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

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

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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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

http://www.clinicalsomatics.ie

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 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, ever, 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 a 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 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 Clinical 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 Self Care Exercises. Somatics Self Care Exercises are curative 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. Your cat/dog pandiculates all the time – and their glutes always fire.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

 

Centre to Periphery

One of the core principles of Clinical Somatic Education is the emphasis on eliminating 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 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.

For more information on Somatics and how it can help you, visit 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.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie