Does it seem a little early for me to be saying “Happy Holidays”? Well, with the holidays and a very busy time of year approaching, I want to give you the early gift of understanding how tension can develop in one’s body and two simple Somatic movements to help you prepare for and release the tension that this beautiful time of year can sometimes bring to one’s body.
Green Lights and Red Lights of the holidays make me also think of three innate reflexes the body responds to stress with – Red Light Reflex, Green Light Reflex and the Trauma Reflex. These reflexes can cause involuntary muscle tension (Sensory Motor Amnesia) if the brain can no longer access the voluntary control of the muscle to release the tension. I will also share two Somatic movements to release muscle tension.
Red Light Reflex
So, you’ve begun the process of thinking about your to do list for the upcoming holidays. So much to do… Perhaps you’ve begun to type or write your annual Christmas letter. How are your neck, shoulders and the space between your shoulder blades feeling after sitting a while at the computer? The Red Light Reflex is a natural way the body responds to stress, anxiety or fear (freeze or flight response) and these days it also happens as we sit in our cars in traffic, in front of our computers typing or reading emails, and more. We hunch a little forward with our head, neck and shoulders and tuck our pelvis under, tightening and shortening our front line of muscles. Can you feel it? I know I’ve been there!
Green Light Reflex
You’ve completed your to do list and now it’s time to put it into action (fight response). We are determined to get it all done! This call to action can also be felt when someone calls our name, when the phone rings, when the alarm goes off in the morning. Our lower back arches, our shoulders come back, our pelvis is tilted. We have now tightened and shortened our back line of muscles.
We’ve made it out the door to the mall and the shopping begins. Do you carry your purchases slung over one shoulder? The Trauma Reflex occurs when our body responds to a recurring stress on one side of our body. It could be recovering from knee or hip surgery, a slip on the ice, using the mouse at the computer, carrying a child on the same hip. The muscles along one side of your body are now tightened and shortened.
The wonderful news is that we can re-educate our brain to voluntarily release the muscle tension that builds up from day to day through Somatics and SomaYoga.
Let’s break down the word Somatics. Soma is a Greek word meaning the living body. The Soma is you, the living body. You can feel the internal sensations present in your body. We sometimes lose that ability to be aware of the sensations of chronic tension – the brain begins to read it as a baseline and not a level of tension. Somatics helps us to feel these sensations through pandiculation (contract, lengthen, relax) of the chronically tense or painful muscles. When we focus on the sensations of pandiculating the specific muscles involved in the Green Light, Red Light or Trauma Reflex we are able to re-educate the brain and release the Sensory Motor Amnesia and the tension and pain that are present with it.
Below is a Somatic exercise for you to practice to release the shortened and tight muscles of the front and back lines of your body. Parts 2 and 3 are to be done very slowly to allow your brain the time to sense the pandiculation (contract, lengthen, relax) of the movement in order to release the muscles.
1. Soma Sensing (lay on your back on your yoga mat with your hands slightly out from your side, palms up, legs extended)
- What do you sense – head, shoulders, hands, lower back, feet? Side to side?
2. Arch & Relax
- Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Slowly roll your pelvis forward so that your tailbone becomes closer to the mat and front of your hipbones closer to the sky. Notice your lower back begin to arch. Allow your brain to sense the muscles along your spine contract as your lower back arches. Slowly roll your pelvis in the opposite direction and sense how the muscles along your spine lengthen with this movement until they are completely relaxed and your spine is in neutral. Repeat this movement three to five times.
3. Flatten & Relax
- Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Slowly roll your pelvis so that your pubic bone becomes closer to your rib cage. Feel how contracted your front line of muscles become as your lower back flattens into the mat. Slowly lengthen the muscles along your front line to neutral and relax. Repeat this movement three to five times.
4. Arch & Flatten
- Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Slowly roll your pelvis forward so that your tailbone becomes closer to the mat and your hipbones closer to the sky. Allow your brain to sense the muscles along your spine contract as your lower back arches. Slowly roll your pelvis in the opposite direction and sense how the muscles along your spine lengthen with this movement until they are completely relaxed and your spine is in neutral. Take a lovely breath here. Sense into slowly contracting your abdominal muscles as your lower back presses into the mat. Slowly lengthen your abdominal muscles to return to neutral and relax. Repeat this movement five times.
5. Soma Sensing (1 above)
- what do you notice now – head, shoulders, hands, lower back, feet? Side to side?
Yes, you can release tension this easily! Incredible, isn’t it? The movements are so very gentle and have such a positive affect on the body. That is why I truly love the practice of Somatics and SomaYoga, feeling the difference in my own body and sharing the knowledge to help people release tension and pain in their own body.