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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Making Somatics Part of Your Routine – Part 1

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

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

When is the best time to do your practice?

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

Some things to consider when selecting a time to practice.

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

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

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

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

Let’s Learn Somatics!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Read Part 2 now…

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Make Stress Management part of your Daily Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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Somatic Movement Playlists For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always thanks for reading and watching.

Until next time!

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Freedom & Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see where this is going?

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

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

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

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

(Hanna, Somatics p.15)

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

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

Weird right?

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

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

As always thanks for reading, until next time.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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How your Brain sees your Body

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

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

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

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

SMA Brain Diagram
The Sensory Motor Cortex

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

Sensory Motor Homunculus Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always thanks for reading.

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The Clues in Our Language

Look at the words and phrases below, think about what they describe, what do you notice?

Uptight, high strung, wound up, uneasy, nervy, restless.

All these words imply tightness or tension, and as we know, tension is always muscular tension. There seems to be a subliminal understanding, clearly reflected in our language, that excessive tension is negative, or at least unhelpful.

Now lets look at words/phrases that mean the opposite.

Calm, easy-going, laid-back, unworried, at ease, peaceful.

Again an implicit understanding that an absence of tension is a positive or at least more favorable state.

Which of these sets of words or phrases best describe you?

You can learn how to release muscular tension, resolve muscle pain and relieve stress through the practice of Somatic movements. Check out the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start right now. Need help? Take an online 1-1 session with me.

Photo by Clarissa Watson on Unsplash

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The Fine Art of Relaxation

What does it mean to be relaxed? How can we define relaxation? It can be a somewhat elusive notion.

A quick google of the definition provides the following:

‘the state of being free from tension and anxiety.’

There’s that word again – tension. And anxiety too! So to be relaxed is to be in a state that is free from tension and anxiety.

So how could we practice relaxation?

What might this relaxation practice look like?

It seem we’d have to be practicing how to be free from tension or anxiety. That means we’d have to know how to reduce tension and calm anxiety.

Most advice around how to relax is quite vague. Many practices are suggested without any clear description of how EXACTLY these practices help you to achieve relaxation. That is not to say that they don’t, suggestions such as Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Yoga, Massage, Meditation, etc are all perfectly valid but the HOW is never really explained in any real way. The question remains as to what are the mechanisms that lead to the relaxation. These mechanisms seem to be poorly understood, or at least poorly explained.

From a Somatic perspective to ‘relax’ is to relax YOUR MUSCLES. If your muscles are relaxed you will feel relaxed. If your muscles are tense you will feel tense and perhaps anxious. This is the giant elephant in the room.

It is impossible to feel relaxed when your muscles are held tight and tense. Conversely it is impossible to feel stressed/anxious when your muscles are relaxed.

So, If we had a means of relaxing our muscles quickly and easily we could use that to ‘relax’.

This is where a Somatic Movement practice comes in. A clear, concise way to literally relax and lengthen our muscles swiftly, with the added bonus of improved sensory awareness and motor control.

Somatic Movements are full body pandiculations. First, you deliberately TENSE your muscles. They’re already tight anyway, we may aswell tighten them on purpose. This reestablishes the neural connection between your brain and your muscles. This action in and of itself puts the muscles back under your voluntary control. Then you SLOWLY AND DELIBERATELY RELEASE THAT TENSION until your muscles are back at rest, relaxed. You have just used your brain to very deliberately ‘relax’ your muscles. If the untightening phase of the movement is not smooth. You simply repeat it and focus on taking out the bumps. Usually 3-4 repeats will provide an immediately perceptible difference to your sense of relaxation, softness, comfort and control. And the more skilled you become at doing this, the easier it becomes. It is a learning process. You can learn how to relax.

Once you have actually relaxed your muscles by pandiculating, doing things like getting a massage or meditating or tai chi or taking a walk etc. will be even more enjoyable and effective.

You need to BE relaxed in the first place to get the most out of many of the practices touted as good for relaxation.

As Thomas Hanna once said, “It’s hard to meditate with a crick in your neck”.

So if you are looking for a way to “relax” after a hard day at work, a tough training session or a stressful life experience you could Learn Somatics. You’ve nothing to lose, except your tension!

You can try this right now using these short Somatic movement playlists I’ve created for you on YouTube.

This one is for all of the muscles of the back of the body.

And this one for the muscles of the front of the body.

See if you don’t feel more relaxed after practicing them.

Enjoy, and as always thanks for reading.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

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How do YOU walk?

Walking. It’s so simple. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. It’s one of those things you don’t really think about too much, or at all. That is, until you can’t do it any more, or it causes you pain and discomfort.

Walking upright on two legs is a quintessentially human characteristic. No other creature on earth walks like we do.

Well except for this guy, sometimes you just gotta strut!

Upright bipedal locomotion walking requires a different type of brain than that which is required for quadrupedal locomotion. So the fact that human brains are unique and our method of locomotion is unique are not coincidental. Daniel Wolport maintains that the only reason you (or any other creatures) have a brain is to organise movement. And the most fundamental human movement is upright walking. There are of course two other distinctly human characteristics we could discuss here. Namely speech/language and opposable thumbs. But I will save them for another day.

The entire first 0-24 months of our lives is a self-guided, self-directed developmental journey towards walking. Almost everyone learns to walk purely through a process of trial and error movement exploration. We learn to roll over, sit, crawl, and eventually walk, and run. And all of this before we ever learn how to think. Movement proficiency first, cognitive development second. Hmmm….

Compare this to the quadrupedal animals that can walk within moments of birth. Interestingly it is generally prey animals that can walk immediately, for obvious reasons; to escape predators. Predators can take a bit longer as their parents will provide food and protection in the meantime. Just like humans.

But how do you walk? Do you walk well? Can you walk freely and comfortably? That is, can you walk for long distances without getting fatigued? Or experiencing pain and/or stiffness? Or maybe you don’t walk much at all because it causes pain or discomfort.

Look at the soles of a pair of your shoes that you walk in a lot? Are the wear patterns symmetrical? If they’re not why do you think that is?

Do you wear high heels a lot? Do you think wearing them changes the way you walk? Do they make your feet/ankles/knees/hips or even your neck, hurt? Do you think that might be problematic in the long run?

Because walking is such a fundamental movement pattern it makes a fantastic means of assessment. In Somatics we use walking as a before and after. Why? Because it can tell us an awful lot about how free or stiff our bodies are and how much unneccesary muscular tension we may be holding. The three reflexes, when habituated, also have a very strong influence on our gait/walking pattern. Being unable to walk freely can indicate an injury, disability or simply excessive muscular tension.

Have you ever thought about how you walk? Why would you, you’ve been doing it for years. But walking smoothly and freely requires you to be relaxed. Particularly in your trunk. The arms should be able to swing freely and the legs too. The shoulder girdle needs to be resting squarely on the ribs and the waist needs to be relaxed so the hips can rotate forward and back and also tip up and down/side to side. Walking ‘freely’ requires you to be ‘free’. And running even more so.

Walking freely is low effort, efficient, smooth, comfortable and can be sustained over long distances easily.

Walking that is not smooth, efficient, comfortable and free cannot be sustained over long distances because it will cause either excessive fatigue, stiffness or pain.

It’s also worth noting that we evolved walking over highly varied and uneven terrain. Beaches, rocks, plains, mountains, sand, stone, grass. The uniform, flat even paths of modern civilisation are a very new phenomenon. Walking over uneven ground is far more demanding than walking on the flat and also requires much more freedom of movement through the trunk and also through the hips and ankles as you have to orient your hips, legs and feet so you can navigate the surface and maintain your balance as you do so.

If you’ve never really thought about how you walk, let me guide you through a Walking assessment via the audio file below. You can listen directly here or download the audio to your device and follow along the next time you go for a walk.

I’d love to hear what you learn from it.

Learn Somatics Walking Assessment – To download: Right click > Save audio as

Don’t forget you can Learn Somatics with me directly from anywhere in the world via 1-1 online Sessions. All you need is an internet connection and enough floor space to lay down.

Thanks for visiting, until next time…

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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A Tight Belly Means a Tight Body

There is a preoccupation in the modern world with tight toned bellies. In an effort to hold in our bellies we constantly contract the muscles of our stomach and torso, sucking our guts in. As we continue this ritual every day we gradually forget how it feels to let these muscles relax. The feeling of holding our bellies tight becomes ‘normal’.

But what are the implications of habitually tight belly muscles?

  1. Poor posture: a tight belly will draw your ribs down, and your head and shoulders forward, instantly creating that stooped bent over posture so reminiscent of the old and infirm, yay!
  2. Painful Back: this bent over posture then places extra strain on your back as your back muscles must compensate for your tight belly, working even harder than normal to keep you upright. Sweet!
  3. Tight, stiff, sore Shoulders: a tight belly limits your ability to extend your thoracic spine and in turn your ability to raise your arms overhead.
  4. Shallow Breathing: A tight belly will inhibit your ability to breathe deeply. When you cannot relax your belly muscles, your diaphragm cannot contract or relax fully and your ribcage cannot expand fully, this limits the amount of air you are able to inhale. Gasp!
  5. Anxiety: the reduction in your ability to breathe can contribute to low level anxiety as your body responds to this ongoing oxygen deficit. 😦
  6. Chest Breathing: when you can’t breath in to your belly, you have to breath into your chest, chest breathing is inefficient and uses far more energy than belly breathing and can lead to even more tightness in the neck and shoulders.

The above are all characteristics of what Thomas Hanna called Red Light Reflex. or Startle Reflex. An involuntary and automatic reflex that tightens all the muscles of the front of the body.

You can avoid all of the negative consequences of a tight belly by pandiculating the belly muscles and all the muscles of the front of the trunk. The result is more upright posture, freer breathing and broader chest and improved shoulder mobility. Check out the video below to see just how easily this can be achieved using the simple Somatic Movement called Arch & Curl. Give it a try and see if you like how it makes you feel.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with wishing to have a toned belly or a lean body. It’s a perfectly reasonable and admirable goal. But being lean and being tight are two completely different things. You can have a lean body that is relaxed or a portly body that is tight. Or vice versa. In reality leanness and muscular tonus have very little to do with one another. But certainly sucking in your gut all day by constantly contracting your belly muscles is a not a habit we want to form.

As a further irony if your low back muscles are tight, they will push your belly forward as your back arches. Thus creating a belly. In that case relaxing your lower back muscles will allow your belly to recede as if by magic. No diet required!

Everything feels easier when your muscles are relaxed, consider practicing Somatic Movements daily so you can stay relaxed, limber and comfortable all over. If you need help or would like to learn from me, hit me up!

Thanks for reading! 

www.learnsomatics.ie