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

 

Neck and Shoulder Pain and The Red Light Reflex

How does The Red Light Reflex cause, neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, problems in the arms and wrists , shallow breathing and poor posture?

Red Light Reflex is an habituated and ongoing tightening of all the muscles of the front of the body. When you forget how to relax and lengthen the muscles of the front of the body you can develop many problems over time. In Clinical Somatic Education we call this inability to release and relax muscles Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). With Red Light Reflex the main muscles involved are the muscles of the belly (Abdominals), chest (pectorali major and minor), shoulders (upper trapezius) and inner thighs (adductors). So how does involuntary chronic tightness in these muscles lead to pain and poor movement?

Stickman_Template_Red_Light

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

 

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

  1. The forward curving of the spine
  2. The change in angle of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the belly and chest muscles
  3. The drawing together of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the belly muscles
  4. The corresponding forward position of the head and the shoulders as a result
  5. The bending of the legs and arms
  6. The reduction in true height as a result of the spinal curve

 

Back Pain
As you can see from the image above Red Light Reflex causes a curving forward of the spine. This creates a situation where the back muscles are always lengthened but at the same time working hard to keep you upright in gravity and maintain your head position. This constant workload creates sore, tired back muscles and leads to pain in the mid and upper back.

Birds-Eye-Red-Light

Neutral posture, absence of Red Light Reflex >>>>> Red Light Reflex

 

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

  1. The sunken chest, rounded back and shoulders forward
  2. The head pulled forward of the centre line

 

Neck and shoulder Pain
When the belly, chest and frontal neck muscles are tight making the spine curve forward, they draw the head and shoulders forward too (refer to images above), creating a rounded back and stooped posture. This makes it difficult to stand up “straight”. The constant forward and shrugged position of the shoulders can also cause discomfort and pain whilst limiting your ability to turn your head left or right and also to raise you arms straight overhead. The shoulders must rest in a neutral position in order for the neck and arms (and in turn the elbows and wrists) to move freely and function properly. When the shoulders and head are constantly drawn forward this reduces the amount of space internally in the front of the chest and neck. This means less space for all the nerves and blood vessels which innervate the shoulders and arms. When these nerves and blood vessels are compressed or inhibited it leads to problems in the…

Arms, Elbows, Wrists and Hands
Problems in the arms, elbows, wrists and hands are also often due to habituated Red Light Reflex. The brachial plexus, which is the main nerve that innervates the (upper limbs) arms runs between the scalene muscles of the neck, through the area behind the collar bone and just behind the attachment of pec minor (small blue chest muscle in image below) towards the armpit. When the chest and neck muscles are habitually contracted, as is the case with Red Light Reflex, they can compress the brachial plexus causing; Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, tingling and numbness in the arms and hands, weakened grip, carpal tunnel syndrome, cold hands etc. This is yet another example of tightness in the centre of the body leading to problems at the extremities.

Breathing
You can also see in the image below the intercostals, these are the muscles that are found in between each of the ribs. In Red Light Reflex these muscles will also be habitually contracted to some degree. As you can imagine, if these muscles cannot relax fully your ability to breathe deeply is reduced. In this situation the ribs are no longer free to expand making space for the expanding lungs. As a response to this we begin to chest breathe which adds further fatigue and tightness to the muscles of the chest, neck and shoulders. Chest breathing is inefficient and can cause systemic low level anxiety and fatigue due to insufficient oxygen intake. Belly breathing in contrast is efficient and helps you feel relaxed and energised. Belly breathing is only possible when we are able to let our abdominals and intercostals (between the ribs) relax and lengthen. The image below highlights the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) and the abdominals for clarity.

 

Chest_Abs_Highlighted

Right side Pectoralis Major , Left side Pectoralis Minor and Abdominals highlighted in blue

 

As you can see Red Light Reflex can contribute to a myriad of complaints. The good news is it is relatively straight forward to release and relax all the muscles of the Red Light Reflex using safe simple Somatic Exercises or through Clinical Hands On Lessons. Through Somatics you will learn how to recreate these Reflexes voluntarily so that you can DECREATE them voluntarily. We do this by pandiculating all the muscles and movement patterns involved in each reflex (Green Light, Red Light and Trauma). This allows YOUR BRAIN to regain control of your muscles, and in turn your body and movement. If you would like to learn more, you can get in touch with me here.

~

www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Grow Taller with Somatics?

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

human spine

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

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

To learn how to do all of this using safe, simple Somatics Exercises get in touch…

~

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

Green Light means Go!

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

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

Green Light_72ppi

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

Mannequin_Stress_Reflex

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

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

Summary:

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

www.clinicalsomatics.ie