Making Somatics Part of Your Routine – Part 5

Trouble shoot your Somatic movement practice…

In the final part of this series, I’d like to share with you what is maybe the most important point to consider when learning Somatics. And that is; attending a regular Somatic Movement class!

Just before I get into that though, here are the previous posts in this series, in case you missed them; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4.

The most effective way to learn any new activity or skill is to attend a regular class. Somatic movement is no different in this regard. Whilst it is certainly possible to learn Somatics by yourself from all the many online resources now freely available, attending a weekly class will accelerate your progress tremendously.

So, what are the advantages of attending a regular online Somatic movement class?

  1. A regular class will hold you accountable. You won’t want to miss a class you have commited to and paid for.
  2. By attending classes you will ensure that you are getting at least an hour of high quality Somatic Movement practice regularly.
  3. It allows you to be observed by a teacher who can then help you modify, or correct your movements as necessary, thus accelerating your understanding progress and learning.
  4. You get to experience different movements or variations of movements, and different sequencing of movements.
  5. Real time feedback on what you are doing.
  6. More learning about anatomy, pandiculation, somatic theory, the three reflexes, and the nuances of all the movements woven into your classes.
  7. The opportunity to ask questions, share your experiences, and give feedback
  8. Access to Somatic Movement education from anywhere in the world.

If you like the sound of attending a regular online Somatic Movement group class, why not sign up for my Learn Somatics Beginners classes. I have three time options available, all beginning this coming January 2021. These are 6 week courses of weekly classes that will cover all the fundamental Somatic movements and everything else you will need to develop an effective and rewarding Somatic movement practice.

One more thing, if you find the thoughts of another Zoom meeting/class off putting, consider that during an online Somatic Movement class, you do not need to look at the screen. For the online class you can simply relax on the floor, close your eyes, and enjoy the class. You can forget there is a screen there at all! So with all that in mind why not make 2021 the year you Learn Somatics!

Book your place in class here: Learn Somatics Beginners Classes

Now onto the final Somatic movement in this series; the Washrag. This gentle twisting movement is a great way to close out your practice. Rotation of the trunk, spine, hips, shoulders and neck like this allows you to release tension and improve sensory motor control throughout the entire body. The ability to twist and rotate freely and comfortably is essential for pain free walking and running. It also helps to integrate all the movement patterns addressed by the previous movements in this series, namely; extension and flexion, of the trunk/spine and hips.

So that concludes this 5 part series, I hope you have found it helpful and have begun to practice some of the Somatic movements I have shared with you here. If a group class is not for you but you’d still like some more help getting to grips with your Somatic movement practice, or you have a particular movement issue, or muscular pain you’re struggling to resolve, you can book a 1-1 online session with me and get an individualised lessons tailored specifically for you.

Or if you are enjoying learning by yourself, don’t forget to subscribe to the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel for a regular helping of Somatic Movement tutorial videos.

As always thanks for reading. Until next time!

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Making Somatics Part of Your Routine – Part 4

Trouble shoot your Somatic movement practice…

In Part 4 of this series I want to talk about course corrections or making adjustments so you can continue making progress with your Somatic movement practice. If you want to recap on the previous entries here they are, Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 .

When it comes to course corrections and making adjustments. This is where your note taking becomes invaluable. Hopefully you have been keeping some brief notes about your practice. If you have, you now have a record that you can look back on to help you make sense of what is working for you, and perhaps what isn’t working for you.

So before we get into that we need to clarify something. When it comes to a Somatic movement practice, what IS progress?

Somatics is all about improving our sensory awareness (our ability to feel our muscles) and our motor control (our ability to contract and relax our muscles voluntarily). So how do we measure that? Well, when we can sense ourselves better and control our muscles better we should begin to experience at least some of the following improvements;

  1. Less muscle pain
  2. Deeper and more restful sleep
  3. Freer Breathing
  4. Improved mobility (walking, sitting, standing should all be feeling more comfortable)
  5. Reduced feelings of anxiety and/or stress

If you are not experiencing some or all of the benefits liste above, try the following adjustments;

  1. Make sure you are doing the movements correctly, sometimes what we think are doing and what we are actually doing are quite different. Watch the videos again, listen to the instructions and cues very carefully, and pay close attention to which muscles you can feel as you do the movements, particularly in your trunk. If you cannot feel the correct muscles contracting when you do a movement, you will not be able to get the intended muscular release.
  2. Perform the movements slower, it’s really important to go slow, particularly on the relaxation phase of each movement as that is when you are literally releasing the tension and lengthening the muscles back to their proper resting length. When we move slowly we engage the part of the brain that is responsible for voluntary movement, the sensory motor cortex. Going slowly allows time for the sensory motor cortex to sense what is happening during the movement. When we don’t have good control of a particuclar group of muscles we will experience jumps, jerks, or shakes in the movement as we relax back to rest. If this happens, simply repeat the movement, but go more slowly through the jerky portion of the relaxation phase. In doing so, you allow your sensory motor cortex the time to smooth out the movement. When the movement is smooth you know voluntary control has been re-established.
  3. Do less. This may sound somewhat counter intuitive but favour quality over quantity. Do just 3 or 4 repetitions of each movement you practice, but slow it right down and put all your focus on what you can sense and feel before, during and after each movement, applying what you learned from point 2 above.
  4. Make sure you are not holding your breath during the movements. This is a common one and something that we can do without realising. If we are holding anything, then we are using more tension than is necessary. Generally with Somatic movements, we inhale on the effort and exhale on the release. But if you find that challenging just breathe however feels most comfortable. But ensure you are breathing in and out and not holding your breath.
  5. Pause at rest. Be sure to pause at complete rest for a full in and out breath between each repetition. You need to allow you sensory motor cortex time to sense what ‘at rest’ feels like. Don’t be in a hurry to rush through your practice.
  6. Use you own hands. Use your own hands to help you sense more clearly what you are doing during the movement. For example; In Arch & Curl put one hand on your belly so you can clearly feel your belly muscles contracting and relaxing. In Arch & Flatten, feel your lower back muscles with your fingers as you do the movement, feel the lower back muscles contract and stiffen as you arch and soften and lengthen as you flatten.
  7. Change the order you do the movements. This is a simple strategy that often really helps. I have presented the movements in the standardised order but you are free to modify that order. Experiment to find what order of movements works best for you.
  8. Remove a movement. Look back at your notes and see what happened after adding each new movement. It may be that just one movement is problematic for you, if you know which one it is you can either remove it for a while, or give it more focused attention, see point 1.
  9. Allow more time for sensing changes. After each movement, lay out flat and really focus intently on any changes you can sense in your body, where is tense, where is less tense, has you comfort changed, has the resting position of your legs or arms changed, has you comfort increased. Sensing like this is a skill, and the more your practice it the better you will get at it and the more you will begin to notice. This sensing is just as important as the doing of the movements. Sensing and moving are two sides of the same coin.

Implement a couple of these tips next time, and see if it doesn’t improve the quality of your practice and facilitate greater or more noticable changes for you.

Below is the video with the next two movements to add to your burgeoning Somatic movement practice. Lateral and Diagonal Arch & Curls. These movements build on the previous movements in this series.

We’ll conclude this series with Part 5 next week. In the meantime keep up your practice! If you’d like some more help getting to grips with your Somatic movement practice, or you have a particular movement issue you’re struggling to resolve, you can book a 1-1 online session with me and Learn Somatics from the comfort of your own home.

Until next time!

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Making Somatics Part of Your Routine – Part 3

In Part 1 of this series I gave you some quick tips on how to start building a Somatics practice into your routine, and then in Part 2 I offered some tips on how to track the progress of your Somatic Movement practice. Today I want to talk about keeping up your routine.

When people start a new routine, diet, or exercise program in the beginning they are highly motivated and enthusiastic about it. But inevitably, life gets in the way, and they eat that cake, can’t make that gym session, or just feel demotivated to stick to their new routine.

Well guess what? That’s totally normal! The problem is when you allow one bad day to derail all your progress.

If you miss a day of your Somatic movement practice (or your diet, exercise routine) for whatever reason. Firstly, don’t worry about it, and certainly don’t give yourself a hard time about it. One single missed day isn’t going to adversely affect your long term goals or progress. But letting one day turn into two days or four days or a week? That will derail your progress, break your habit and put you back where you started.

So the trick is to get back on the proverbial horse the very next day. But don’t try and make up for the day you missed by doing more than normal, just get back into the habit. Do a short movement practice, remind yourself why you wanted to implement this new Somatic movement routine (or whatever your new activity might be) and jot down again in your notebook/journal how you feel after your practice. As you string together days of practice and start to experience improvements in how you move and feel, you will be far less inclined to skip or miss days.

Hopefully you can reach a point where the new routine/activity, whatever it is, is not a chore, but something you look forward to. Any routine that feels tiresome or a burden, you will not stick to. This is also why it’s important to keep some notes. You can look back at these notes and begin to see a clear reocrd of your progress, or perhaps even more importantly, your lack of progress. If there is a lack of progress or positive change, you know that it is time to make a change of some kind to begin progressing again. A course correction if you will. We will talk about how to do just that in Part 4.

For now though let’s get into today’s Somatic movement. Hopefully you are able to do Arch & Flatten and Arch & Curl effectively without following the videos. But if not please keep using the videos as long as you need to.

Lets explore the third movement in your new Somatic movement routine. The next movement your going to add to your practice is called the Backlift. The Backlift is one of the most important Somatic movements for a couple of reasons;

  1. It relieves the insidious effects of the Green Light Reflex.
  2. It allows you to pandiculate a lot of muscles all at once.
  3. It relieves tight, stiff and sore back muscles quickly and easily.
  4. It improves contralateral coordination.

Practice the Backlift after you have done a few easy repetitions of both the Arch & Flatten and the Arch & Curl. Then when you are done with the Backlift, close your practice with a few final repetitions of either Arch & Flatten or Arch & Curl.

I hope you enjoy practicing the Backlift and find it as useful as I do. If you have any questions about the movements, you can leave a comment below. Have fun with your new Somatic movment practice and I’ll be back with part 4 of this series real soon.

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Making Somatics Part of Your Routine – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I gave you some quick tips on how to start building a Somatics practice into your routine. Hopefully you have decided on a time of day that works for you and are now practicing Arch & Flatten regularly. If you have, you will hopefully have noticed that your lower back now feels a lot more relaxed and comfortable than it used to.

So now that your Somatic habit has been somewhat established and you’re familiar with Arch & Flatten, it’s a good idea to start keeping some brief notes, (or journaling if you want) about your practice.

This doesn’t have to be terribly detailed, just some quick notes about your stress level, any pain you may have, your breathing, your sleep, your digestion, your motivation, your sports/exercise performance (if you are an active person) and also your mood.

Take any of the metrics above (or choose your own), and start keeping track of them, give them scores, or grades. Some simple way of measuring them. It could be a score out of 10, or a grade like, A,B,C etc. Score them twice a day, once maybe before or after work, or when you wake up. And also, very importantly, score them after your Somatics practice. Also score the practice itself. DIdi yo enjoy it? Were you distracted or fidgety? Did you rush it? Were you able to pay attention to it? etc.

And whilst I’m sure you will notice changes in how you feel quite immediately after your practice, its still a good idea to take these notes so you can have written evidence of your progress. This will motivate you on days when you lack motivation. It will also show you what happens on days you don’t practice, which of course will happen now and again and is totally fine.

By keeping track in this manner you will begin to see very clearly the effects a simple Somatic movement routine can have.

Now. It’s time to add another movement to your Somatics routine. The more Somatics movements we learn, the more tools we have at our disposal, the more benefits we can experience, the more we can learn about ourselves, and the more comfortable we will feel in our bodies.

So without further ado, the second movement your going to add to your practice is called Arch & Curl. It’s a simple movement that builds on what you’ve already learned through practicing Arch & Flatten. It will help you to regain control of your belly and chest muscles and will address both Green Light Reflex and Red Light Reflex.

Hopefully you are now able to do Arch & Flatten effectively without following my video. But if not please keep using the video as long as you need to. You will still only need about 10 or 15 minutes to do your practice when we add this second movement. Below is the tutorial video for Arch & Curl. Practice this movement after you have spent a few minutes doing Arch & Flatten as normal. Then make some notes on your experience, breathing, comfort and relaxation.

I’ll be back with part 3 of this series soon. Until then try to keep practicing daily, taking notes, and enjoying the benefits of Learn Somatics.

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If It’s Not Easy You Haven’t Learned It!

More words of wisdom from Thomas Hanna, the smartest guy you never heard of. It’s such an obvious statement though right?

If you find something difficult you have not learned it yet. If you find something easy, you have clearly learned it well. Remember learning to drive? Difficult at first, but once learned, very easy. Now you can listen to music, chat with a passenger and navigate traffic as well as operate the vehicle. In fact the operating of the vehicle seems to happen automatically. It’s something that goes on in the background, you’re barely consciousness of it at all. If you started to think about it too much, you might even drive worse.

And so it is with everything we learn. What we intentionally learn transitions from perhaps seeming impossible, to difficult, to manageable, to easy, to automatic. For some reason though we tend not to apply this thinking to our movement. Even though you learned to walk! Without any help at all. Before you could even think!

We may look at a movement or activity and say, “I can’t do that”, or even worse “I’m too old to do that,” but what if we were to reframe it as, “I haven’t learned how to do that yet” or “I have forgotten how to do that”. That reframing changes everything. When you think about a particular movement as being either not yet learned or somehow forgotten, suddenly you have the possibility of learning or relearning.

Unfortunately we do tend to move less well as we age. But! This has very little to do with ageing and a lot to do with the fact that most of us do not intentionally practice or maintain our movement. So we forget, right? In Somatics we call this phenomenon Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). We have forgotten (there’s that word again) how to sense and move our muscles, and therefore our ‘selves’.

Anything that we learn has to be practiced in order to maintain that ability, whether that’s a language, playing a musical instrument, a skill like drawing, or even something more on the intellectual side of things, like doing algebra. If you don’t practice these things you will forget or lose the ability to do them, or at least do them well.

This is because those neural pathways that are not used regularly will atrophy and die away. Conversely, the brain will strengthen and consolidate pathways that are used regularly. In other words ‘Use it, or lose it’.

It’s unfortunate that a lot of the basic movement patterns we tend to lose, (either through lack of use or via stress, accidents and injuries) are the ones we need the most! The gross movements of the trunk and spine that are essential in order to walk freely and move well generally. Extension, flexion, side bending and rotation. These are the most fundamental movement patterns to do any activity or sport skilfully. If you have good Sensory awareness and Motor control of the muscles of your trunk and spine your general movement will likely be good and problems in the limbs much less likely .

Somatic Movements can help you learn or relearn how to move freely and comfortably, particularly as regards your trunk and spine. A Somatic Movement practice allows you to ‘Use it’ so you don’t ‘lose it’. Strengthening and consolidating those neural pathways associated with free and easy movement. When your Somatic Movement practice becomes easy and pleasurable your movement in general becomes easy and pleasurable. Then you inevitably want to move more. You might even feel inspired to take up an activity that you had abandoned, or learn a new sport or activity.

So when learning something new, think about in those terms, how can I make this seem easy? When it is easy it will become more enjoyable, when enjoyable you will want to do it more, and when you do it more you will strengthen those neural pathways even further, making it even easier!

You can start learning Somatic Movements right now over on the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel. Give it a try and see if you can learn your way from difficult to easy!

Featured photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Making Somatics Part of Your Routine – Part 1

Maybe you’ve been reading these blog posts for a while (thanks by the way!) but haven’t actually explored any Somatic Movements yet. I’d like to help you change that. In this series of blog posts I’m going to give you some pointers on how to build a daily Somatic Movement practice into your routine.

A daily Somatic Movement Practice does not have to be an hour, or even a half an hour, in the beginning 10-15 minutes can be very beneficial and help you to get started. You can begin by introducing just one Somatic Movement into your daily routine. Arch & Flatten is the movement we generally teach first, we’ll get to that in a moment but first let’s consider…

When is the best time to do your practice?

Well, anytime is good, but when we are trying to build a new habit, it helps to have some consistency. So pick a time of the day that fits in with your timetable and try to stick to it. I like to practice at night before bed, others prefer first thing in the morning, this is also a good choice. If you’re working from home right now, you might decide to practice on your lunch break, just before you eat. But any time is good as long as you can be consistent and stick with it.

Some things to consider when selecting a time to practice.

Bedtime Practice: A pre-bed Somatic Movement practice will allow you to release any stress/tension you may have accumulated during the day, and calm your nervous system, leading to deeper, more restful sleep. If you struggle with getting to sleep or staying asleep, I would strongly recommend practicing just before you go to bed. After all high quality sleep is essential for health, and a good nights sleep makes everything better.

Morning Practice: A morning practice will help to prepare you for the day ahead by allowing you to restablish control over your muscles after a period of inactivity, ie after being asleep. If you find you tend to feel stiff and sore in the morning, placing your practice just after waking is a great idea. Also, upon waking allow yourself to yawn! A yawn is after all just a reflexive pandiculation, don’t stifle it, let it happen and enjoy it. Pay attention to how it feels. That’s the kind of feeling you will be looking to recreate with your Somatic Movements. Then when your finished yawning, take to the floor and begin your Somatic movement practice.

Lunchtime/Middle of day Practice: Practicing in the middle of the day is also totally fine if this is the time that works for you. It will give you an opportunity to reset your nervous system so you can go back to your afternoon’s work calm and refreshed. It’s probably best however to practice before you eat a large meal. Furthermore your Somatic Movement practice will help shift you back into Parasympathetic Nervous System state, associated with ‘rest, digest’ and repair’. So you may find that you enjoy your food more, and your digestion improves when you are relaxed from your Somatic Movement practice.

So now that you’ve decided when you are going to practice, all we have to do is start.

Let’s Learn Somatics!

This is how our practice begins, if it uncomfortable to lay with legs out flat you can bend your knees and put feet flat on the floor

To begin lay out flat on the floor on a comfortable rug or yoga mat. Just make sure you are warm enough. If you need a pillow for your head or a bolster for your knees, please use them. As you practice more Somatics you should find your need for pillows and bolsters diminishes.

Close your eyes and spend a minute or two just noticing what it feels like to lay flat on the ground, notice where you are tense, where you are comfortable, where you are uncomfortable, scan your whole body. Then, rate your comfort level out of 10. Make a mental note of it, or jot it down in a note book. This is and important baseline reading. Got it? Great!

Now go ahead and follow along to the Arch & Flatten video below.

Now that you’re done with Arch & Flatten, spend another minute or two, repeating the scan you did at the beginning. Noticing what it feels like to lay flat on the ground after practicing Arch & Flatten as compared to before, noticing where you are tense now, where you are comfortable now, scanning your whole body, rating your comfort out of 10 again, and seeing if your comfort has increased.

Congratulations! You’ve just completed your first Somatic Movement practice. Pretty easy right?

If you have followed the instructions attentively you should sense a noticable increase in the comfort of your lower back. You may even feel more comfortable in your hips and legs, and neck and shoulders, as these all attach to your spine. You will also have experienced how easy it actually is to regulate, modulate, and manipulate how you feel. This type of self-regulation is a powerful skill to have in your back pocket.

Repeat this practice at the same time each day for the next week. Use my video for as long as you need to, but strive to be able to practice Arch & Flatten effectively by yourself without any guidance. When you can do it without guidance you OWN IT! That’s when it becomes truly helpful, educational and useful to you.

After a few days of doing Arch & Flatten once or twice a day, you will be more than ready to add another movement to your practice to continue your learning. We’ll do just that in the next instalment.

If you have tried using videos to learn Somatic movements but haven’t quite got the results you were hoping for, or need some extra help, remember you can Learn Somatics online with me from anywhere in the world. Getting some 1-1 guidance will rapidly accelerate your learning, progress and results.

And if you found this blog post useful, maybe you could share it with someone who you think might also find it useful. After all, Somatics is for everybody!

Until next time.

Read Part 2 now…

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Make Stress Management part of your Daily Routine

Stress is recognised as a contributing factor in all diseases. We are all exposed to stress every single day, therefore it is important that we have some simple and effective stress management strategies that we can use daily (or almost daily). The more regularly we manage and relieve our stress the less chance it has to build up in our systems and potentially cause or contribute to illness and disease.

Implementing a daily stress management becomes a total no brainer when you consider the sobering statistics below in regards to stress and disease/illness. (Source: webmd.com)

  1. 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  2. 75 to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  3. Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  4. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  5. The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

So it would seem that if you can manage your stress you can stack the deck in your favour and potentially avoid, or reduce your chances of experiencing, a lot of health problems. But how? Well, a regular Somatic movement practice would be a great place to start. Stress is expressed in the body as muscular tension, and when practicing Somatic movements you learn how to release this muscular tension quickly and easily.

“You can’t save your stress management for the weekend, its’ gotta be something you do almost daily” Prof. Robert Sapolsky, – SF Being Human Q&A (this quote appears at around the 13:55 mark of this excellent conversation)

Wtih all that in mind, I’ve created another Somatic movement playlist for you that you can use any time to release any accumulated stress at the end of your day, or anytime for that matter. Give it a try and see if you don’t feel less stressed, calmer and more relaxed afterwards? I’d love to hear your feedback too, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch via my social media channels. (links in side bar)

De-Stress with this Learn Somatics 6 movement Playlist. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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Somatic Movement Playlists For You

With Somatic movements it is really helpful to put them together in sequence to address a particular problem area, movement, or complaint. Doing 3, 4 or 5 movements one after the other can really create a profound change in how you feel.

So with that in mind I’ve created some playlists on my YouTube Channel to help you get more from your practice. So if you have been wondering what movements go well together, or how to combine different Somatic movements together, these playlists can give you some ideas. Following along to these playlists is a bit like taking a Somatic movement Class.

Give these a try and let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear your feedback. Enjoy!

This first playlist addresses the Green Light Reflex in 3 movements. It’s all about the back muscles. If you tend to have stiff sore back you’re in for a treat.

The next playlist addresses the Red Light Reflex in 4 movements. It’s all about the muscles on the front of the body.

Next up this playlist addresses the Trauma Reflex in 3 movements. It’s all about the sides of the body.

After a busy day working diligently at your laptop, the following Somatic movement playlist will help you quickly relax your neck and shoulders. Four movements in this one.

And finally here’s Somatic movement playlist you can do just before bed to set you up for a great night’s sleep. Four movements here too. If you find it hard to get to sleep defintely give this a try.

I hope you find these playlists useful and that they inspire you to start a regular Somatic movement practice. And if they help you to feel better why not share with frends and family so they can benefit too. There are also two more playlists you can explore over on my YouTube Channel (don’t forget to subscribe!) and I will be adding more Somatic movement playlists as I add more tutorial videos.

If you’d like some help learning Somatics, remember I offer Online 1-1 lessons so you can learn from anywhere in the world.

As always thanks for reading and watching.

Until next time!

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Freedom & Control

At first glance freedom and control may seem to be somewhat opposing notions. They are however deeply intertwined, in fact they may be the same thing. How so? Let me elaborate…

The most immediate freedom one can attain is the ability to move ones self freely. To be free in ones own body. This is something we experience as children but somehow lose as we move through time/life.

As healthy children we generally have good freedom of movement but we lack real control. So we are loose and relaxed but lack the requisite control to coordinate ourselves skilfully. This puts kids in a great position to learn new movement skills (dance, sport, martial arts, etc) and explains why it is easier for them to do just that. They are already quite free in their movements, all they need to learn is the control aspect.

As adults we succumb to having no freedom of movement and no control. Essentially we become tight and tense and then lack the requisite control to relinquish this tightness. This puts us at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to moving freely and learning new movements. Thomas Hanna described this state, of having a lack of control, as Sensory Motor Amnesia. In this state we have essentially forgotten how to sense and move (motor) our muscles freely.

The net result of that? We lose control of our physical selves. We lose control of our ability to operate our muscles and in turn we lose our ability to move well. Or should I say to move freely. Ah, without control, we can’t be free. We must be able to control our ‘selves’ if we wish to be free. Otherwise we are inevitably subject to our own demise.

This is why it becomes more difficult to learn new movement skills as adults. We must address our ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’ first. By relearning how to be free in our bodies again. And this requires re-establishing good sensory motor control over our muscles.

So how is our control lost? Everything that happens in our lives is expressed in and through our physical bodies, every grievance, every accident, every injury, every broken relationship, every confrontation, every thought, and every emotion, our entire history. And all these experiences are expressed how? As involuntary muscular tensions. How else could they be expressed?

These involuntary tensions accumulate, contributing to our SMA, and, because they are involuntary, they seem outside of our control, and as they accumulate they interfere with our freedom of movement.

You cannot do the things you want to do unless you have the ability to stop doing the things you don’t want to do.

Do you see where this is going?

You cannot go forwards when you are still stuck moving backwards.

But those involuntary (contr)actions that can entrap us, they can be made voluntary. We can do them of our own volition. And in doing so reestablish our voluntary control over them.

We have more power over them than we realise. In fact we have complete power over them. If we knew how to exert it. Or could learn how to.

“The basic somatic task during our lifetime is to gain greater and greater control over ourselves…”

(Hanna, Somatics p.15)

But what does this mean in practical terms. It means this; if your body is stiff and tight beyond your control, you must make it stiffer and tighter on purpose. Take control of the tightness. In doing so you become the master. Then you are free to choose to relinquish that tightness.

Control, freedom, freedom, control. Freedom and control are two sides of the same coin.

Weird right?

A regular Somatic movement practice will allow you to experience all of this not just as an intellectual idea but as an embodied reality, a somatic process.

Check out my Learn Somatics YouTube channel to start learning Somatics right now. Want some help? Book a 1-1 online session and get tuition from the comfort of your own home.

As always thanks for reading, until next time.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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How your Brain sees your Body

The Sensory and Motor Homunculus Men
The Sensory and Motor Homunculus Men

What is the deal with these weird looking figures? Why are they proportioned the way they are? Why the giant hands? And the oversized mouths? And what does it have to do with our brain? Lets investigate…

These figures are called the Sensory and Motor Homonculus Men. They are proportioned like this to illustrate how much of the sensory cortex and the motor cortex is devoted to sensing and moving the different areas of the body. So the hands and mouth are oversized because large areas of the brain are given over to operating the hands and mouth.

The Sensory Motor Cortex (below) is the part of your brain that deals with sensing (sensory) and moving (motor) your muscles.

SMA Brain Diagram
The Sensory Motor Cortex

Different areas of the sensory motor cortex are responsible for sensing and moving different parts of your body. The diagram below is called a sensory motor homunculus, it maps out which parts of the sensory motor cortex sense and move which body parts. The sensory homunculus (blue) receives information from the muscles regarding muscle tension/length, joint angles, load etc. The motor homunculus (red) sends motor commands back to the relevant muscles based on the aforementioned sensory information.

Sensory Motor Homunculus Map

The commands from the motor cortex are a signal to the muscles to either increase the level of tension (contract), reduce the level of tension (relax) or maintain the level of tension. This back and forth of information, from the brain to the muscles, creates a sensory motor feedback loop. Sensory input arrives from the muscles into the sensory cortex > motor impluses exits the motor cortex and go back to the muscles > sensory input in > motor impulses out… and round and round it goes.

As you can see from the image above, your hands and face/mouth/tongue take up a huge part of both the sensory cortex and the motor cortex. Physically they may be small but neurologically they are massive. This makes sense when you begin to consider a) the many, many ways which we can use our hands and the very fine control we have over them and b) the fine control of the mouth, tongue and larynx that is required to speak.

Handwriting for example, requires a huge amount of brain processing power to be executed correctly. Perhaps that is why learning to write is such a laborious process. Writing, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, carving, pottery, sculpting all these activites require great skill and sensorimotor control of the hands. So to do any sort of fine work with the hands is to use and stimulate large portions of the sensory motor cortex of the brain. This suggests that the old saying “to be good with your hands” should maybe be understood as “to be good with your brain.” A point that is well illustrated in this interesting article that asks “Why does writing make us smarter?”

Interestingly the advent of computers, smartphones and touch screens has led to a sharp decline in real world hands-on skills being practiced. Now we seem to do everything virtually, on a computer screen. We have begun to use our hands mostly to tap keys and swipe screens, and in doing so we have reduced somewhat, the amount of stimulation that the sensory motor cortex receives. If we are not using our hands to their full potential, then maybe we are not using our brains to their full potential. I wonder what the long term implications of this will be on us and our society? As the old saying goes “Use it or lose it”. Only time will tell.

But for now let’s get back to the sensory motor cortex. As noted previously, another very large portion, approximately one third of the sensory motor cortex, is devoted to the sensing and controlling of the face, mouth, lips, tongue and larynx. Again this makes sense when we consider that as humans we speak. Speech requires a great deal of brain power to orchestrate. The lips, tongue and larnyx have to coordinate with our diaphragm in order to deliver intelligible speech or in a further refinement, to sing.

So with one third of the sensory motor cortex dedicated to the hands and another one third of the sensory motor cortex dedicated to the face/mouth/lips/tongue/larynx, there is only one third left. Just one single third of your sensory motor cortex devoted to the largest parts of the body! Your trunk, spine, hips, shoulders and limbs.

That is comparatively a very small section of the sensory motor cortex that is responsible for sensing and moving a very large area of the body.  Is it any wonder then, that the areas of our bodies that have the least cortical (brain) representation are the same areas that are most susceptible to movement deficits and muscular pain? Back pain, hip pain, shoulder pain anyone?

The trunk, hips, shoulders, and neck are supported by a very small section of the cortex. This means less processing power for a large area of the body. This being the case it would make sense that we might have to spend a little more time maintaining our brains control over these parts of our body, making sure the modest amount of the sensory motor cortex that is apportioned to these areas is stimulated regularly.

Movement of all and any kind provides massive amounts of stimulation and sensory information to the brain. We traditionally think of information as purely intellectual, words, numbers, facts, data etc. But for your sensory motor cortex, MOVEMENT IS INFORMATION. And the more information your brain has about your body, the better you can sense and organise your movement.

So how can we help ourselves in this regard? A Somatic movement practice is a great place to start. Practicing somatic movements slowly and smoothly allows us to re-establish, maintain and refine our sensory awareness and our motor control. By relearning how to move our trunk and spine comfortably through their normal and natural ranges of motion. Then when basic control has been re-established, we can get on with enjoying our favourite acvtivities whatever they may be. (Running, walking, lifting, climbing, dancing, yoga, gardening, tennis, the options are endless).

You can start learning how to do all this right now by checking out the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel. If you’d like some help with a particular movement or muscular pain I offer online 1-1s via Zoom. No matter where you are in the world, it’s never been easier to Learn Somatics. So take advantage today.

As always thanks for reading.

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