight upper shoulder muscles (trapezius) hunch the shoulders up. Tight muscles of the side body will pull the shoulder joint downward.  When you learn to release and relax the center of the body, movement in the periphery – the shoulder in this case – will improve dramatically.

Richard was motivated to figure out how to reverse his shoulder pain and regain control of his muscles for two reasons: he had been physically active before his injury, and he had a six-month-old baby he wanted to hold without experiencing pain.

Accidents can cause accumulated muscle tension throughout the entire body.

I wasn't surprised that Richard's right side was so tight; he'd had several car accidents. He had also fractured his left leg in a sports accident without realizing it and had continued to play, compensating strongly with his right side. His right side had been accumulating muscle tension for a long time before his shoulder injury became apparent. His brain had done an efficient work-around; because the brain could no longer sense or control the muscles he should be using, it had recruited other muscles to do the job. Now everything was tight! 

If muscles can learn to stay tight, they can also learn to relax.

In our first session, I taught Richard to relax the deep muscles of the back of his body (the Green Light muscles), including the muscles of the shoulder: the upper trapezius, rhomboids, and lower trapezius. I taught him to pandiculate these muscles, so that his brain could take back voluntary control of muscles that had been involuntarily contracted. He learned to soften the muscles so that they were ready for action again.

After his session, Richard was amazed at how much better his shoulder felt and how much more movement he now had after doing such simple movements. I sent him home with four basic movements to do daily to reinforce the new and improved range of motion that he had achieved.

Release the center of the body for quick relief of shoulder pain.

I saw Richard for one more session in which he learned to release and relax the muscles of twisting and bending. These muscles, known as the "core," are merely the muscles of the center of the body that allows us to flex, extend, side bend, and rotate our spine. If they are involuntarily contracted, they restrict movement of our periphery – from the shoulder and neck down to the pelvis, legs, and feet.

Richard also learned to release the tight latissimus dors muscle on his right side. The latissimus is the broadest muscle of the body and while it attaches up into the front of the shoulder, it extends all the way into the center of the body and attaches to the pelvis. By the end of his session, his pain was completely gone. The changes he had made himself, using his brain to retrain his muscles, were impressive and inspiring. He left my office with a huge smile on his face saying, "this work makes so much sense." He vowed to continue his daily Hanna Somatic Exercises. I look forward to not seeing Richard again for any more sessions; he now has the self-awareness and skills to take care of himself. 

To learn how to relieve neck and shoulder pain on your own, you can purchase my instructional Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.

Compression Fractures, Back Pain, and How to Get Relief

I just received this testimonial from a client from upstate New York who came to see me. He learned how compensation to a severe injury experienced had caused muscular pain, and how to begin to reverse it. He is now doing a daily routine of Somatic Exercises to keep the muscles of his back, waist, and hips more relaxed for easier, more comfortable movement. Read his testimonial below...

Trauma compression fracture pain - solved:

I recently suffered my second trauma compression fracture to one of the vertebrae of my back.

The treatment for this fracture was to wear a rigid back brace during all waking activities.  I had significant pain with this injury and needed strong pain killers for two months just to function. Having gone through this healing process five years ago I was familiar with how long it takes to get back to what I would call full functioning. I am a long time Tai Chi student and also enjoy many other physical activities and challenges. As a result of my recent injury I researched body work and decided that Hanna Somatics would be very complimentary to my Tai Chi practice.

I had two private clinical Somatic Education sessions with Martha Peterson in December 2011. Prior to the first session I was not able to lay flat on my back.  Martha worked to help me understand how to move my upper back muscles and I was able for the first time to lay flat on my back. During the second session we worked on the Trauma Reflex, specifically with the Side Bend and Hip Hike practices.

After this practice I was able to lie flat with zero pain. This was a huge improvement for me and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks!

As the days have passed there is still much work and healing for me. I know all this is a process of two steps forward and one step back. From my own experience of teaching Tai Chi and healing from injuries, I recognize that Martha is a superior and passionate practitioner. I look forward to future work with Martha and know that each session will be an adventure in healing and gaining control of how to move effectively with less pain.

Thank you Martha!

D.L., People Manager, Anheuser-Busch

Quick Relief For Painful Knees

An old friend stopped in for a brief visit over the summer. He was planning an extended trip overseas and was very concerned. His left knee caused him severe pain, especially when walking or kneeling, and he wanted desperately to be able to enjoy walking while on his trip. He asked me, “Could you please look at his knee? The doctors have all said that I need a knee replacement.” Father Peter is a 82-year-old retired Episcopal priest, still active as an assistant rector in his church in Maryland. He had spent the past several years caring for his ill wife who had just recently passed. He had lifted her, wheeled her around, and sat for days by her bedside. Now, after the death of his wife, he had trouble walking. What he found most troubling, however, was the fact that he couldn’t kneel properly in church. Peter's posture was good - erect and balanced. So where was the problem?

I explained to him that certain muscles involved in sitting, walking and moving his legs were probably tighter than they should be. When muscles are involuntarily tight due to having been overused they don't function well. We needed to restore his muscles to a healthy functioning.

Tight thigh muscles and an immobile kneecap will cause pain.

tendons-of-the-knee-478x500Due to the brevity of our impromptu “session,” I had Peter sit as I palpated his quadriceps muscles.  His right leg was softer, the muscles more pliant. His left leg was hard as a rock. I gently moved his right patella up and down, side to side. There was only slight resistance. His left patella, however, wouldn't move. It refused to budge no matter the direction I moved it.

I explained to Peter how the patellar tendon, which is an extension of the quadriceps tendon, passes over the kneecap and attaches into the tibia. If the quadriceps are too tight (or suffer from Sensory Motor Amnesia), the tendons put pressure on the kneecap, and make it impossible to move. This can cause pain when sitting, kneeling, or walking upstairs – all the activities that bothered him.

Tight muscles require pandiculation to relax and release.

In Hanna Somatic Education our clients learn to pandiculate tight muscles. This resets the muscles length at the level of the central nervous system. Keeping this in mind, I taught Peter to pandiculate the right quadriceps muscles: he extended his leg fully to voluntarily tighten his quadriceps muscles. I told him to watch how the thigh muscle "drew the kneecap up," as if it were sliding on a track. He then slowly relaxed his thigh muscles and watched the kneecap slide back into place. Then he completely relaxed his thigh.

When we did this same movement for the left leg/knee, it was more difficult. At first he simply couldn't move the thigh muscles. He contracted every muscle he could think of except his quadriceps! His brain had simply lost sensation and voluntary control of those muscles, which caused them to "freeze up" and stay tight. After several slow, patient attempts in which he really had to concentrate and focus his attention on the feelings in his muscles, he was finally able to firmly and voluntarily contract the thigh muscles. He watched in amazement as his kneecap slid upward, and then downward, as he slowly and voluntarily relaxed the muscles. We repeated this movement several times (with his foot turned inward, then outward) until the kneecap wiggled easily.

Father Peter stood up, walked around the room, and to his utter amazement pronounced himself pain free. I gave him some gentle, easy Somatic Movements and concepts to do at home that would help him reinforce his progress.  Just yesterday - a month later - I  received this email from him:

Prior to our Somatics session I was hobbling and limping to ease the pain.  Now I go for my evening walks marching like a soldier !!!
To learn the methods and movements of Hanna Somatics for rapid relief of muscle pain purchase my instructional DVD here.

Feeling Good Can Be Oh, So Simple!

What a great way to start my day: I checked my email and saw this enthusiastic feedback from a client I worked with only a few days ago. She could barely walk when she'd come to see me, and was sure that something was wrong with her hips. She wasn't sleeping well, and she walked stiffly with little discernible movement in the center of her body. Here's what she had to say:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I walked into your office in pain, limping, and thinking I needed an MRI! I walked out with hips, arms, shoulders moving and feeling great - and have remained so with daily Somatics practice, including stopping frequently to do your "Standing Somatics" reaching exercise -- that gets rid of any beginning kinks! This weekend I took a long trail-clearing hike, up hill, rough terrain, picking up limbs, etc, whereas the weekend before I could barely walk up a slight incline. I went for a great horseback ride yesterday and felt great afterwards.

And it's all so simple! We just need periodic reminders so we don't slip back into old habits... like the green light "arching" posture.  I've become aware this week of how doing that even so slightly throws my hips out of kilter.

Anyway, many thanks again.  We're off tomorrow on a car trip from the farm across the Canadian Waterfront Trail with hiking/biking excursions that I'll now be able to do!"

Come to a Somatics class, make an appointment, and learn how you can get the same results that this client did.

Hanna Somatics teaches YOU to fix YOURSELF

...and reverse back pain, neck, shoulder, foot and knee pain, sciatica, fatigue and that feeling of "getting old." It is education, not therapy. It is simple, appropriate for all ages and fitness levels, and will teach you to maintain the movement and control you need to age well and stay healthy. And, as my client proved, it can save health care dollars by avoiding costly and often unnecessary diagnostics.