Neuroscience and Somatic Education

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the Nervous System.

Somatics is the exploration of the first hand experience of the Nervous System through movement.

So if you are practicing Somatics you can call yourself a Neuroscientist!

Below is a link to an excellent article by Carrie Day CCSE, and Martha Peterson CCSE that explains in detail how Hanna Somatic Education takes adavantage of neurological principles to eliminate chronic pain and improve movement. Check it out…

The Science of Somatics

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

 

 

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It’s never just one muscle

Often, when we have pain, there is a perception that there is one particular muscle that is causing the problem. Such as, “Oh its my psoas/piriformis/hamstring” etc. And while that may be where you feel the pain or restriction, it is not necessarily where the problem is.

Muscle never work in isolation, they can’t. In order for one muscle to contract, another, opposing muscle must relax, this immediately means you have another muscle brought into play. Muscles work in groups and fire in patterns of contraction to facilitate movement. So a sore or tight psoas/piriformis/hamstring is really just one part of a much bigger habituated involuntary full body pattern of contraction. In Clinical Somatic Education we call this Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The Three Reflexes we work with in Clinical Somatic Education; Green Light Reflex, Red Light Reflex and Trauma Reflex, are examples of universal full body patterns of muscular contraction. These reflexes are common to all creatures with a spine and nervous system so it is important to be able to recognise them in yourself.

hamstring runnerIt’s that pesky hamstring again! Or is it?

 

From a Somatics perspective, we look for the connection between the problem/pain area and the three Reflexes mentioned above. For example tight/sore hip flexors, could be as a result of habituated Red Light Reflex. If it is only the hip flexors on one side, or perhaps the piriformis on one side, it may suggest a Trauma Reflex. A chronically tight and painful lower back can be caused by habituated Green Light Reflex. In order to address problems like these you must first release the relevant reflex and then improve the functioning of the entire movement system. As a living, breathing, conscious Soma* you are a SYSTEM OF MOVEMENT. Movement dysfunctions must be addressed by looking at that system in its entirety and improving its functioning in its entirety.

How is this done? Well, first we look at posture for signs of habituation of the Three Reflexes. Usually all are present to some degree. In that case which one is most dominant? What way is the brain and nervous system holding the body? Looking at the entire system.

We watch the client walking. What parts of the body move freely, which parts of the body do not move freely? Which side bears more weight? Again, we are looking at the entire system.

Then we palpate, that is we feel the tonus or hardness of the muscles, both standing and on the plinth/worktable. Are they tight? Which ones are tight? Which ones are soft? What is the relationship between them? What changes in the tonus from standing to laying down? Where is the Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)? Again looking at the entire system.

Then we decide which reflex to address first based on our observations. With that decision made we educate the client through gentle guided movement patterns and full body pandiculations. They learn how to sense the Three Reflexes (see links above), these universal full body patterns of contraction. How to recognize them, how to contract into them VOLUNTARILY and more importantly, how to RELAX out of them VOLUNTARILY.

Working in this way, by educating the client, allows for systemic improvements in movement, comfort and pain reduction. Because clients learn how to do these movements for themselves, they can repeat the process at any time by themselves. Thus becoming more self aware, self correcting and independent.

So with all that said. Do you have a muscle that seems to be tight or sore? If so, explore your movement a little further. Which parts of your body move freely and comfortably? Which parts do not move freely and comfortably? With a little investigation you may find that it is never just one muscle.

*Soma: the body experienced from within

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

Somatic Education – The Basics and some Resources

In my last post I talked about the difference between stretching and Pandiculation. Based on the number of emails I received in relation to that article I want to clarify how Pandiculation relates to the other main elements of Somatic Education which are;

Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

&

The Three Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma)

You can’t fix a problem that you are not aware of. In the context of Somatic Education, Sensory Motor Amnesia is the problem, the Three Reflexes are how the problem presents and pandiculation is (one of) the tools we use to address and resolve the problem.

Everyone has some degree of SMA, from a little to a lot. Read more about what SMA is and how it develops, here.

SMA shows itself in the body as habituated contraction of Three Reflexes. These are brain reflexes, if you are conscious and reading this, then you have a brain, and if you have a brain, you will be susceptible to habituation of these three reflexes. I encourage you to read the three blog entries on each of the reflexes.

Here they are;

Green Light Reflex

Red Light Reflex

Trauma Reflex

When we habituate any or all of the Three Reflexes we will inevitably have movement deficits and/or muscle pain. The extent of either will be dependant on the subtlety or severity of our Sensory Motor Amnesia. Regardless, the approach to resolving the SMA is the same. We must remind the brain how to use the affected musculature correctly. We do this by voluntarily recreating the Three Reflexes and then slowly decreating them.

In the case of Green Light Reflex, this involves  purposely contracting the muscles of the Green Light Reflex, which is all the muscles of the back of the body. This allows us to take cortical* control of those muscles, and then slowly relaxing them under control. This simple act of pandiculating reduces the resting level of tension in the muscles for better movement, reduced pain and improved comfort.

Here is an example of a simple Somatic Exercise to address Green Light Reflex, pandiculating the muscles of the back of the Spine, with an emphasis on the lower back muscles. I would advice watching the video first and then doing the movement whilst listening to the video.

Arch & Flatten with Laura Gates – www.fullmovementpotential.com

Here is another simple Somatic Exercise that addresses Red Light Reflex. Again watch the video first and then do the movement whilst listening to the video.

Flower with Martha Peterson – www.essentialsomatics.com

As you can see from the videos, Somatic Exercises are performed, slowly and gently with the intention of something like a yawn. Try these out and leave a comment on your experience. I am currently developing my own instructional  Somatic Exercise videos and an eBook which I hope to have available in the new year. If these are something you would be interested in leave a comment below this post.

In the meantime here are some links to Somatics resources around the web. You can find more videos from each of these Somatic Practitioners on Youtube and Vimeo.

Martha Peterson – www.essentialsomatics.com

Laura Gates – www.fullmovementpotential.com

Lawrence Gold – http://lawrencegoldsomatics.blogspot.ie/

Susan Koenig – https://www.youtube.com/user/somaticsforyou

 

Books about Somatics

Somatics by Thomas Hanna

The Body of Life by Thomas Hanna

Move Without Pain by Martha Peterson

Move Like an Animal by Edward Barrera

The Sustainable You by John Loupos

 

Somatics Exercises instructional DVDs and CDs

Essential Somatics
Fantastic instructional DVDs and CDs from Martha Peterson

Somatics Educational Resources
(about half way down linked page under the heading AUDIO). These are Somatic Movement Classes guide by the late Thomas Hanna, the man who developed this work. Highly recommended.

Lawrence Gold
Comprehensive Somatics instructional CDs and DVDs for a wide range of issues.

 

I’ll be back soon with my regular Somatics blog posts, in the meantime share this post with anyone you know who is interested in Somatics resources around the web.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Stretching Vs. Pandiculation – What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Let’s look at the key differences between stretching and pandiculation. Pandiculation is used extensively in Clinical Somatic Education to regain the brain’s control of tight painful muscles.

Stretching sends sensory information only as far as the Spinal Cord
When a muscle is stretched, the sense receptors within that muscle send information to the spinal cord to indicate that the length of the muscle has changed, in this case lengthened. The spinal cord in response sends an impulse to the muscle being stretched, triggering a contraction (tightening), it also sends an impulse to the opposing muscle inhibiting a contraction. So, stretching a muscle causes it to respond by contracting. This is counter to what you’re are trying to achieve when you stretch. This is a very basic explanation of the stretch reflex. As you can see the brain is not involved in the process at all, the stretch reflex is a spinal cord reflex.

2015-05-08_0919

Pandiculation sends new sensory information all the way to the Brain
When a muscle is contracted, the sense receptors within that muscle send information all the way to the Sensory Motor Cortex of the brain (see image below) to indicate that the length of muscle has changed, in this case shortened and also that the level of tension in the muscle has increased. Because this information has reached the brain, the muscle can be sensed or ‘felt’. It is now under your conscious control. At this point you can choose to increase, maintain or decrease the level of contraction. When pandiculating you will slowly decrease the level of contraction all the way down to complete rest. But the take home point is you ellicit full cortical control over the muscle when you contract it voluntarily.

SMA Brain Diagram

Stretching is passive
Stretching is passive, you are not actively using the muscle, you are merely pulling on it, there is no brain involvement.

Pandiculation is active
During a Pandiculation you are actively using the muscle, your brain is involved in the process.

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Stretching decreases potential power output of  the muscles involved
Passive stretching and even PNF* stretching temporarily reduce the potential power output of the muscle.

Pandiculation increases sensation & awareness of the muscles involved
Pandiculation strengthens the connection between the sensory motor cortex of the brain and the muscle. The muscle can be sensed more clearly and control of both functions of the muscle (contraction and relaxation) are increased. This is because the muscle is both contracted and relaxed slowly and carefully during a pandiculation, essentially allowing you to practice both functions.

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Stretching provides no new sensory information to the brain
Because the brain is not involved in a passive stretch there is no new sensory information for the brain. Therefore no new learning takes place. This may be the most important difference between stretching and pandiculation

Pandiculation provides lots of new sensory information for brain
Because the brain is very much involved in the process of Pandiculation there is a large amount of new sensory information for the brain. Therefore new learning takes place.

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Stretching can be painful
Passive stretching is generally uncomfortable and can even be painful especially if Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is present.

Pandiculation feels good
Pandiculation performed correctly feels very pleasurable and relaxing. It has the feeling of a yawn.

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No attention required to stretch
There is no focused attention required to pull on a limb and evoke a stretch.

Attention required to paniculate effectively
Focused attention is absolutely required to perform an effective Pandiculation, both to contract the desired muscle and also to control the slow relaxation phase so that it feels smooth.

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Temporary change in length
Passive stretching confers only a temporary change in length, if any, as the muscles reflexively recontract in response to the stretch.

Long term change in length
Pandiculation confers more permanent changes in muscle length as you brain LEARNS a new longer resting length for your muscles. Please note the changes in muscle length that are achieved through pandiculation are as a result of the reduced level of tension in the muscle. They are not as a result of tissue remodelling.

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Stretching does not eliminate Sensory Motor Amnesia
Passive stretching does nothing to eliminate the habituated levels of chronic muscular contraction that are typical of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

Pandiculation eliminates Sensory Motor Amnesia
Pandiculation eliminates SMA quickly and easily by returning control of the muscle to Sensory Motor Cortex and allowing you to learn how to relax and lengthen your muscles.

These are the main differences between Stretching and Pandiculation. One final point to note is that often when people stretch they will stretch muscles in isolation, whereas with pandiculation one contracts many muscles at once. This allows us to release large patterns of contraction more quickly and effectively.

The learning component of pandiculation allows you to develop better sensorimotor control over your muscles, and muscles that you have full control over will not cause pain. It is only those muscles which you have lost control over that become chronically tight and painful. The pain is the warning sign that you do not have control any more.

If you would like to learn more about Somatics and how it can help you to improve your movement and reduce or eliminate your muscle pain, get in touch here.

 

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Habituation – How our movement habits can create our pain

How can our movement habits create pain and decrease our ability to move well?

Habituation is the simplest form of learning. It occurs through the constant repetition of a response. When the same bodily response occurs over and over again, its pattern is gradually “learned” at an unconscious level. Habituation is a slow, relentless adaptive act, which ingrains itself into the functional patterns of the central nervous system. (Thomas Hanna, Somatics 1998)

We get good at what we repeatedly do, that is how our brain learns, through repetition. We will get good at things we do intentionally AND things we do unintentionally. If we repeatedly stand in a certain way or walk in a certain way, eventually that way will become learned and automatic. When it becomes automatic we are no longer conscious of it. It becomes our ‘normal’.

The Green Light Reflex is the reflex that drives us forward into the world. It is an inherently positive reflex. Without it we would never have learned to crawl or walk. However, every time your phone rings, someone calls your name, a deadline looms, you rush to be on time, the bodily response is the same, your Green Light Reflex is triggered. All the muscles of the Green Light Reflex contracting, to ready you for action.

In modern society, most people have very busy lifestyles and are constantly under demand from their jobs, children, emails, phone calls, text messages, social activities, hobbies etc. This constant triggering of the Green Light Reflex, leads to habitually and chronically tightened back muscles in exactly the way described by Thomas Hanna in the quote above.

Your ‘normal’ becomes a learned state of contraction, always ready for action and unable to relax fully. You develop Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), forgetting how to release and relax all the musculature of the back of the body. A stiff, sore back and reduced ability to move freely becomes inevitable at this point.

The Red Light Reflex is the complete opposite of the Green Light Reflex. It is a withdrawal reflex, a tightening of all the front of the body in an attempt to make ourselves small and hideaway from fear or danger. Red Light is triggered by fear, danger or threat, .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. Nowadays this seems to be a major cause of Red Light Reflex. Many hours with our heads pointed down, back rounded and our shoulders slumped forward gazing at our ever smaller screens (PCs > laptops > tablets > smartphones). If we spend a lot of time in this position, or under threat, we are essentially learning how to stay in that position. Belly tight, hip flexors tight, shoulders forward, head down. Again this state of learned contraction becomes our new ‘normal’. And while it is very useful for looking at gadgets or working at a screen, it is not so useful when we want to do something (anything) else. Eventually, you develop Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), forgetting how to release and relax all the musculature of the front of the body. A stiff, sore neck and shoulders and reduced ability to breathe deepy and move freely becomes inevitable at this point.

We can habituate any posture or movement pattern that we use regularly, whether it is helpful or not.

PoorPosture

Think about it, do you always sit in the same chair in your living room? In the same position? It just feels comfortable right? Well that’s because you have unintentionally learned to sit in that way. It’s an example of habituation. Do you always carry your infant on the same side hip? Habituation. When you drive do you always sink into one side? Or put your elbow on the centre console? Habituation. When you stand do you always cross your arms? Or your legs? Or lean into one side? How do you walk? Always wear your bag on the same side? Again these are all habituations. One sided habits can lead to Trauma Reflex. Much of what we do each and every day is automatic and performed unconsciously. But some of these movement habits may be causing you to have pain due to the constant contraction of the muscles involved.

Becoming aware of our movement habits can help us to identify which ones may be causing us to have pain or reducing our ability to move well. Once identified, Somatic Exercises or Clinical Somatics Lessons can help us to release these habituated patterns of muscular contraction for less pain, more self awareness and more freedom of movement.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

Low Back Pain and Green Light Reflex

In this post, I described The Green Light Reflex. When this reflex becomes habituated, it can often cause back pain, particularly in the low back.

But how does the Green Light Reflex cause back pain?

When the thick strong muscles of the spine, known collectively as paravertebrals, are involuntarily stuck in contraction (SMA) they draw the spinal vertebra closer together, this causes the lower back to arch forward excessively. This is often referred to as lordosis, or lordotic posture. It is easily identified by a lower back that is pulled to the front, it also makes the belly protrude and tilts the pelvis anteriorly.

Stickman_Template_Green_Light

Neutral posture (left), and a typical Green Light posture (right)

 

Some points to notice, in the figure on the right.

  1. The excessive arching of the lumbar spine
  2. The change in angle of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the back muscles
  3. The drawing drawing back of the shoulders and head
  4. The corresponding forward position of the hips
  5. The hyperextension of the hips and kness
  6. The protuding of the belly as a result of the overarched low back

When these paravertebrals are stuck in contraction, they will make any type of forward bending action more difficult. In order to bend forward freely, you must be able to relax and lengthen all the muscles along the back of the spine. If you cannot voluntarily relax and lengthen these muscles you have what we call in Clinical Somatic Education, Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

Spinal_Highlighted

Paravertebrals

 

Paravertebrals (the muscles running either side along the length of the spine) that are habitually contracted pull the vertebra (bones of the spine) closer together. This can compress any or all of the nerves that exit the spinal cord in the lumbar area or any other area of the back, leading to trapped nerves, sciatica or similar complaints.

This compression of the spinal vertebra can also create a situation where the intervertebral discs that are supposed to act as shock absorbers between each vertebra, are pushed out of place leading to bulging/herniated discs. This spinal compression is also what causes “wear & tear” in the lumbar spine. Even if you don’t have nerve pain or bulging discs from habituated Green Light Reflex, the constant contraction of the paravertebrals leads to fatigue and aching muscles in the back.

So an habituated Green Light Reflex can be the cause of several problems from a reduction in mobility all the way to herniated discs. Each of these problems occur along a spectrum of Green Light Reflex. At the low end of the scale, .ie minimal green light reflex you might expect to have reduced forward bending ability, and at the high end of the scale you might expect, tension headaches, chronic pain and bulging or herniated discs.

These are not the only issues that can occur as a result of habituated Green Light Reflex. It can also lead to tension headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, tight hips, hamstrings and calves, knee pain and other issues. But the mechanism by which these problems occurs is the same. Chronic involuntary contraction (SMA) of all the muscles of the back of the body. In the image below those muscles are highlighted in green.

Muscles involved in Green Light Reflex highlighted in green

So what can we do about it? Well in truth the solution is quite simple. We must RELEARN optimal control of all the muscles of the back of the body. When we relearn proper control we will have the ability to relax and lengthen these muscles to their full and proper resting length. When this has been achieved pain is reduced or eliminated and movement quality improves.

How do we relearn proper control of these muscles? We pandiculate them using safe simple Somatics Exercises or through a series of Hands On Clinical Somatic Lessons. If you would like to learn how to release and relax all the muscles of the Green Light Reflex for a looser more comfortable back and freer movement, get in touch here.

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http://www.clinicalsomatics.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* for the physios among you.

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 Exercises get in touch.

*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.clinicalsomatics.ie