Grow Taller with Somatics!?

There are 23 intervertebral discs in the human spine. These discs are somewhat soft and spongy, acting as shock absorbers between each articulating vertebra. When the muscles of the spine are in habitual contraction they will compress the entire length of the spine, squashing the vertebral discs slightly. If this contraction of the spinal muscles brings each vertebra closer together by just 1/23 of an inch, you lose a full inch of your true height. This contraction of the spinal muscles will also exaggerate the curves of the spine, again reducing your height.

human spine

By relaxing and releasing all the muscles of the spinal column we can gain back that inch while also allowing more space between the vertebra, decompressing the spinal discs and giving freer more comfortable movement in the whole body. We can also learn how to release all the muscles of the waist, if these muscles are habitually contracted they will draw the ribs and the pelvis closer together, robbing you of more height (and your svelte wasitline!).

A long, free spine and a soft waist will allow you to stand taller and straighter effortlessly. Win win.

To learn how to do all of this using safe, simple Somatics Exercises check out my online class schedule here…

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www.learnsomatics.ie

Centre to Periphery

One of the core principles of Clinical Somatic Education is the emphasis on resolving SMA and regaining and maintaining proper control of the muscles of the centre of the body first. Good awareness and control of the central muscles of the spine, torso, shoulders and hips facilitates free movement and optimum functioning of the arms, hands, legs, ankles, feet and the neck. When we look at the musculature involved in the Green Light, Red Light and Trauma Reflexes, we can see that they primarily affect the centre of the body.

Reflex Mapx3

The image above illustrates this clearly. Green Light Reflex affects all the muscles of spinal extension, plus the extensors of the hips and legs (glutes, hamstrings, calves etc.). All these muscles are found on the back of the body. Red Light Reflex affects the opposing muscles of spinal flexion on the front of the body (abdominals, pectorals etc). Trauma Reflex affects the muscle of lateral flexion and rotation of the spine (obliques, lats, quadratus lumborum etc.).

If we develop an habituation of any or all of these Three Reflexes, our ability to sense and move the centre of our body is diminished. When we can’t move our centre, our movement in general diminishes. Our spine cannot bend, cannot reach and cannot twist. This leads to problems in the extremities, as the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles have to compensate for the diminished movement potential in the centre of our bodies.

Could a painful knee be the result of an habituated Trauma Reflex? Or a tight neck and shoulders and an inability to reach both arms overhead stem from the Red Light Reflex? Or tight hamstrings and an inability to touch your toes due to  Green Light Reflex? These are just some examples of what can happen as a result of the Three Reflexes. It is worth remembering too that most people will present with all Three Reflexes to some degree. Habituation of these reflexes develops through stress, trauma, repetitive actions or lack of movement and leads to SMA, a reduced ability to move well and over time, muscle pain.

So what’s to be gained by eliminating SMA and learning how to relax and release all the muscles of the Three Reflexes?

First of all maintaining optimal freedom and control in the muscles of the spine allows the major nerve roots exiting and entering the spine to send information back and forth from brains to muscles uninhibited. If the spinal muscles are too tight or in spasm, they can compress the nerves and cause pain and dysfunction in the back and associated limb. Free, relaxed spinal muscles also allow all the individual vertebra to articulate individually. The end result of this is a spine that can flex, extend and rotate freely and comfortably without restriction.

Another benefit of freeing the centre of the body is effortless breathing. When the chest and abdominals are free and relaxed, breathing is uninhibited, the rib cage and lungs within are free to expand without restriction.

When the muscles of the waist are released and fully controlled the ability to flex laterally (side bend) is restored. Suddenly you can reach to the top shelf with ease.

When the centre of the body is free you will be able to twist, bend, flex and extend like a child. This type of control and freedom can be easily maintained and endlessly improved upon with a simple, enjoyable daily Somatic practice. Learn Somatic Movements from the comfort of your own home. Sign up for an online class today.

www.learnsomatics.ie

What is ‘Good’ Posture?

Poor posture is the result of habituated dysfunctional patterns of involuntary contraction aka Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). Or, put more simply, excessive levels of involuntary muscular tension in one place or another that pull us out of shape and cause muscular imbalances. In fact, the Three Reflexes, Green Light, Red Light an Trauma, show up in our bodies as postural distortions.

Mannequin_Trauma_Reflexesx3
Poor posture as a result of habituated Green Light Reflex, Trauma Reflex and Red Light Reflex. Most people will have all three to some degree.

Excessive time spent sitting/driving/doing desk work can lead to SMA in relation to the muscles of the front of the body (Red Light Reflex). You lose the ability to lengthen these muscles to their true resting length. When these muscles are tight they round the shoulders forward, pull the chest, and in turn the head, down and forward into typical slumped posture.

Often, in a situation as illustrated above, the conventional view is that the muscles of the back of the body are ‘long and weak’ and the muscles of the front are ‘tight and short’. Thomas Hanna addresses this fallacy quite specifically and comprehensively in his teaching. The tight side is not weak it is perfectly strong, it is also fatigued. If you palpate a tight muscle you will feel how it is very hard, that is because it is strongly contracted. The perceived ‘weakness’ is a result of the fatigue from being constantly contracted and constantly using energy. There is a difference between being weak and being fatigued. The strength of a muscle is dependant on its ability to contract fully and equally to relax fully. A muscle that never relaxes is always tired and so cannot do its job properly.

What about the muscles on the other side that are thought to be ‘long and weak’? The muscles on the opposing side, are longer yes, but again they are not weaker. They cannot contract fully because the opposing muscles are ‘stuck’ in contraction (SMA) as described above. Muscles always work in opposing pairs/groups. If the function of one pair/group is compromised it automatically compromises the function of the opposing pair/group. This is a clear example of Reciprocal Inhibition*.

This distinction is very important. When we restore the ability to fully relax, to the ‘tight/short’ side (by eliminating the SMA through pandiculation), the ‘longer/weaker’ side is no longer inhibited and so it can contract fully again. This creates a state of co-ordination and balance between the muscles. With this improved balance and co-ordination improved movement, comfort and posture is inevitable.

So, good posture, relaxed and tall, is the absence of excessive muscular tension throughout the body and balance and co-ordination between opposing muscle groups. With good posture you will be able to move quickly if you need to, without excess muscle tension. It’s not about tightening muscles in order to stay standing upright!

Good posture can be attained quickly and easily through Somatic Exercises. These exercises allow you to eliminate SMA and so remain in a neutral state of relaxed balance. Poor posture cannot be ‘fixed’ by adding MORE tension to muscles that are incorrectly thought to be WEAK!

In Summary:

Poor Posture = unnecessary involuntary tension in the body causing imbalance.

Good posture = the absence of unnecessary involuntary tension in the body.

Think about it…

If you would like to learn how to eliminate SMA and improve your posture using simple Somatic Movements check out my online learning options here.

*Reciprocal Inhibition: contraction in a muscle is accompanied by a loss of tone or by relaxation in the antagonistic muscle.

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www.learnsomatics.ie

Why do you have stiff, sore Joints?

Joint health is affected by many variables. The medical community generally view joint pain or problems as structural in nature and on occassion this is indeed the case. However, a far more common cause of joint problems is chronically tight and contracted muscles around a joint. Chronically tight muscles are not a structural problem they are a functional problem. Our muscles can easily become too tight as a result of our responses to everyday stresses, from performing repetitive tasks, a lack of movement or from an injury, impact, fall or surgery. These patterns of habitually tight muscles show up in our bodies as the previously discussed Green Light, Red Light and Trauma Reflexes.

How do chronically tight muscles cause joint pain?
When the muscles that articulate a joint are ‘stuck’ at a high level of contraction they are shorter and tighter than is optimal. Short, tight muscles will draw the bones of the joint closer together compressing the joint and leading to pain and restricted movement. If the bony structures in the joint are being pulled too close to each other by the tight muscles these structures can begin to rub off each other and can eventually wear down the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones. So, over time what began as a functional soft tissue or muscular problem becomes a structural problem.

JointPainHip

In the case of the hip joint, pain can be caused by habitually contracted gluteals, piriformis and tensor fascia latae. These are all muscles that articulate the hip and leg. However it is never just one muscle that causes the problem as muscles always work in concert. The problem is always a larger, full body pattern of contraction. One sided hip pain, for example is often the result of a Trauma Reflex. It follows then, that an effective solution to the problem cannot only address one muscle. Learning to release the Trauma Reflex and regain balance and control of the muscles of the centre of your body will go a long way towards resolving your hip pain!

By improving the function of the muscles around a given joint and addressing the full body pattern of contraction we can release ALL the muscles back to their true resting length. Then, compression of the joint is reduced and normal range of motion and comfort of the joint are restored. This outcome can be achieved safely, quickly and easily through the educational process of Clinical Somatics (aka Hanna Somatics). You must address the full body pattern of contraction by RELEARNING how to regain control over ALL the muscles involved in the pattern of contraction.

If you have tight painful joints and restricted movement and would like to learn how to release and relax your muscles for freer more comfortable movement, you could benefit from a course of Lessons in Clinical Somatic Education.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Somatics for Stress Resilience – Empty Your Bucket

We all have a certain capacity for stress, some of us can handle more, others less. The one thing we all have in common though is that we all respond to stress in the same way. We contract, and our muscles tighten. If the stress is ongoing, the contraction and tightening are ongoing.

Let’s compare our personal capacity to handle stress to a bucket. Some people have large buckets, some people have small buckets, and some have medium size buckets.

empty_bucket_thumb

When we experience stress, a little (or maybe a lot) of water is added to our bucket. Over time, we experience more stresses and our bucket fills up with water until eventually there is no more room for any more. The bucket is now heavy and cumbersome. At this point our capacity to handle stress is reached and then breached as represented by the water beginning to pour out over the sides of the bucket. We now have a very heavy and unwieldy bucket spilling water everywhere.

What happens when our stress levels exceed our capacity to deal with the stress?

We have all, at one time or another, experienced times in our lives when we underwent high or ongoing levels of stress. When we have to endure high levels of ongoing stress we inevitably get sick, we get tired, we age quicker, we become unhappy, we become irritable… So as the bucket fills up with water, our bodies become tighter and tighter due to the involuntary muscular contractions in response to the stress. Our bodies EXPRESS stress as tension, and they express excessive stress as excessive tension.

Unfortunately, stress is an unavoidable part of life, so the bucket is going to fill up in response to stress whether we like it or not. But! If we could empty the bucket somehow…

Well there is a very simple way to empty the stress bucket, Somatic Self Care Exercises.

Somatic Self Care Exercises are simple floor based movements that allow you to quickly and easily lower the level of tension in your muscles in a systematic way by pandiculating, effectively tipping water out of your bucket. An empty bucket can take more water if necessary (read handle more stress!) and in this way allow you to be more resilient to the every day stresses we all experience. A daily Somatic practice will allow you to start and/or finish each day, with an empty, light and easy to carry ‘bucket’.

If you would like to learn how to use Somatic Self Care Exercises to relieve stress, increase your resilience to stress,  improve your movement and eliminate muscle pain, get in touch with me here…

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

What IS Clinical Somatics?

Clinical Somatics (aka Hanna Somatics) is a simple process of neuromuscular re-education that allows you to regain voluntary control of all the muscles of your body so that optimal muscle function and comfort can be restored, and then maintained, for the long term. When we have full control of our muscles, they cannot cause pain. Only muscles that we have lost voluntary control over (SMA) can cause pain.

It is an education based approach to pain relief, wellness, health and mobility that honors the neurological fact that our brains have absolute control over our muscles. Any attempt to change the condition of, or optimize the functioning of, our muscles must involve the brain. If the brain is involved it means there is a learning component and true change only comes through learning. By learning new and more efficient ways to use our muscles we can make long term changes to our body, or should I say to our ‘Soma’ (our body experienced from within).

There are two ways to achieve this;

Clinical Somatic Lessons
Clinical Somatic Education systematically addresses the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma) over the course of 3-6 Lessons. The practitioner guides the client through some specific movement patterns and provides gentle hands on feedback to the client to help them to properly sense the various muscles involved. Once the client can sense or feel these muscles they can begin to regain control of them and in turn release and relax them back to their proper resting length. Clients are then taught the Somatic Self Care Exercises that they can do themselves at home so they can maintain this muscular control and freedom.

Somatic Self Care Exercises
These are a series of safe, simple floor based movement patterns that enable us to consciously recreate the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma) so that we may consciously de-create them. The goal of the Exercises is to pandiculate into and out of the Reflexes eliminating SMA. This is akin to hitting ‘reset’ on our muscle function. When you’re PC or laptop is acting up, the first thing we do is usually to turn it off, and then turn it on again. This allows the sytem to reset or reboot. With Somatic Exercises we are doing the same thing for our brain muscle connection. The only difference being we do the opposite, we turn the muscle fully ON, and then slowly turn it fully OFF. This simple act resets or reboots our muscle function and control for freer, more comfortable muscles.

Backlift_Me_72ppi_SMALLThe Backlift is one of many Somatic Self Care Exercises

Summary:

  1. Clinical Somatics (Hanna Somatics) is Education NOT therapy.
  2. Clinical Somatic Lessons teach you how to recognise and release all the muscles involved in the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma).
  3. Somatic Self Care Exercises performed regularly allow you to be self correcting in the future for long term pain relief from tight stiff muscles.
  4. Somatics resets or reboots our muscle function and control for freer, more comfortable muscles and improved movment potential.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Pandiculation: Movement Medicine

Pandiculation is the simplest way to restore muscle function and reduce the level of muscular tension held in the body, but what is it and how does it work?

Pandiculation is something we are all familiar with, even if we’ve never heard of it. A ‘yawn’ is a reflexive pandiculation, and something we have all done countless times. We normally think of a ‘yawn’ as a stretch but on closer inspection this is not the case. When we yawn we actually tighten or contract the muscles of our jaw, neck, upper back and often our arms and shoulders, we then slowly relax back to rest. So far from stretching when we yawn, we first contract and then slowly relax, and that is exactly what pandiculation involves.

If you would like to see some truly expert pandiculating, find yourself a cat. Cats possess incredible agility, phenomenal reflexes, can climb anything, turn on a six pence and contort themselves into some bizarre positions in order to clean themselves. They also pandiculate, a lot. Most animals in the wild will pandiculate somewhere in the order of 40-50 times a day. Whenever they wake from sleep they will automatically pandiculate. And why do they do this?

TO PREPARE THEIR NERVOUS SYSTEM AND THEIR MUSCLES FOR MOVEMENT!

Lion_PandaBig cat, big pandiculation.
This lion is pandiculating his back
and neck, not stretching his belly

That is the function of pandiculation, preparing the muscles for movement. Keep that in mind.

So with the ‘what?’ covered, let’s get into the ‘how?’. Pandiculation starts with a strong voluntary contraction/tightening of a muscle or group of muscles (this is a Motor output), this sends new sensory information (input) from receptors in the muscles to the Sensory Cortex of the brain. Namely that the length of the muscle has reduced and the level of tension in the muscle has increased. This new input allows the Sensory Motor Cortex to ‘sense’ or become ‘aware of’ the muscle or muscles in question.

Once this has occured the next step is to slowly and carefully contract less… contract less… contract less all the way back to complete rest. By going slowly, we allow the Sensory Cortex time to sense the muscle lengthening and the reduction in the level of contraction/tension. When the contraction has been fully released we come to complete rest and pause. This pause is critically important as it again, allows the Sensory Cortex the time to sense that the muscle length and level of tension have changed.

By systematically pandiculating all the major muscle groups we can reduce the level of tension held involuntarily in the body at a given time. The result is improved movement, a reduction or elimination of muscle pain, improved co-ordination and proprioception and a deep sense of relaxation.

Remember muscles that are tight/contracting are working. Work requires energy. Unnecessary tightness/contraction is unnecessary work. It is a waste of energy. Your energy.

By pandiculating the muscles involved in the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma) we can reset these patterns of contraction so that the muscles can be at rest, no longer distorting our posture, causing pain and draining our energy.

If you would like to learn simple Somatics Exercises you can do any time that allow you to pandiculate all the muscles of the body and improve your movement, get in touch here…

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Trauma means ‘Ouch!’

What is the Trauma Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it?

In my previous two posts I described Green Light Reflex which acts on the muscles of the back of the body, and Red Light Reflex which acts on the muscles of the front of the body. In this post let’s look at the third brain reflex that we deal with within the context of Clinical Somatic Education, the Trauma Reflex. The Trauma Reflex acts on the muscles of one side of the body. It can be triggered by a fall, impact or collision. It is an automatic and protective brain reflex to guard against pain or injury.

Imagine the movement you would make to avoid being tickled at your lower right side ribs. You would twist slightly (or maybe a lot) your right hip would hike towards your right armpit and your right armpit would move towards your right hip, all the ribs on your right side tightening on one side to squirm, cringe or flinch away from the tickle. This is an example of the type of pattern of muscular contraction involved in the Trauma Reflex.

Trauma Reflex can develop through limping to protect an injured knee or ankle, through holding a child on one hip for long periods, by slipping off a kerb or step or even through one sided surgery, (ie appendicitis, mastectomy). The illustration below indicates the main muscles involved. One half of the diagram shows the front of the body,  the other the back of the body. The main muscles involved are the rotators of the spine and torso, the latissimus dorsi, the obliques, the quadratus lumborum, the abductors of the hip on the affected side, and the adductors of the thigh on the other side.

Trauma_72ppi

Whilst Green Light Reflex and Red Light Reflex are best viewed side on, Trauma Reflex is best viewed head on. Lets look at the wooden mannequinn again so we can get an idea of how Trauma Reflex can look. I say can look, because the Trauma Reflex has the most variability in how it presents, it can be very pronounced or very subtle and the degree of spinal rotation and/or lateral flexion (side bending) is rarely the same from one case to another.

Mannequin_Trauma_Reflex

So in this case, the wooden man is displaying a right side trauma reflex. The right side shoulder is pulled down and back and the right side hip is hiked up slightly. You will notice that the head is tilted to the left slightly to compensate, this is an attempt by the brain to keep the head balanced in gravity. Because this reflex creates more tension on one side of the body it throws us off balance. We will walk with more weight on one side. And in the same way the tyres on your car will wear down at different rates if they are not balanced, your joints will accumulate more wear and tear on one side if you are not in balance.

Habituation of the Trauma Reflex can lead to sciatica, back, hip, knee, ankle pain, leg length discrepancy and plantarfasciitis among other issues.

Summary:

  1. The Trauma Reflex is an automatic and protective brain reflex.
  2. It can be caused by a slip, fall, collision or one sided surgery.
  3. It causes the muscles of twisting and side bending to tighten on one side of the body.
  4. It distorts our sense of balance and our natural gait/walking pattern.
  5. It can lead to one sided pain/conditions such as sciatica, plantarfaciitis, back, hip, neck, knee, ankle pain.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Red Light means ‘No!’

What is the Red Light Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it??

The Red Light Reflex, also called the Startle Reflex, is an automatic brain reflex that is activated every time we are startled or feel we are in sudden danger .ie; when we hear a loud noise, or someone yells ‘duck!’. It can equally be caused by spending too much time slumped in front of a laptop, tv, tablet or smartphone.

The job of Red Light Reflex is to contract all the major muscles of the front of our body so as to enable us to make ourselves smaller. This protects the soft and vulnerable internal organs located in our abdomen. Red Light is in effect the very opposite of the previously described Green Light Reflex. Green Light involves mostly muscles of extension (expansion), where as Red Light involves mostly muscles of flexion (withdrawal). Throughout our evolution, Red Light Reflex served a very practical and useful purpose. If Green Light is the ‘fight’ or the ‘flight’, Red Light is the ‘freeze’, or ‘play dead’. It is a shrinking away from fear or danger. Animals in the wild do this all the time as a means of hiding from predators, making themselves small and withdrawing into themselves. The main muscles involved are indicated in the image below, also involved but not indicated are the hip flexors, flexors of the arms and legs, and the internal rotators of the arms and legs.

Red Light_72ppi

Just as Green Light Reflex can cause problems when it becomes habituated, so too can the Red Light Reflex. It can lead to chronic neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, hip pain, mid back pain and shallow breathing. Shallow breathing in and of itself leads to low level anxiety as the body becomes stressed due to a lack of oxygen. This can lead to fatigue, depression and sleep problems. The wooden mannequinn below approximates the Red Light Reflex as it typically appears.

Mannequin_Startle_Reflex

Do you recognise this type of posture in yourself, or in others? It is, unfortunately, very common in modern society. Again, this type of stooped over posture is often associated with the aging process, but it is merely an habituated physical response to stress, and one that is easily reversed. But before we get to that there is one more brain reflex to discuss. Next up… The Trauma Reflex.

Summary:

  1. The Red Light Reflex is an automatic Brain Reflex triggered when we are startled or feel we are in danger.
  2. It allows us to withdraw from a perceived threat by causing all the muscles of the front of the torso to tighten.
  3. If habituated it can cause neck, jaw and mid back pain, shallow breathing and fatigue.
  4. The slumped posture it creates is associated with aging but it can be easily reversed.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Green Light means Go!

What is the Green Light Reflex and why must we be able to recognize it??

The Green Light Reflex is an automatic brain reflex that is activated every time we are called to action, .ie; when our phone rings, when someone calls our name, when we have a deadline looming, when we notice a new email in our inbox etc. The job of Green Light Reflex is to contract all the major muscles of the back of our body so as to enable us to move forwards (see image below). When triggered the muscles of the back extend the spine, the shoulders are pulled back, the lower back is pulled into an arch, the head is pulled back somewhat, the glutes, hamstrings and calves tighten, straightening the legs and rotating the legs outward. It is a very positive reflex, it is this reflex which enabled us to learn how to roll, crawl, walk and run. However, if it is activated too frequently, or too much, it can become habituated. What does this mean?

Green Light_72ppi

Well, the brain gets very good at what it does repeatedly, repetition of actions is the method by which the brain LEARNS. So if a reflex is activated REPEATEDLY the brain LEARNS to be ready to perform that action (activating all the muscles of the back of the body) at all times. The brain will then hold those muscles at a low level of contraction ALL THE TIME. At this point it becomes an involuntary action, in that you are no longer aware that you are doing it. What you will be aware of though is the result of the habitual contraction namely, fatigue and pain in your lower back and hips or any combination thereof. Habituated Green Light Reflex can lead to back pain, herniated discs, sciatica, hip pain and knee pain. You will also notice that you cannot bend forward easily any more as in order to bend forward your back muscles would need to relax and lengthen, but as you have habituated contraction of all the muscles of the back of your body, you cannot do that. So now you have lost voluntary control of the muscles of your back. In Somatic Education we would say you have developed Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in relation to the Green Light Reflex. You can activate the reflex still, in fact you are really good at that, but you have forgotten how to turn it off. The wooden mannequinn below approximates the posture of Green Light Reflex.

Mannequin_Stress_Reflex

If you’re past 30 years of age, you put it down to aging. But let’s be clear, habituation of the Green Light Reflex has nothing to do with aging and everything to do with how you respond to the many different stresses you experience in your life. It is a neurological event that results in a FUNCTIONAL problem. If you end the neurological (brain) event, you can solve the functional muscle problem.

The Green Light Reflex is just one of three sub cortical brain reflexes that are of concern to Somatic Educators. Check back soon to learn about the other two…

Summary:

  1. The Green Light Reflex is an automatic brain reflex.
  2. Green Light Reflex helps us to move forward by contracting the muscles of the back of our bodies.
  3. It is activated many times during the day.
  4. If we activate it too much without turning it off, we forget HOW to turn it off.
  5. When this happens we develop back pain, stiffness, and restricted movement.
  6. Habituated Green Light Reflex can cause herniated discs, back pain, neck pain, sciatica and knee pain among others.

www.clinicalsomatics.ie