Reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility, and health
Yoga for athletes:
Cross-training with yoga can help you gain strength, flexibility, and stamina to improve your performance in other sports. Here, the yoga for athletes: sequences, poses, warm-ups, and cooldowns to balance your body and mind.
A Brief Overview & History of Somatics
There has been a popularization of the word “somatic” these days, but not many people know where the word really originated. Below, you’ll find a brief history of the term “somatic”, as well as information about Clinical Somatic Education and where it comes from.
Where did Clinical Somatic Education come from?
Clinical Somatic Education is derived directly from the work of Dr. Thomas Hanna. Tom taught the first and only class in the technique he developed in 1990. The first third of the class ended literally days before Tom passed away in a car accident. Somatic Systems Institute’s curriculum was developed primarily by two members of that class.
Tom was a professor of philosophy, a theologian, a writer, and a revolutionary thinker. His work in all of these areas hinged around the concept of freedom. Throughout his travels, he noticed that people in industrialized nations had significantly more postural distortion than other countries. There was more restriction of movement and more complaints of chronic pain or limited range of motion. How interesting that the citizens of these industrialized nations, generally considered the freest
in the world, were literally prisoners in their own bodies! How could one truly be free if one’s activities were constantly dictated by a body beyond voluntary control?
Tom found it even more astounding that when pressed, people actually believed that as they aged, their bodies would become naturally more stiff and less capable over time. He believed that this loss of function was simply a myth of aging that reached back to the Riddle of the Sphinx, one that most of us take as truth, and one that was all too quick to become a reality for those who accepted it. He set out to disprove that myth and to lead human beings into a different way of aging, one
marked by less pain and more mobility.
After research in Medical school classes on the neurophysiology of development and control, Tom went on to develop what would become Clinical Somatic Education. This technique blends slow, conscious movement on the part of the client with specific feedback and guidance from the practitioner to create lasting, rapid improvement. The effectiveness of this technique is demonstrated by the number of clients who succeed in reaching their own goals of health without constant sessions with a
Somatic Educator. Most clients need less than ten sessions before they have attained a higher level of functioning than ever before.
What does Somatic mean, anyway?
The term somatic has been used a lot lately. There are lots of disciplines out there that have adapted the word to mean something that works with the mind and the body, and they’re partly correct. In fact, somatic is derived from the word soma, which Dr. Hanna introduced to describe the whole and indivisible nature of the human being. This means that it’s not so much working with the mind and the body as it is an implicit understanding that each person is the mind and the body, together–
a holistic and global understanding of the biological, cultural, emotional, psychological, spiritual, energetic, and evolutionary functioning of the human organism. As he discusses in his groundbreaking book Bodies in Revolt: A Primer in Somatic Thinking , which he published in 1969, working with a body implies passively manipulating a thing with no awareness or sense of itself. The word soma allows that the person sitting in front of you (and you yourself) have the ability to feel, sense, and control their interaction with the environment.
The term somatic, then, refers to any process which treats an individual as an active participant in an activity, treatment, or other process. The truest definition of somatic avoids the pitfall of separating a soma into parts – the body, mind, spirit, chi, energy, and other terms are all taken into account in all interactions with clients, students, anyone else who walks, phones, or surfs in.
So why is that so different from other disciplines?
By thinking about the client as a soma, rather than a person with a body, mind, and spirit, we include them in the process of healing at every step, as well as recognizing the client as someone capable of infinite growth and learning — not of the mind or body, but the whole being. Sessions, movements, and even our training program are designed to impart as much information as possible, while allowing for each person to have their own process and experience. We understand that no soma is identical to another; each will struggle with different ideas and concepts, each will find different ideas simple or even obvious.
How does Clinical Somatic Education work?
Everything that your body does is controlled by the brain. That means that as you read this, the movement of your eyes, your hand on the mouse, and the way you are sitting are all being monitored by nerves sending constant messages to your brain and back to your eyes, hands, and the rest of your body.
Every time you move, your brain sends a message to certain muscles to tighten and others to lengthen, allowing you to click a different link, adjust your position in the chair, or brush away a stray piece of lint that’s on your hand.
Most of the messages your brain sends, at least to your muscles, are voluntary — you decide when you want to get up and make a sandwich, or when it’s time to move on to another section of the site. But if you do something over and over, (for example, if you sit a certain way every day at work, or were in a cast for six weeks when you broke your leg ice skating, or if you just have a tendency to brace your shoulders against the pressures of emotional stress) your brain will stop
about that position – you’ll just always sit that way, or you’ll always be a little bit more careful on that leg. This is called habituation.
Habituation makes us really efficient. Since we don’t have to always figure out how to sit, walk, move a mouse, or make a sandwich, we can go on to build houses, learn about the stars, or paint the Sistine Chapel. While we’re doing all that amazing stuff, our brain is still sending the message to contract the muscles to hold us in the chair in that familiar way. But what about when we’re trying to play with our kids or do some yoga? That message is still being sent, so that muscle remains
tight. That’s why getting into that yoga position can seem impossible, or why picking up your two year old causes that familiar spasm in your lower back — you’re pulling on a muscle that has become chronically contracted.
Why can’t we just relax that muscle? Because through habituation, we’ve forgotten about it–we’ve moved on to other things. We can’t even feel that it’s tight anymore! We just know that it hurts when we move in certain ways. Eventually, we stop moving at all, and then the Myth of Aging becomes truth.
So how do you get a muscle that you’ve all but forgotten about to relax? How do you voluntarily move something you can’t feel? You can massage those muscles, stretch them, have a chiropractor crack you back into alignment and feel great for a few days, but your brain is still sending that message to contract, contract, contract! This phenomena, which we call Sensory-Motor Amnesia (SMA), is the inability to voluntarily relax and contract muscles that are usually under voluntary control. When we have SMA, we can’t feel, and therefore can’t control, our muscles, which leads to chronic tension. This chronic tension means that every time we move, we’re pulling on a knot that’s already tight. That’s when that lower back ache kicks in, or the shoulder starts to lock up, or those really terrible headaches bring us over to the medicine cabinet yet again. Somehow, you need to stop that message from being sent, which means taking back voluntary control of your muscle.
By using Clinical Somatic Education (CSE), you will learn how to find the muscles you are keeping tight, and, in the words of Dr. Hanna, “If you can sense it, you can feel it. And if you can feel it, you can change it.” CSE uses the muscles as a gateway into the Central Nervous System — the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Either with a practitioner’s feedback, or by moving slowly to increase your own awareness and control, CSE lets you take back control of your body and your life.
The Myth of Aging
One of the most ancient and famous of riddles is that of the Sphinx: “What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four- footed and two-footed and three-footed?” In Greek mythology, Oedipus provided the correct answer: the human being, who crawls on all fours in infancy, walks on two legs in adulthood, and leans on a cane in old age. This answers the riddle of the sphinx. But it does not answer a second riddle that lurks within the first: Why is it that humans, having learned to walk
may lose this ability and often end up walking with a cane? Clearly, the presumption is that to grow older is to become crippled. This presumption was accepted in the fifth century B.C. when Sophocles wrote about the Sphinx, but oddly enough it continues to be accepted in the late twentieth century. It is obvious we all declare. Aging itself causes us to become stiff and aching. From the fifth century B.C. to the twentieth century, A.D., as humans become older, they become crippled and infirm. How could it be any other way. But there is another way. Human beings, once they advance from crawling on all fours to walking on two, no longer need regress to a limping posture as they become older. That is to say, the bodily decrepitude presumed under the myth of aging is not inevitable. It is, by and large, both avoidable and reversible. I know this to be true, because I have seen it occur thousands of
Somatics helps to:
- Car Accidents
- Knee Pain
- Sports Injuries
- Back Pain
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Digestive Problems
- Foot Pain
- Hip Pain
- Jaw Pain and TMJ
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome
- Wrist Pain or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Back Pain
- Scoliosis, etc
How to practis Somatics:
12 Tips and Guidelines for a successful Gentle Somatic Yoga practice
All of the Gentle Somatic Yoga (GSY) movements are inherently safe and natural. If you have physical challenges or concerns, as with all new exercise routines, consult your health care professional.
All of the Somatic Movement Flows® (SMFs) are designed to reeducate and strengthen your mind to muscle memory.
To support you in your practice, please follow these tips and guidelines.
Yoga means Union. The main intention for practicing Gentle Somatic Yoga is to embrace our Whole Self. This means accepting our body, our perceived limitations, and basically removing all judgment.
It also means learning to love ourselves unconditionally and enjoy letting go of anything in our life that no longer serves us. As we release old habits of holding stress and pain in our body, the more space we create for peace and harmony.
Our natural state, beyond pain and suffering, is peace and wellbeing. This is our birthright. This is one of the many benefits of Gentle Somatic Yoga.
2. Honor your limits:
Be aware of what your body is telling you. Never endure strain or pain in any of these movements. Some of the SMFs may be challenging at first, but they are not meant to cause you strain or pain.
Please listen to the subtle messages of your body. If you feel pain or discomfort, ease out of the movement and take a break to reevaluate.
If something feels good, then keep doing it! If an exercise or particular movement is bringing you pleasure, then enjoy and accentuate those feelings! Trust what your body is telling you and adjust accordingly. Ease and mobility will come over time!
3. Feathering technique:
Honor your limits. If you discover tightness or soreness within a movement sequence, identify your “edge” of discomfort and then back off slightly. With an attitude of curiosity, gracefully discover a way to move in and out of that area by varying the angle, speed and range of motion.
4. Slow and focused movement:
The way to reverse old habitual patterns of holding stress in the body is through building internal awareness. Moving slowly and mindfully will stimulate the part of your brain that will bring freedom of movement. Think of the Somatic Movement Flows as a process of discovery, and not something to rush through.
To achieve the maximum benefit, keep your attention focused on the specific muscle group that you are instructed to use while keeping the rest of your body relaxed. For example, if the instruction is to lift your left shoulder only, then do the best you can to keep the rest of your body relaxed.
5. Move smoothly
For optimal benefit, intend to make the movements smooth. Often times this means you will also need to slow down significantly.
If you experience jerkiness, skipping, or popping noises it most likely means you are experiencing sensory motor amnesia (SMA). These are positive signs because they show you where your soma wants to be re-educated.
SMA can also show up as numbness and/or a tingly feeling in the body.
In either case, moving slowly will engage the sensory motor cortex in the brain. By doing so, you will regain function of that muscle group and experience more freedom through movement.
One of the unique signatures of Gentle Somatic Yoga is the feeling of empowerment through regaining control of the muscles in your body.
6. Perform movement with eyes closed:
During your movement practice, it is optimal to keep your eyes closed and focus on the feelings within your body. If your eyes remain open, you may be distracted and miss the subtleties of sensation.
The less external stimuli, the more effective your muscle to brain re-patterning will be. Mellow music (no TV!) and soft lighting can provide a calming effect that invites more internal sensation.
Gentle Somatic Yoga is a process of neuromuscular re-education that refines your body awareness from the inside out. Think of GSY as a moving meditation.
There are different ways to explore using the breath in GSY.
Since each SMF has detailed instructions, the brain has a lot to focus on. Therefore, if you are new to this practice, keeping a neutral breath flow will help you have a successful practice.
If you find yourself breathing shallow, or holding your breath, try a cleansing breath: Breathe deeply through your nose on the inhale, and slowly exhale through your mouth making an audible sound. This will help you regain your focus.
Once you feel like you have an understanding of the instructions, then observing your breath and experimenting with different patterns can add another layer of information for learning.
The average repetition for each SMF is between 3 – 5 times. Don’t overdo, less is more and slow is better! Focus your attention on the muscles you are re-patterning. Remember, GSY is a re-education for your mind/body (Soma). The brain needs time to integrate the new learning before you move on to the next SMF.
If you are recovering from chronic pain due to overuse or injury, you may consider performing the SMFs several times a week.
If you are not recovering from injury, you can choose to perform any given SMF whenever needed.
9. Practice on a firm surface
For best results practice on a firm surface so that you have increased feedback relayed from the muscle to the brain. Lying on a carpet, blanket, or yoga mat on the floor is preferable.
Performing the movements in bed is typically not advised because the surface is too soft and the brain has less opportunity to receive the necessary information for re-education. However, if you are bedridden, then the gentle movements can still be beneficial. Even visualizing the movements can make significant impact.
Most of the Somatic Movement Flows can be modified to be performed while sitting in a chair.
10. Wear loose and comfortable clothing
During a GSY practice your body will be moving in many directions. Loose, comfortable clothing such as something you would wear to a yoga class or gym, allows for freedom of movement without external restriction.
11. Modifications and Props
Each of the Somatic Movement Flows can be modified based on your current level of mobility. Instead of focusing on the outcome, choose an attitude of discovery and exploration.
Small pillows, yoga blocks, blankets, and other props can be helpful accessories that can add comfort and just the right amount of support.
Even when individuals have chronic pain or restricted physical conditions, the act of visualizing a SMF can provide profound benefit. If you visualize a movement first before performing it, you have started creating a new pattern in the brain.
12. Body Scans
After each SMF, pause for at least 60 seconds and feel all of the new sensations in your body. Enjoy the benefits of your efforts.
In addition to feeling peace and wellbeing, the feedback you are registering during each body scan is an important process in the re-patterning old habits.
Notice your breath, and reflect on how you feel. By doing so, you become aware of witness consciousness, whereby you are the observer. This is very different than thinking how you are. Witness Consciousness is a state of BEING.