What is Clinical Somatic Education or Somatic Movement Education?
Thomas Hanna’s Somatic Movement exercises create a revolutionary practice in neuro-muscular re-education to safely increase strength, flexibility and balance. It retrains one’s nervous systems and muscles to increase mobility and provide newfound freedom where before there was restricted movement and possibly pain.
Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)
When the part of the brain called the cortex no longer has the ability to sense or control muscles and their synergists as a result of repetitive stressors (accidents, injuries, surgeries, repetitive emotional or physical stress or trauma) upon the nervous system, the ability to fully relax the muscles is lost. There may have been an injury, surgery or repetitive activity whereby a maladaptive movement pattern has been learned. Habitual muscular contraction from the stressors will be present and is not sensed by the cortex. When we are not aware of the habituated contraction and assume that the muscles are relaxed, we do not have full control and free movement.
Through this practice, we explore how there may be habituated tension in your body as a result of the stressors mentioned above. This may result in what we call a red light reflex, green light reflex, trauma reflex or combination of two or all three in our body.
- Red Light or Startle Reflex
We are born into this world knowing only the Red Light Reflex. Envision a newborn baby and how they naturally flex into the fetal position. They have not yet learned how to use the extensor muscles in their back because there is no awareness of those muscles.
When we consistently experience movements that bring us into a forward flexed posture such as those used when we text, sit at a computer, work on a puzzle or play a sport that requires flexion we are being influenced by the Red Light Reflex. However, it can also be a result of emotions such as worry, fear, sadness or anxiety.
In the Red Light Reflex our posture shows shoulders raised and rounded forward, chest depressed, trunk flexed forward, arms and legs internally rotated, head and neck collapsed forward, pelvis rotated posteriorly, inner thighs tight, jaw tight and feet inwardly rotated.
- Green Light or Landau Reflex
The Green Light or Landau Reflex begins in the first year of a child’s life. It brings them into movement or action. They will move from being comfortable in the forward flexion they were born with to being curious and exploring their body’s movements in order to lift their head while contracting back muscles to move them in to their new world with sitting, crawling, standing or walking.
When our lives become stressed with constant demands on our time, meeting deadlines and constant striving our posterior muscles become habitually contracted. This posture brings the head and shoulders drawn back, arms and legs externally rotated, pelvis anteriorly rotated and belly protrudes as the back arches.
- Trauma Reflex
Trauma Reflex may occur as a result of one sided repetitive activities such as using a mouse at the computer, holding a child on the same hip or playing a predominantly one sided sport. It may also occur from injuries or surgeries on one side of the body such as a sprained ankle, knee or hip replacement or a shoulder injury. We cringe and twist away from a source of trauma to protect ourselves.
With the Trauma Reflex an individual’s posture may reveal one shoulder lower than the other, head tilted to one side, pelvis elevated on one side, or imbalance through the feet. There may also be a twist that occurs through the torso.
The fantastic news is that because Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) has been adaptively learned by the brain we can retrain the sensory motor cortex of the brain to sense and move the muscles more effectively and efficiently, reversing the effects of SMA. This technique is called a pandiculation.
When we pandiculate we are consciously increasing the contracted state of the muscle(s) from their current “resting” state followed by a conscious slow and deliberate lengthening of the muscle(s) to where they are relaxed.
Key to pandiculation is that the cortex senses and feels the sensations that are present throughout. What does the contraction of the muscle(s) feel like? What does the slow deliberate lengthening of the muscle(s) feel like? What does complete relaxation of the muscle(s) feel like? The uniqueness of this practice is that it is not the quantity of repetitions of specific movements done but the quality or how much one allows their brain to truly focus awareness on all three parts of the pandiculation.
The practice of Somatic Movement increases your brain’s awareness of sensations felt in your body through very gentle pandiculations (contracting, lengthening, relaxation of muscles). When the brain cannot connect to the muscles to voluntarily relax them this is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. The brain’s awareness of how acutely or chronically tight muscles feel during pandiculation leads it to regaining the voluntary control to reduce the tension in the muscles and increase your mobility, stability and strength. This allows you to truly discover what your pure range of motion is leading to improved functional movement.
Once the brain has reconnected with the muscles through Somatic Movement Education, Yoga Therapy may be blended in with the Somatic Movements. Yoga Therapy breath practices and movements are complimentary to the established freedoms of movement attained in Somatic Movements, delving into deeper mobility, stability and strength. Here, larger movements that are practiced in Classic Asana can be broken down and explored. For example, in Downward Dog an exploration of what functional movement without the load of the body on the shoulder girdle through to the hands may be explored. If the range of motion is limited one would address this through the introduction of appropriate movements to improve the function of the shoulder girdle and it’s relationship to the torso and hips. Functional movement improves as one practices appropriate movements for their body.
As you heal from your health issues you will be better prepared to practice Classic Yoga Asanas, should you wish, with an awareness of moving in a pure range of motion to avoid injury and fully receive the benefits cultivated from Classic Asanas.
“I have been working with Alana for a year now, simply because somatics has been the only way for me to control my lower back pain. I have scoliosis and have struggled with back pain since I was about 10 and have seen my fair share of physiotherapists, chiropractors and doctors. I came to Alana first with the issue of lower back pain and later being unable to sit for extended periods of time without extreme pain. After even our first session, I could feel an enormous improvement with the pain I felt, or rather, not feel. Since that first class with her, we have come up with tools that I can use when I feel an ache in my back, and even other places all over my body as well as a preventative routine that I have worked into my everyday life. I have gained an awareness of my body and have ways to respond and react if I ever feel uncomfortable. Alana has made herself available for me, if I ever need help or have a question, especially since I now live out of province for school. She is someone who truly cares about her clients and their well-being and I am so grateful that she has come into my life.” — Moira
“Two years ago I broke my back and had to undergo surgery to repair the damage. Little did I know that the pain was just beginning. I tried physiotherapy, acupuncture, medications and massage but nothing seemed to relieve me of the intense lower back pain I was having. Then I discovered SomaYoga taught by Alana Burton. Within one session I already could feel a difference throughout my body and a reduction in pain. The more I went, the less and less pain I began to have. After only 6 months of practicing SomaYoga, I am almost 100% pain free and on the days where my back does begin to feel sore I am equipped with the tools that allow me to feel better. The movements are simple and easy to remember yet they make such an incredible impact on your body. I am so happy that I discovered SomaYoga because it has allowed me to return to all the activities I love, pain free. I would highly recommend it to anyone with any kind of pain. It is truly a miracle and I am forever grateful.” — Beckie