My Glute isn’t firing?

A common complaint among the athletic/training community sounds like this:

My glute won’t fire. That’s why I do more squats, ye know, to activate it…

A yes, the scourge of the glute that won’t fire, but what does that statement actually mean?

What they are really saying is this. They cannot sense or control their glute muscle. That is to say they cannot ‘feel’ it and they cannot contract it under full control nor more importantly, relax it under full control. Thomas Hanna PhD. the man who developed Hanna Somatic Education and author of the book Somatics, called this inability to sense or control a muscle fully; Sensory Motor Amnesia. SMA develops in response to stress (both acute and ongoing), trauma (falls, collisions etc), repetitive actions or through a lack of movement (too much sitting anyone?). When SMA presents in one side of the body such as in one of the glutes, it generally indicates that the person has what he called a Trauma Reflex

Trauma_72ppi

As a quick reminder, a Trauma Reflex creates an involuntary twisting and bending of one side of the trunk due to an accident, impact, fall or even surgery. Imagine the way your body twists when you try to  move away from a tickle in the ribs for example, that would be a quite similar pattern.

If one side of the waist and trunk are involuntarily contracted (which means you can’t voluntarily relax them fully), your pelvis will be pulled out of alignment. This causes one side of your trunk to work differently to the other. The glutes fire on one side, but not the same on the other. Now you are walking around a little bit off kilter, one leg and hip doing more work than the other, eventually, one of your knees gets sore, or your hip starts getting cranky from the uneven workload. Or your lower back, or even your shoulder. Until one day you find yourself saying something like, “Hey! My glute won’t fire…”

But it’s not just your glute is it? Muscles never, ever work in isolation. It’s all the muscles of the waist, all the spinal rotators, even the abdominals and the hip flexors too. Muscles always work in groups and in patterns. So if your glute isn’t firing, you can be 100% positive that the synergists and antagonists are also not operating optimally either. You are the proud owner of an habituated Trauma Reflex.

Have someone take your photo from the front and the back. Take a good, hard look at this photo. Here’s a hint, whenever one side of your body is assymetrical or out of balance and different from the other side, you have a Trauma Reflex. Look for the following clues that would reveal a possible Trauma Reflex.

  1. Are your Shoulders level?
  2. Are your hips level?
  3. Is your head slightly tilted to one side or shifted to one side?
  4. Is the space between your arms and your torso different on each side?
  5. Is your torso sitting directly atop your pelvis or is it shifted to one side?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you do indeed, have an habituation of the Trauma Reflex.

Do you think it would be a good idea to put a heavy barbell on top of a body that displays these signs? Or run 10 miles? Or cycle 50 miles? Even walking with a Trauma Reflex can lead to problems. Performing any athletic endeavour when your pelvis, shoulders and trunk are out of balance can potentially cause injuries; it is a truly joyless experience. Squatting and Deadlifting with a Trauma Reflex will almost definitely lead to injury over a long enough time frame or under a large enough load. Running or cycling will lead to more wear and tear on one side of the body as you are essentially off balance all the time. There is also a very, very good chance that you will have some habituated Green Light and Red Light Reflex as well as your Trauma Reflex. Why? Because everybody does; we all live in the same world and deal with the everyday stresses and strains of modern life.

So how does one regain the ability to fire the glute, reinstate your balance, improve your movement ability and get back to the sport or activity you enjoy?

Get thee to a Clinical Somatic Educator and experience Hands-On Lessons so you can get hands on feedback to release the Three Reflexes and eliminate SMA even quicker than you can do it on your own. You will also learn how to perform safe, simple Somatic Movements. Somatic Movements are restorative and preventative movements that teach you how to recreate each of the Three Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma) yourself and then slowly relax out of them, this is called pandiculating. You can try these Somatic Movements right now over at the Learn Somatics YouTube channel.

As always thanks for reading.

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’. I would argue the tight side is not weak, it is perfectly strong, it is also fatigued. If you touch 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*. Proper co-ordination between the two muscle groups must be restored.

This distinction is very important. When we restore the ability to fully relax 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 restores co-ordination and balance between the muscles. With this improved balance and co-ordination improved movement, comfort and posture is inevitable.

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.

Improved posture can be attained quickly and easily through Somatic Movements. They allow you to eliminate SMA and so remain in a fair 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 you can start right now over at Learn Somatics on YouTube. If you need some help check out my online learning options here.

As always, thanks for reading.

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

www.learnsomatics.ie

Why Do You Have Stiff, Sore Joints?

The medical model generally views 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, tense 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 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 addressing the entire body and improving control throught out the body.

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 Somatics Education (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, check out Learn Somatics on YouTube for a thorough break down of all the most fundamental and useful Somatic Movements.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

What IS Somatic Education?

Somatic Education 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 will not cause pain. Only muscles that we have lost voluntary control over, and which are chronically tense (SMA) cause pain. Relaxed muscles do not ache.

Somatic Education 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 our 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;

Hands-On Somatic Lessons
Clinical Somatic Education systematically addresses the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma) over the course of 2-4 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 a series of Somatic Movements that they can do themselves at home so they can maintain and refine this new muscular control and freedom.

Somatic Movements
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 your 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 Movement 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.

In the video below I demonstrate a Somatic Movement called the Back Lift. This movement is great for releasing and relaxing all the muscles of the back of the body and is one of the most fundamental Somatic Movements. This is one of my personal favorites, it will really set you up for a good nights sleep.

The Backlift is one of the most fundamental Somatic Movements

Summary:

  1. Somatic Education is NOT therapy.
  2. Hands-On Somatic Lessons involve learning how to recognise and release all the muscles involved in the Three Brain Reflexes (Green Light, Red Light, Trauma).
  3. Somatic Movements 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.

You can experience more Somatic Movements like the Back Lift for yourself right now at Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.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 either 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.

You can start learning how to regain control of the Trauma Reflex right now by visiting Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.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 purpose 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 fear and 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.

You can start learning how to regain control of the Red Light Light Reflex right now by visiting Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.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 triggered 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 this reflex is 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, run and move out into the world. 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, neck 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 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 regain control over 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.

You can start learning how to regain control of the Green Light Reflex right now by visiting Learn Somatics on YouTube.

As always, thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Sensory Motor Amnesia – Hidden in Plain Sight

What is Sensory Motor Amnesia and why do you need to know about it?

Sensory Motor Amnesia inhibits movement quality and freedom by reducing muscle control and function and can be defined as:

‘A partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE our muscles’.

Muscles have only two functions, they CONTRACT and they RELAX, that’s it! They do nothing else, so if you lose voluntary control over those two FUNCTIONS, you lose voluntary control over the result of those functions. Which is… drum roll… your MOVEMENT! The impulses which signal your muscles to contract or relax come from the Motor Cortex (one half of the Sensory Motor Cortex). So the problem of SMA is not a structural problem in the muscles but a neurological event in your brain.

SMA Brain Diagram

Sensory Motor Amnesia can develop in the following ways;

  1. Through stress (physical and emotional)
  2. Through physical trauma (surgeries, injuries, falls, impacts)
  3. Through repetitive actions (working at a computer, driving, playing a musical instrument etc)
  4. Through lack of movement (sedentary lifestyle)

When SMA develops your muscles become ‘stuck’ in contraction to some degree. We ‘forget’ how to VOLUNTARILY release and relax them to their full resting length. These ‘stuck’ muscles pull us out of shape creating postural distortions. These postural distortions make it more difficult to move well by reducing our range of motion and can eventually cause chronic muscle pain (back, hip, neck, shoulder, knee, ankle pain etc.) without apparent cause. What do these postural distortions look like? Check out my next few posts to find out…

Summary:

  1. Sensory Motor Amnesia is ‘a partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE’ our muscles.
  2. When we develop SMA we can no longer relax our muscles to their proper resting length.
  3. SMA is a brain event that causes a functional muscular problem.
  4. It is not a structural problem.
  5. It is developed through stress, trauma, repetitive actions or lack of movement.
  6. It causes postural distortions and muscular pain in our bodies.

Want to resolve your SMA and move better right now? Check out my Learn Somatics YouTube channel where I’ll be breaking down all the most fundamental Somatic Movements you need to feel better and move better.

~

www.learnsomatics.ie