Top Three Myths About Hip Pain

Myth #1 - Your hip pain is due to arthritis

Sometimes hip pain is due to severe arthritis, very often it's not.

When you go to a doctor with hip pain their job is to give you a diagnosis because this is what most people want. Unless you are given an X-ray, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have arthritis, the doctor has no way of knowing whether your pain is due to arthritis. I was once told that, due to my age, I had arthritis. The doctor, despite not bothering to take an X-ray, insisted he was right when, in fact, he wasn't. Arthritis is often a "garbage pail diagnosis" - in reality, your hip pain is often caused by tight muscles that are in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

And sometimes you can have arthritis but be moving well with no pain.

Myth #2 - Your hips are weak

It's time to retire this myth in particular. Those coming to me with hip pain have very little movement in the center of their bodies. Their hips don't sway, and their gait isn't smooth and fluid. The problem is not weakness, but tightness.

When muscles learn to stay tight (due to stress reflexes), they lose their full function. They can no longer contract and release fully as a healthy muscle should. Muscles in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) have lost their physiological ability to release.  They are far from weak; they are, in fact, so strong that they cannot relax!

Doctors frequently pescribe physical therapy due to "weak muscles." Strengthening muscles that are in a state of SMA only makes them worse, as I discuss in this post about Tiger Woods' back injury.

Myth #3 - Surgery is the only option for hip pain

The medical profession looks at tight hip joints and sees a structural problem. Somatic Educators look at tight hip joints and see a functional problem. Doctors don't look at movement and patterns; they focus on separate body parts in an effort to "fix" them. Somatic Educators look for what's not moving when someone walks, and teaches them to improve sensory motor control of the muscles in order  to create more release in the center. This can create space and more movement in the joints. Most one-sided hip pain is due to an habituated Trauma Reflex; this reflex also causes an imbalance in the somatic center, altering one's gait and ability to maintain proper balance.

Long term muscle function can result in structural damage, however. Labral tears, osteoarthritis can result from decades of muscle dysfunction. Wouldn't it be a good idea to learn to take back control of your muscle function and coordination, your balance and your ability to sense and move yourself before jumping into surgery?

In this video I share a wonderful variation of the Side Bend, one of the most important and helpful Somatic Exercises you could ever do for hip joint pain. Try it and see how it feels.

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Click here for my Pain-Free Legs and Hips DVD, which has plenty of helpful Somatic Exercises to help you release, relax and control the muscles that move your legs and hips.

Top 3 Myths About Neck Pain

I've work with a lot of people with neck pain, some so severe that they had to go on disability. In the past  Tiger Woods dropped out of a golf tournament due to neck pain - a bulging disc. He said, "I can deal with the pain, but once it locked up I couldn't go back or come through..." While adamant that his neck pain had nothing whatsoever to do with his car accident, as I wrote in this post, Tiger has a bad case of Sensory Motor Amnesia. Here are three myths about neck pain to consider:

Myth #1: Neck pain is caused by the neck muscles

Thomas Hanna once said, "a stiff neck is a stiff body." Muscle tightness in the neck is only a part of a larger IMG_3845muscular pattern of contraction closer to the center of the body. The vertebrae that comprise what we think of as "the neck" are only 7 vertebrae of 24 that comprise the spinal column. There are several layers of strong paravertebral muscles on both sides of the spine that extend from the tailbone all the way up into the base of the skull. If the muscles on the back of the body - from neck to pelvis - are tight, the neck will be affected. This kind of "Green Light Reflex" posture creates pain in the back of the neck and into the base of the skull.

If the front of the body is hunched and slumped, the neck will be affected as well; this "Red Light Reflex" posture draws the head forward, which causes the muscles that move the neck and balance the head to contract strongly to maintain balance.

Simply addressing the neck muscles will not solve the problem - for the long term. The body moves as a system, not a jumble of individual parts. Relaxing the back and front of the body can result in a more relaxed and pain-free neck.

Myth #2: Neck problems come with old age

The older we get, the more opportunities our muscles have had to learn to stay tight, "frozen," and contracted. This is how Sensory Motor Amnesia develops. It occurs due to accidents, injuries, surgeries, repetitive use, and emotional stress.  If that state of habitually contracted muscles progresses over the years, it will appear that the neck problem is a result of age, when in fact, it is the result of muscular dysfunction left unchecked. There is no substantive evidence to prove that age itself has anything to do with neck problems. There is, however, substantive evidence that a lack of movement can result in tighter muscles and restricted movement. This can happen at any age, especially in today's technological world.

Myth #3: Neck problems mean the neck muscles are weak and need strengthening

I addressed this issue of painful muscles being "weak muscles," in an old post about the Top Four Myths About Back Pain. Painful, tight muscles are rarely weak; in fact, they are usually so tight that they can neither release fully, nor move efficiently. Tightly contracted muscles which lack proper blood and oxygen are painful, sore and, because they cannot fully release, feel weak. What is needed is to restore fully muscle function, so the muscles can do the two things they are meant to do: fully contract and fully release. A muscle that cannot fully relax is holding unnecessary tension. Learn to relax and control the neck, back, shoulders, and hips and move the entire body efficiently and your neck pain will probably disappear forever.

Try this easy movement in order to relax and release not only the back muscles, but the neck muscles as well. Notice the connection between the neck and the lower back:

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To learn to reverse chronic muscle pain with gentle, easy Somatic Movements for the back, neck, shoulders, and hips, click here for my Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.

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:

How To Reverse Hip Pain

Here is an old blog post, recycled and updated with free videos. It has stood the test of time.

Strengthening hip muscles doesn't always relieve hip joint pain.

In this post about hip pain and labral tears I questioned the commonly held belief that strengthening the muscles of the hip will somehow relieve general hip joint pain when you've had an injury (like a labral tear).  Here's a recap:

  1. Labral tears are generally the result of athletic injury or wear and tear over the years due to accidents. Labral tears cause instability in the hip.

  2. Instability in a joint causes muscles to contract to try and create stability.

  3. This kind of reflexive contraction to save yourself from further pain or injury or to compensate because because of an injury changes the way in which you would normally move.

  4. The muscles involved in this "Trauma Reflex" pattern must be trained to relax first before beginning any course of strengthening or exercise. Otherwise you will more deeply entrench a pattern of muscular dysfunction.

I recently read a blog written by a young woman who has struggled with hip pain (and also has a labral hip tear) for 4 years.  One extensive post had to do with her experience of dealing with hip pain. She strongly advocated hip exercises, and included links to videos of yoga stretches and repetitive Jane Fonda-esque exercises, all under the heading, "Hip Exercises Will Hurt."

Maybe they will.

And if you have a hip injury that hasn't been addressed, hip exercises will hurt your chances of ever feeling really good again.

To  her credit, the writer admitted that she still has hip pain despite the exercises and noticed that one leg seems "shorter" than the other - yet her own doctor's advice was to strengthen her hip muscles and to "not expect much more mobility than she already had." Despite her good intentions and obvious search for pain relief, from a Somatic Education perspective there is better advice out there than what her doctors gave her or what she is giving her readers.

Try these Somatic Exercises for hip pain relief.

When hip joints are tight, it's because the muscles that attach into the joints have learned to stay tight. They need to be retrained, slowly and intelligently - not forcefully - to release, lengthen and move freely again.

Here are a few easy movements you can do at home to begin to release hip muscles that, when habitually contracted, contribute to chronic pain. Then I'd like to caution you against certain commonly prescribed exercises that can sometimes make hip pain worse.

Instead of stretching the muscles as you go through these movements, you will pandiculate them - contracting the muscle first, then slowly lengthening it to a full relaxation (as if you were imitating a cat or dog getting up from rest). Pandiculation is the key to resetting muscle length and sensory awareness and motor control without forceful pr painful stretching.

Arch and flatten: This movement relaxes the back muscles. Tight back muscles contribute to tight hip joints.

Arch and curl: This movement helps to relax the abdominal muscles, while the washrag allows for easier full body twisting. It relaxes the back, waist, belly and hips.

Side Bend: This movement directly addresses the "Trauma Reflex" muscles of trunk rotation that, when habitually contracted, are probably the biggest contributor to hip pain. This movement will teach you to relax, release and lengthen the waist muscles so that both sides of your waist are the same length and have the same ability to bend from side to side.

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Lay on your right side, as shown in the photo below. Have the knees folded on top of each other at right angles to the body. Rest your left arm on the floor so that your head can rest on it. Get comfortable.

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Let's first explore the lower part of this exercise: put your top hand at your waist and, keeping the knees together, slowly lift the top foot as shown at right. Notice how the hip slides up toward the ribs as you lift the foot. Allow the hip to move as the foot lifts. The waist muscles are drawing the hip up as the foot lifts. Repeat that movement 3 times slowly. Completely release the hip and foot back to neutral.

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Now let's explore the upper part of the exercise: reach the left hand over top of the head and grab your right ear. Inhale and on the exhale, very slowly lift the head into the air. Let the waist muscles and ribs contract to bring your head up. Sense the contraction in the waist as your ribs squeeze down toward your hip. Slowly release down to neutral. Repeat this 3 time slowly.

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Now, let's put both movements together for a full pandiculation of the waist muscles. Inhale, expanding the ribs, and on the exhale lift the head, and the top foot at the same time. The ribs squeeze down as the hip slides up toward the ribs. You're making an accordion with the waist muscles!Let the movement of the waist and hip raise the foot. Notice the contraction in the groin as well. Only go as far as is comfortable and don't force any movement! You are retraining the muscles, and reminding them that they can move.

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On the inhale, slowly lower the foot and the head down at the same time. You're lengthening and relaxing the waist muscles as the hip rolls down to neutral and the ribs relax.  up the right hip to touch the right armpit. Lengthen the entire side of your body as you come down to neutral and completely relax as shown in the photo on the lower right. You're beginning to gain length in the waist muscles! Repeat this movement 6 times slowly.

Roll onto your back and take a minute to notice the difference in sensation between your left side and your right side. Let your brain soak up the sensory feedback. Now roll onto the other side and repeat the side bend 6 times slowly.

Finish this series of movements with theWashrag.

Remeber to do all of these movements SLOWLY, GENTLY, and WITH AWARENESS.

Take a moment after doing these movements to notice the sensations of your body. Lie quietly on your back. This allows your brain time to absorb the sensory feedback you have given it. This new sensory awareness results in improved motor skill and flexibility.

In my next post, I'll discuss my own answers to the following questions about labral tears:

  1. Should they be repaired?

  2. How do you deal with the discomfort of a tear if your doctor says, "let's just wait and see."

  3. Are you setting yourself up to create serious structural damage to the hip joint by not repairing the structural weakness?

I welcome all feedback about the advice given in this blogpost. Do the above movements for a couple of days and let me know how it goes. If you need help, advice or guidance, please contact me!

To learn these movements at home for rapid, long-term muscle pain relief, you can purchase my new, easy-to-follow instructional DVD.

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.

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How To Improve Posture and Gain Body Confidence

There is a widely held belief perpetuated by Yoga teachers and many medical practitioners that when people are stooped or slumped it is because their backs are weak. I hear this from my clients repeatedly:

I need to strengthen my back; I can't hold myself up because my back muscles are weak.

Not always true.

The root cause of the problem is that the front of your body has learned to so stay so tight you can no longer IMG_3852voluntary relax it and stand up straight. This is a learned response to the stress. It is called the Red Light Reflex. Yes, long hours of sitting contributes to the problem and can habituate this reflex. The antidote to this learned posture is not to draw the shoulders back like a soldier at attention. That action is an exaggeration of what we think of as "standing up straight." It, too, is a reflex called the Landau Response, or Green Light Reflex.

When people are stuck in this kind of posture there is a basic absence of somatic awareness and sensory motor control over the muscles. You may know that you're slumped and be upset about it, but you don't know how to change it. Pulling on and strengthening the antagonist muscles (in this case, the back muscles) only creates an equal and opposing contraction through the back of the body.

The solution is process of education: your brain, the command center of your muscles, must teach the muscles of the front of the body to release, relax, and lengthen. Then, and only then, you will be able to begin to coordinate the back of the body with the front of the body in order to stand up to a neutral straight and maintain that posture voluntarily.

This yoga video is typical of the misinformation given to those who want to learn how to stand tall and why one would have trouble standing tall, shoulders at neutral. The teacher is asking the viewer to do something that the brain actually doesn't want you to do: tighten the shoulders, lift the head, but relax the buttocks. The buttock naturally coordinate with the back and shoulders. The brain, which organizes you as a system, contracts all the muscles on the back of the body when the head is lifted and shoulders contract.

Neutral and balanced posture is confident posture.

Here are a few excellent Somatic Exercises that will teach you relax and release the front and back of your body so you can stand taller and more confident. Do them slowly, gently and with awareness to the movement.

The Flower will begin to teach you how to release the muscles of the front of the body that, when chronically contracted in response to stress, round you forward. The more you do this movement, the more your brain will be able to self-correct your posture should you begin to slump again.

The Back Lift, from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD, is the most profoundly effective Somatic Exercise IMG_3540for getting your brain back in control of the muscles of the back of the body - relaxing and releasing them so the front and the back can coordinate together. For a video about the Back Lift click here.

The Washrag brings the back, front and sides of the body together as a connected whole. It helps to open the front in a safe, natural way.

Somatic Exercises teach you to regain awareness of the way in which you move, how you adapt to stress and what it feels like to regain control of your body and movement. They are the best way to improve posture and find the easiest, most efficient way to move. Rather than doing mindless repetitions of strengthening, you will learn to sense and move voluntarily. Strength is important, but never strengthen something you can't feel.

How To Counteract The Dangers of Too Much Sitting

Thankfully, more is being written about the dangers of sitting. And this YouTube video says it all. I questioned the usefulness of chairs a while ago after learning more about functional evolutionary movement. Doctors and scientists are beginning to observe - and accept - what Somatic Educators have known for years: humans are meant to move, in many different ways and planes of gravity - they are not meant to sit for long periods of time without moving. Movement helps to embed learning, enhances creativity and, most importantly, keeps the respiratory, circulation, lymphatic and  muscular systems moving efficiently. It also reinforces basic movement patterns that we all need to maintain in order to keep ourselves moving freely for the rest of our lives.

Dr. James Levine, is quoted in the Business Week article as saying,

"What fascinates me is that humans evolved over 1.5 million years entirely on the ability to walk and move. And literally 150 years ago, 90% of human endeavor was still agricultural. In a tiny speck of time we've become chair-sentenced."

Most people sit one of two different ways - slumped in their chair or pitched forward. 32Sit as I am in the photo at right - slumped - and notice in your own body how:

  • the muscles of the front of the body contract as you hunch. Your breathing is shallow (because your chest is collapsed)
  • the back muscles are tight in co-contraction
  • the neck muscles, both front and back, tighten as your head moves forward (and/or down) to look at your computer screen

Sit pitched slightly forward and notice now:

  • IMG_6834the muscles of your hip joints tighten at the creases in your groin
  • your lower back contracts (feel them with your own fingers)
  • your neck muscles tighten
  • now, keeping that position, look at your computer!

This is what millions of people do every day... all day!

People who sit for long periods generally complain of low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, TMJ and hip joint pain. This, unfortunately, makes sense, because sitting is a repetitive task that teaches the muscles (that only learn through repetition) to stay contracted. Sitting contributes to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), the condition of chronically contracted muscles that, due to habituation and compensation to stress, have learned to stay involuntarily and constantly contracted. If your muscles are full of tension, ready for the next day of sitting, nothing will relax those muscles unless you get the brain back in control of the muscles.

Try these Somatic Exercises at your desk to reduce and release muscle tension

Below are a few simple and safe movements that will remind your muscles that they don't have to stay "frozen" all day long. These movements are from my easy to follow Pain-Free At Work DVD. Instead of stretching as you do these movements, you are pandiculating - gently tightening into the tight , tense muscles (this takes the muscles off cruise control) and then actively and slowly lengthen the muscles into their full range. This awakens the brain to sense the muscles again so it can lengthen them into their full range. It is what cats and dogs do upon waking and before they move into action. Don't forget to breathe easily.

ARCH AND CURL

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.19.01 PMScreen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.19.23 PMArch and curl your back as you sit. Go slowly and gently, inhaling as you arch, and exhaling as you round.

Both of these movements can be done standing. Try them, play with them and see how they feel.

 

WASHRAG

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.58 PMRoll your shoulders forward and back, allowing the shoulder blades to slide along the back. Do this as if you were yawning.

Same with this one: try it while standing.

 

STANDING REACH

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.33 PMStand next to your desk and reach up, as if reaching to the top shelf for something. Repeat this slowly on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Walk to work if you can. Stand at the counter and work at your laptop (as I'm doing this very moment). Change your position and notice the difference between your hips and back when you stand versus when you sit. Use every opportunity you can to not sit, but to bring movement into your life. And when you do feel the need to sit, go back to my blog post about chairs and read it. Consider sitting on the ground and making your chair the exception instead of the rule.

Click here to purchase my Pain-Free DVD series. Click here for my book, Move Without Pain.

Somatic Exercises Make You Happy!

I taught a Somatic Movement class the other morning. It was a cold, snowy morning and honestly, I was surprised that anyone showed up for class. You know how it is when it's cold outside -  you hunch your shoulders up, pull your scarf up around your neck and tighten your center as you walk so you don't slip. Winter can really cause the muscles to become tight. Then I remembered that there is nothing more invigorating and effective for opening yourself up from the winter cold to a relaxed state than a slow, gentle Somatic Movement class.

Everyone in the class had some kind of hip and shoulder pain. Here is what I taught this morning:

  • Arch and Flatten - first arching and flattening to neutral on the floor, then arching and flattening into the floor, moving from the Green Light Reflex into the Red Light Reflex.
  • Arch and Curl - with a gentle psoas release (thanks to Laura Gates, CHSE)
  • Side Bend
  • Propeller
  • Washrag - first with the feet about a foot apart, then with the feet wider apart ("windshield wiper legs")

By the end of the class, those who had had a twist in their pelvis had evened their pelvis out. One woman had felt scattered and anxious and after class she felt grounded and strong. Everyone's hip pain was gone, their walking was lighter and, best of all, the students had a clearer understanding of which stress patterns had contributed to their discomfort - and how they were able to reverse them.

In my teaching I have found that if people don't understand why they're being told to do a movement or exercise, they simply won't stick to it. That which makes sense to us in our own experience is that which will serve us as we continue to grow.

Why do Arch and Flatten? Because it recreates the Green Light Reflex of forward action (go, go, go!!) and the Red Light Reflex (or worry, fear, anxiety, slumping over the computer) that is invoked every day, hundreds of time. Recreate it so you can recognize it when it happens and de-create it.

Why do the Side Bend? Because it gets the brain back in control of the waist muscles - the very muscles that contract and "freeze up" when you have a sudden injury or slip or fall.

And so on...

Somatic Exercises brings you more awareness, efficiency of movement and help you "shake off" the stress of daily life.

Reflexes are merely unconditioned responses to stress. They are neutral. Problems with movement and muscle pain occur when we become habituated to and stuck in a reflex pattern - our shoulder rounded forward or one hip hitched up higher than the other. We want to be able to respond to the reflexes when we have to, but we don't want to "live" in any one of them. We want to live life at neutral.

Here is an explanation of why Somatics is great for everyone, every day. It's from Kristin Jackson, a Somatic Exercise Coach in Portland, OR. Her reasons for teaching Somatic Movement echo mine. Enjoy her video at the end; her students' experience of Hanna Somatics is common to that of hundreds of people experiencing Somatic Movement around the world.

Somatics makes everything in your life easier.

In addition to helping you move with more ease, Somatics helps you think more clearly, sleep better, even relate to people better. It all has to do with your nervous system. The constant stress of today's fast-faster-fastest world puts your sympathetic nervous system (the part of your nervous system that stimulates fight-or-flight bodily responses) into overdrive and never lets your parasympathetic nervous system kick in so we can enjoy the pleasant things in life like relaxing, digesting and making babies.

Somatics makes you happy!

Who wouldn't want to offer something that makes a client exclaim, "I feel like I'm 10 years old again!" after her first session. Honestly, I'm tired of "selling" exercise. I can't compete with big-box gyms or Groupon or flashy trainers. That's not me. But educating people how to move well and feel amazing is a wonderful thing to share!

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How To Know If You're Out Of Balance

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

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

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

Click here to purchase Pain-Free Somatic Exercise DVDs.

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Click here to find out about clinical sessions, Skype sessions and phone consultations.

How To Get The Most Out of Somatic Exercises

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

Arch and Flatten:

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

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

Back Lift:

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

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

Side Bend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somatic Education is Evidence-Based Treatment for Back Pain

Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden have research to support the use of Somatic Education - movement reeducation that relaxes tight, painful muscles - as an evidence-based modality for treatment of back pain. Somatic Education has been around since the early 20th century and has helped people learn to improve their posture, relax tight muscles and move in more efficiently and easily.  The method the Salgrenska Intitute studied was the Feldenkrais Method, the same method that Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., creator of Hanna Somatic Education, practiced for decades before developing his own method called Hanna Somatic Education. Swedish physiotherapist Christina Schön-Ohlsson states,

"Inefficient movement patterns gradually become habituated even though the original injury or strain is no longer present."

How right she is!  Clients frequently tell me, "I just don't feel the way I once did." They feel as if something "happened to them" to cause them to lose their flexibility, movement and self-control. The good news is that they can learn to regain their independence; all it takes is a process of education and a little patience.

In Hanna Somatics clients learn to become aware of the muscles that have habitually and tightened (as Schon-Ohlsson said) in response to the original injury - and then to release them at the brain level.

All human beings respond to stress with specific, visible patterns of muscular contraction.

Thomas Hanna was the first Somatic Educator to codify three specific stress reflexes - reflexes that all humans respond to in response to stress. By addressing these reflex patterns (of the back, the front of the body and the sides of the body), people can learn - very quickly - to reverse their muscle pain and restore awareness and control of their movement.

Chronic low back pain develops as a learned response to stress. It can be unlearned.

Muscles are controlled by the brain and central nervous system. The brain gets sensory feedback from the muscles, then commands them to move.  It is a simple feedback loop of sensing and moving. When stress occurs repeatedly, we can learn to habituate, adjust and adapt to our stress, as  mentioned by the Swedish scientists. This causes our muscles to stay tight and frozen; our brain literally forgets how to sense and move our muscles. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). The reason that medical science has no solution to habituated muscular tension is because SMA is not a medical condition. It is a sensory motor condition that can only be reversed through movement.

If you'd like to experience sensory motor learning, explore the movements shown on my website.  Move slowly and gently, with eyes closed (to tune out visual distractions). Make them pleasant and be mindful not to work too hard; these are not exercises as you know them from the gym. When you're done, relax completely and notice the difference in sensation in your body.

Thankfully there is a slow acceptance of "sensory motor learning," also known as "neuromuscular movement re-education" in the medical community. In my Somatic Exercise Coach Training I have taught osteopaths, chiropractors, and physiotherapists how to teach basic Somatic Exercises in order to help their patients become more self-aware and self-correcting in their movement.

I look forward to the day when Somatic Education is the first line of defense against back, neck, shoulder, hip, and joint pain. If you are in pain and have not gotten the relief you know you can get, come take a class, or workshop, schedule a private session, or contact me. I am happy to help get you on the path to a pain-free life!

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.

Relieve Hip Pain Easily and Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Neck, Shoulder and Hip Pain

There is always a full body pattern of muscle tension that causes functional muscle pain.

In my last post I wrote about hip pain and how the posture of leaning and slumping into one's dominant side to reach for and use the computer mouse, can create hip pain. I often call this "computer-itis." This action also contributes to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) and can also create shoulder and neck pain as one hunches, draws the shoulder forward, collapses through the ribcage and waist and concentrates on the work (and computer screen) at hand.

When we move, it is never just one muscle that lifts our arm, brings our leg forward, or bends our back.  Beneath our conscious awareness there is a perfectly balanced process of sensing and moving between agonist, antagonist and synergist muscles that allows us to coordinate each movement. If one muscle group contracts, its antagonist lengthens to allow the movement to happen. This is how we move through gravity efficiently and, we hope, with the least possible effort or pain. We are a system, controlled by the brain, not a jumble of separately moving parts. If there is tension in one part of the system, everything else in the system changes to accommodate and compensate.

If we change the way we move due to overuse, repetitive action, injury, or accidents we can develop the condition of Sensory Motor Amnesia (tight, "frozen" muscles that the brain has forgotten how to release). This means that your brain invariably contracts and recruits not just the muscles needed to complete the action, but also other groups of muscles that compensate to help us move. This dance between muscles stops working and both agonist and antagonist muscles become tightly contracted, as if we are stuck in a vise.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a perfect example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. It can develop due to an habituated red light reflex, excessive computer work and habitual hunching of the shoulders. The scalene muscles become overly contracted and compress the thoracic outlet, causing tingling down into the fingers. Tight upper trapezius muscles, rounded, hunched shoulders contribute to the problem. Address the full body pattern of tightness through the center of the body and nerve conduction will improve.

Try these corrective Somatic Exercises for relief of shoulder pain, hip pain, and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Here is a simple protocol for releasing, relaxing and retraining the muscles that become painfully tight from excessive computer work. This is useful for office workers, graphic artists, film or music editors, data input workers, and those whose work is simply repetitive.

Arch and flatten - allow the neck to move along with the movement.

Flower - allow the abdominals to soften and relax as you lengthen the front and open the chest.

Side bend - allow the waist muscles to contract and slowly lengthen.

Side Bend variation: In the video below is a Somatic Exercise that helps to release and relax the muscles involved in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). TOS causes tingling into the fingers and symptoms similar to angina in some people. The problem lies in the fact that the muscles of the neck - specifically the scalenes, as well as the upper chest are tightly contracted. This puts pressure on the thoracic outlet, the space between your neck and upper chest where many blood vessels and nerves are found. I have used the Somatic Exercise below to get rid of TOS in my own body.

This is a full body pandiculation of exactly the muscles that "collapse" and tighten when you slump, jut your head forward to look at your computer screen and reach for your mouse:

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

Washrag - to open up the front of the body and connect the center of the body to the shoulders and hips.

Other wonderful Somatic Exercises that can help to battle "computer-itis" are the steeple twist, flower, neck and neck variations (from Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders).

Martha is available for corporate presentations on pain relief and workplace injury prevention. Save healthcare dollars and prevent worker injuries from repetitive muscle strain and overuse. For more information, email Martha.

How Technology Causes Neck Pain

Recently I read this article in the Royal Gazette about one woman's saga of neck pain. Her struggle to reconcile with the fact that her iPad caused her recurring neck pain is a common functional adaptation to our increasingly technological world. Most of my clients sit for up tcradleo 12 hours a day hunched at the computer. They say that their job is taking a toll on their health and their ability to move freely.

Trying to sit up straight and view my computer screen is killing my body. I feel as if I'm getting "old" before my time.

Their doctors tell them that they have degenerative disks, yet neck pain is merely the symptom, not the cause of the problem. The root cause is the habituation of a well known, yet ignored involuntary stress reflex common to all humans and vertebrate animals: the Startle Reflex (or Red Light Reflex). This reflex is invoked in response to fear, anxiety and worry, the need to protect oneself, or repetitive slumping over a computer, smartphone or iPad.

The "posture of senility" and fear is the posture of the computer generation.

Migraines-in-teenagersWhat does the Red Light Reflex look like? Hunched and slumped shoulders, face thrust forward, chest collapsed, tight belly, rounded upper back. This posture used to be consider "elderly" posture, yet age has nothing to do with slumped, hunched shoulders; this is a functional adaptation to one's technology as well as one's emotional stress. Habituation of this reflex can lead to headaches, TMJ, neck and shoulder pain, shallow breathing and fatigue. The solution is to restore awareness of one's posture and movement, and learn to release and relax the muscles involved so you can return to a neutral, pain-free posture.

A picture is worth a thousand words and the photo at right says it all. This young boy looks a lot like teenagers I see walking around, ignoring each other, immersed in their smartphones.  This posture has become the "new normal" for many. Even small children are boy with computerbecoming experts at slumping.

As you read this post, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are sitting like this little boy, mesmerized by the computer screen? Is the back of your neck tight?
  • Is your stomach tight?
  • Are you breathing deeply?
  • How do the tops of your shoulders feel? If you straighten your neck to a comfortable, neutral position can you see your computer screen?

Hanna Somatic Exercises can help reverse neck pain and improve breathing.

Migraines, eye strain, shallow breathing, thoracic outlet syndrome, TMJ and mid/upper back pain are conditions that can develop due to excessive technology use and habituation of a slumped, Red Light Reflex posture. The muscles involved in this reflex (and posture) are always at the ready: to check the phone with the neck tilted forward or crane the neck to see the computer screen. Somatic Exercises and pandiculation help you hit the reset button in your brain (the command center of your muscles) so you can relieve your pain, regain your movement and get your life back.

Try these Somatic Exercises

Remember - movement is medicine. The brain teaches you to adapt to your environment - for better or for worse. Today's western industrialized society is more and more sedentary and people take fewer and fewer breaks to stand up, shake their hips, roll their shoulders, stretch out their arms or jump up and down.

Remind your muscles that they don't have to stay tight and frozen; get up and move! Circle your arms, do the Twist, jump up and down, take some long, deep breaths and slowly roll your shoulders. And then go for a walk. Preferably without your phone.

Click here to purchase my easy-to-follow instructional DVDs.

Somatics for Pain-Free Airline Travel

Last week I returned from a two week Somatics teaching tour in Australia. Thank you, Jo Bentley, my Australia organizer, for bringing me back to teach the Essential Somatics® Somatic Exercise Coach Training (SEC)  and being a fantastic host. Thank you as well to Mick Betteridge and Philippa Howard in Melbourne for hosting a training there. As many of you know, I travel internationally teaching Hanna Somatics. Plane travel is part and parcel of my job. In order to lessen the negative effects of sitting stationary for hours in a cramped airplane seat I came up with a few somatic movements during my flight to Australia. I arrived in Australia feeling relaxed and considerably less stiff than on previous flights.

For all you travelers out there - check this video out and let me know how it goes!

Shoulder Pain Relief Made Easy

Unconscious movement habits can cause muscle pain.

Yesterday I spoke to "Emily," a well-known yoga teacher.  She was confused and frustrated about her shoulder. "I can't get down to the floor without pain in my left shoulder. I must have an injury, because it hurts all down the left arm." I asked her to show me what it is that she couldn't do.  She moved gracefully through the "sun salutation," and when she got to the part of the movement in which she lowered herself down to the ground, as in the photo at right, I watched as she easily engaged her right shoulder, but "guarded" her left shoulder.

Awareness of the problem is the first step to reversing it.

I asked her to stand up, bring her arms out like a "T." Her posture showed her left shoulder hunched upward, while the right shoulder was relaxed.  She couldn't feel the difference and had sensed both shoulders as being the same. I asked her if she had strained her left shoulder at any point and she admitted that she had a bad habit of hunching her left shoulder up as if cradling a phone to her left ear. I told her that this was an example of Sensory Motor Amnesia  - chronically tight muscles that the brain had "forgotten" how to release, relax and move properly.

Pandiculation relaxes tight muscles safely and effectively: tighten first, lengthen, then relax.

With her arms at her sides, I told her to slowly, but firmly draw her left shoulder UP to her ear, making the top of that shoulder even tighter than it was before. "Notice how the shoulder blade slides up along the back when you pull that shoulder upward. Let that happen," I said. I coached her to notice and allow the shoulder blade to slide along the back as she lowered her shoulder to neutral.

When we don't notice our movement, we often don't allow muscles to move. We can improve the function of our muscles purely by noticing our movement. By doing that voluntary movement - tightening the shoulder up to her ear, then slowly relaxing it down to neutral - she regained control of her left shoulder. The pain disappeared! This voluntary contracting, lengthening, then relaxing of the muscle - pandiculation - is what resets the muscle length at the brain level. It is safer than stretching, simple, and reverses pain  rapidly and effectively.

Emily then performed her sun salutation one more time. When she got to the movement that had been bothering her shoulder, she exclaimed, "it doesn't hurt! I feel balanced again!" What a difference 5 minutes of awareness can make

Try this easy Somatic Exercise at home for shoulder pain relief:

Focusing on one shoulder at a time, slowly draw the shoulder up to your ear, then slowly relax it back to neutral. Repeat this 3 times. Notice the movement. Is it jumpy? Jerky? Shaky? If yes, then go back and do it again until the movement is smooth, even and controlled. Close your eyes and take a minute to sense the difference between the shoulder you just pandiculated and the other shoulder. Now repeat on the other side. If you like, you can finish by drawing both shoulders up to your ears (as if you were protecting yourself from the cold), then relaxing them down slowly to neutral. Again, make sure the movement is smooth and controlled. When it is, you've taken back conscious, voluntary control of those muscles.

Click here to purchase Martha's easy-to-follow Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.

The Link Between Neck Pain and Computer Work

The photo at right is a classic example of today's typical "computer slouch."

Look at the angle of the neck, the slump of the chest, and the rounded shoulders. If you sit like that long enough, you will develop neck, shoulder, and back pain. You might even find it difficult to take a full breath. This is called the Startle Reflex. Thomas Hanna called it the Red Light Reflex.

It is rare to meet someone nowadays who doesn't spend significant amounts of time on the computer.

Even senior citizens are now reconnecting with old friends, not to mention staying in touch with grandchildren, via Facebook and email. Children are beginning to use computers on a daily basis, both in school and at home - often in place of outdoor play. Hundreds of millions of people work at computer terminals, often for hours at a stretch without getting up.

Any repeated movement or posture becomes a habit.

If you have to sit for hours, with elbows bent, wrists immobile and fingers typing rapidly, the brain will teach the muscles to be ready to sit and type again, in just the same manner, the next day. The wrists will be tight, the biceps tighter than usual to hold the arms steady and the neck will hold your head right where it needs to be in order to look at your computer screen. Eventually this learned posture can lead to muscular pain, TMJ, carpal tunnel syndrome, back, neck, and shoulder problems. This state of chronically contracted muscles is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. No amount of strengthening and stretching can get rid of this. You must learn how to sense and move your muscles again in order to regain freedom of movement and reverse this posture.

Children have the same potential as adults to become stuck in an habituated, slumped posture - one that tightens the chest, restricts breathing, overuses the back, neck, and shoulder muscles, and can eventually lead to postural dysfunction and muscular pain. They are learning, at an increasingly young age, to slump and tighten the front of their body as they play video games or use their iPads. Encouraging children to spend time outdoors moving - running, riding bicycles, jumping, climbing trees, playing - will go a long way in keeping a child aware of his body and healthier in the long run.

Here are a few helpful Somatic Exercises you can do at your desk every hour. They will teach you to release, relax, and lengthen your muscles - and eliminate neck and shoulder pain - while increasing body awareness.

The Flower - This movement teaches the muscles of the front of the body to release and lengthen so you can stand up to a relaxed and balanced neutral again. This will also help you breath more deeply and fully.

Here are some neck pandiculations that help me when I have to spend time at the computer:

Turn your head to the right at a 45 degree angle.

Slowly tighten your left shoulder up toward the ear, as you slowly tighten your neck back toward the left shoulder blade.

You'll feel a contraction at the top of the shoulder and on the left side of the neck.

Slowly lengthen out of the contraction, and allow the neck to lengthen as the chin points to the right chest. The shoulder relaxes back to neutral.

Repeat 3 times, then do the same sequence on the other side.

Remember to move slowly for greater awareness in retraining your muscles to relax.

You are teasing out the muscle tightness, not by stretching, but by pandiculating - tightening first, then lengthening, much like a yawn. This movement should help you become more aware of the habit of hunching the shoulders. Once you're aware of a habit, it's more easily reversible.

Are Your Feet Killing You? Happier, Pain-Free Feet With Somatics

The feet are an integral part of our balancing system. They are the means through which we meet the ground and negotiate the surface upon which we walk.

When we sprain an ankle or suffer a lower leg injury we lose the ability to walk in a balanced way and are more likely to re-injure the same joint. We habituate to the Trauma Reflex and may even walk with a limp. When our backs become chronically tight (Green Light Reflex) we may find ourselves walking heavily and heel-striking loudly. We may even experience shin splits when we run in this situation.

Humans are the only perfectly bipedal being on earth. When all goes well, our feet coordinatetogether beautifully with the legs, pelvis, and somatic center so we can stand up in gravity and move forward.

Many people, however, stuff their feet into hard, narrow shoes, put them into artificial and unnatural positions (such as when wearing high heels), and "support them" with orthotics and thick sneakers; both orthotics and thick "supportive" shoes only "prop up" the problems in the center of the body. They in fact, can make things worse by preventing our feet from sensing and feeling the surface they stand on and responding to the sensory feedback that would ideally help them know where they are in space. Our proprioceptive abilities diminish the more we have between our feet and the ground beneath them.

Some people are told that problems such as hammertoe, bunions, and neuromas are always heredity structural problems when, in many cases, they can develop due to functional imbalances in the center of the body.  When we stop training our feet to sense and feel we can forget how to use our feet and toes over time.

The muscles of the feet are no different from any other muscles in the body: they can learn to be flexible, responsive to movement, and highly efficient. They can also learn to stay tight and contracted, making walking unpleasant, cumbersome, clumsy and painful -  especially when barefoot. Sensory motor training can help prevent the need for orthotics as you regain the ability to walk smoothly, lightly and evenly, using both legs and feet.

Problems of the feet develop in the lower leg due to imbalances in the muscles of the center of the body.

How often have you stopped and noticed your feet and how your weight is distributed through your feet? Do you clutch your toes? If you tend to lean forward, slightly slumped in your posture, and stuck in the Red Light Reflex, you probably do. Clutching your toes keeps you from falling forward! This suggests a lack of balance in the center of the body. When you stand or walk do you tend to roll in or out on your feet? Notice this next time you walk. Notice whether you put more weight on one leg and foot than the other when you walk. Then make a note of which foot is more sore or painful (or has a bunion).

Feet 2
Feet 2

The more you move your feet the better your balance and gait will be.

In my book, Move Without Pain, I recommend getting reacquainted with your feet by playing with them. Did you ever wonder why babies play with their feet? They are a vast resource of information that provides critically important information for the brain. Once we stand up to gravity that information can help us with our proprioception and balance.

Check out this fun video tutorial taught by Laura Gates, CHSE. She will show you some easy, pleasant self-care pandiculations you can do for more flexible, "intelligent" and happy feet. These movements will remind the muscles of the feet (and lower legs) to stay relaxed and ready for action. Remember, the first step to happy feet is learning to regain sensation and control of  the tight muscles of the back, waist and abdominals so you can stand easily in a balanced, neutral position. Then play with the movements on this video and enjoy your smooth, easy walk.