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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How Old Would You Think You Are?

Imagine that you had no birth cert, no passport or no driver’s licence. Nothing that had a record of your date of birth. How old would you think you are?

It’s an interesting question. Of course if you had grey hair (or no hair) you could probably guess that you were a mature adult. But what if you had no mirror to see your reflection? How then could you gauge how old you were? You’d probably have to base your guess on how you ‘felt’. If you felt stiff, sore and creaky you’d probably guess you were old, or at least older. And if you were supple and agile you’d probably guess you were young, or at least younger.

But let’s flip this on its head for a second. If you had never known when you were born or how old you were, would your hair have greyed when it did? Would ‘aging’ proceed more slowly? Without all the cultural expectation that we attach to specific birthdays and milestones, would you feel less ‘old’?

An awful lot of our perception of age is cultural. Tied into life events and stages. We are told that after the exuberance of youth comes an inevitable slow decline into decrepitude. But how much of this is true ageing and how much of it is social and cultural conditioning, a kind of bizarre self fulfilling prophecy?

It also leads to another question. What is ‘ageing’? Even a new born baby is ageing, so ageing is just living. There is also the fact that there are older folk who seem to be very much unaffected as they age. Still maintaining their faculties and physical capabilities. If just one person can age successfully then becoming decrepit doesn’t have to be inevitable.

Much of the feeling of being old is a result of the deterioration of our ability to move well. Stiffness creeps in. Pain spreads. Our confidence in our own ability dwindles. We stop doing the activities we once took for granted.  As a result of moving less, our movement deteriotates further, and downhill we go.

But there is nothing about deterioration of movement that is directly tied to ageing. You can be young and unable to move well and be old and still able to move well.

If you were say, a Potter, with 50 years of pottery experience you would expect to be an expert, maybe even a master, at pottery. Why does the same development of mastery not apply to movement? I’m guessing it’s because nobody really practices general movement with the same diligence and attention as they do to their craft/vocation.

But what if we ceased reinforcing the patently false notion that aging inevitably leads to a slow decline into increpitude?

What if we were to treat our general movement as a skill to be practiced, maintained and refined throughout our lifetime? But how? By taking responsibility for our movement and working diligently to restore, maintain and refine our ability to move well as we age.

Independence is lost when we cannot move well enough to look after ourselves. If you can move well, whether you are 19 or 90, you can look after yourself (and others) better. You can go where you want to go and do whatever you choose to do.

If you cannot move well, your world suddenly shrinks. You may need assistance to go where you want to go, and help to do what you want to do. Maybe you can’t go up steps, or stand unaided, or cook yourself a meal, or sit on the floor, or drive a car, or cycle a bike, or take a walk through the countryside, or participate in the sports and activities you once loved to do. Essentially, your options are reduced exponentially. Freedom is lost.

Conversely if you can move well as you age, your options remain very much open. Moving well begins with maintaining your most basic movement patterns and functions. Being able to flex and extend the spine, side bending of spine and rotation of spine. If these abilities are maintained, you will be in good shape no doubt. Sitting, standing, and most important of all walking will all benefit from proper control and freedom of the trunk and spine. Maintaining your ability to walk freely and comfortably may be the most important thing you do for yourself as you age. A regular Somatic movement practice can be an invaluable tool in this regard.

So ask yourself, if you didn’t know when you were born, based on how you feel, and how you move, how old would you think you were?

As always thanks for reading…

Photos by Seb [ P34K ] Hamel on Unsplash and Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

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More Thoughts on Posture

Posture is the upright organisation of the body in gravity. It is how we hold ourselves when we are not actively thinking about it. Therefore posture is a subconscious process. Hence why telling someone to ‘Stand up straight!’ is an exercise in futility.

Working in the realm of Hanna Somatic Education, we look for signs of the Three Reflexes in clients’ posture. Green Light Reflex (Spinal Extension), Red Light Reflex (Spinal Flexion) and Trauma Reflex (Lateral Spinal Flexion/Extension, Spinal Rotation). These Reflexes are brain events, that is to say they are automatic motor responses originating in the brain, affecting skeletal musculature, instructing that musculature to contract/tighten into an observable pattern.

Posture indicates what the Nervous System is doing at the involuntary/subconscious level. When we assess posture we are assessing subconscious brain activity. Posture is a finger pointing to the moon (or brain in this case!).

“It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory” Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon

For example, consider a very stooped posture, with rounded shoulders and head forward, flat lower back and pelvis tucked under. This would be indicative of Red Light Reflex (Spinal flexion). I do not think the person has ‘bad’ posture or that they need to strengthen their muscles of extension. I merely note that their nervous system at the subconscious level, is drawing them into the pattern of flexion. If this is the most prominent pattern of contraction of their posture or process, it gives me a starting point from which to work.

Once we begin to see posture not as a result of biomechanical structure but as a result of continuous subconscious brain output, we can change our approach. The focus shifts upstream to the brain, not down stream to the muscles and/or bones. Now the goal will be to change subconscious nervous system output. New problem, new solution.

So how do we change this continuous subconscious brain output? The answer is surprisingly simple. The client must voluntarily go into the subconscious pattern of contraction. Make the involuntary, voluntary. Make the unconscious, conscious.

By choosing to contract into the pattern of tension deliberately the client regains voluntary control of all the musculature involved.  Patterns of muscular contraction are primary, as this is how the brain reflexes are expressed. Groups of muscles, contracting into general, observable and consistent full body patterns. These voluntary muscular contractions, into the full body pattern, send new sensory information all the way to the sensorimotor cortex, the movement learning part of the brain. Once the client has reestablished voluntary control of the musculature involved in the pattern, they can sense it, ‘feel’ it contracting, they now have three options available to them;

1. Increase the level of contraction in the musculature, going further into the pattern
2. Maintain the level of contraction in the musculature, holding the pattern
3. Reduce the level of contraction in the musculature, relaxing out of the pattern

In this instance, the best choice is to select option 3, to reduce the level of contraction and relax back to rest. This act of voluntary contraction, followed by slow voluntary relaxation and then a moment of complete rest,  is called a pandiculation. You can find a detailed description of pandiculation here.

By pandiculating several times, the client can quickly learn to become proficient at contracting AND relaxing these muscles that unconsciously have drawn them into a full body pattern of contraction (flexion in this example). This act of pandiculating changes nervous system output at the brain level, reducing motor output to the muscles involved in the pattern. When the nervous system activity changes, the muscles involved in the pattern relax and the posture follows along.

The goal is not to change the posture, the goal is to change the habitual/unconscious motor output of the nervous system. The posture shifts or changes as a result of reducing unnecessary nervous system motor output. Postural changes are a by product of practicing Somatics rather than a goal.

You can now learn Somatics with me from the comfort of your own home. Check out my online learning options here. Or you can visit the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start learning right now.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Neuroscience and Somatic Education

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the function and structure of the Brain and Nervous System.

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

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

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

The Science of Somatics

Learn Somatics online. Classes and 1-1s available here.

Visit the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start learning today.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Is your Movement Account Overdrawn?

Pay attention…

Isn’t it interesting that we must PAY attention? The very notion that we PAY attention suggests that in return for paying attention we might receive something. What might the payment of attention garner in return?

Awareness? Information? Knowledge?

In the case of Somatics in return for the paying of attention to the internal sensations of your own movement you receive rich sensory information or feedback from the sense receptors within your muscles. You receive more awareness of what muscles are tight and stiff and which muscles are free and relaxed. You receive an opportunity to voluntarily relax and lengthen stiff, tight muscles. And when you pay attention to carefully and slowly relaxing and lengthening your stiff, tight muscles you receive more comfort and more freedom of movement.

And what happens if you never pay attention to sensory receptors within your muscles, or never pay attention to your ability to move? Your ability to move is taken away, little by little until one day you realise that your movement account is empty, or worse still overdrawn.

A daily Somatics practice gives you an opportunity to pay your attention dollars into your movement bank account. This will accumulate over time into a surplus of movement potential. Then when you need to withdraw from your movement account you will have plenty of movement credit (ability to move freely and without pain).

Start investing today!

The Somatic Exercise below allows you to pay attention to your back muscles and learn how to relase and relax them quickly and easily…

Arch & Flatten – Martha Peterson

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www.learnsomatics.ie

 

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 Somatic Education we call this Sensory Motor Amnesia.

The Three Reflexes we work with in 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 relax the muscles of 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

Learn Somatics online with me, check out my online learning options here!

Or checkout the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start learning right away.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

New Year, New Resolutions, New You?

At this time of year many people start thinking about New Year Resolutions. Often these resolutions will involve getting fit or losing weight. Your success or ability to lose weight and/or get fit will be intrinsically linked to your ability to move well. We get fit by moving and we lose weight by moving. If we cannot move well and without pain our chances of fulfilling these particular goals are slim… pardon the pun!

new-years-resolutions2_dreamstime_m_17232559


So with that said it would make sense to address your ability to move and perhaps make improving your movement one of your new years resolutions. When you can move well and without pain you will be more inclined to continue with your chosen exercise regime/activity. You will also be less likely to pick up an injury that might scupper your progress.

Moving freely and without pain is the foundation stone upon which you can build your new healthier lifestyle for the new year. Somatics is all about improving your movement. A daily somatics practice will lead to;

Pain relief: You are unlikely to keep up a new fitness regime if you have pain. Somatics can resolve your chronic pain issues (read more here)…

Improved movement: Somatics improves your movement by eliminating Sensory Motor Amnesia leading to greatly improved movement (read more here)

Improved posture: When you release and relax you muscles your posture improves automatically (read more here)

Improved balance, coordination and proprioception: When you can contract and relax all your muscles voluntarily you will have better control of your whole body (read more here)

Improved sleep: When your muscles are relaxed it is easier to fall asleep and stay asleep (read more here)

All of these benefits will go a long way towards helping you achieve your fitness or weight loss goals for the new year. If you would like to learn some of the most fundamental Somatic Movements right now you can head over to the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel where I’ll be adding more movements weekly.

Or perhaps you’d like to learn from me directly. No problem, check out my online learning options here. I’d love to help you.

Whatever your goals, have a happy, healthy and active new year!

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie

Learn Somatics for Freer Breathing

The human organism requires two things in order to survive, fuel (in the form of food and water) and oxygen. Without food we might live for a few weeks, without water a few days, but without oxygen we will expire in a matter of minutes. Our ability to breathe freely, dictates how efficiently we can take in oxygen and also expel carbon dioxide. So the purpose of breathing is two fold, to get oxygen into the body and also to get gaseous waste, in the form of carbon dioxide, out of the body. Anything that reduces the efficiency of this process will lead us to experience a certain amount of stress. The degree to which breathing is compromised is directly proportional to the level of stress experienced. If breathing is compromised just a little, we may not really notice it all that much, but it is certain to affect our performance and well being. Obviously, if breathing is compromised a lot we will certainly notice it.

Deep breathing has long been utilised as a means of alleviating stress and calming the mind and body. But what if you cannot breathe deeply? What if there was so much tension in your body that you could not fill your lungs to their full capacity nor empty them fully?

If you observe the breathing of an infant you will notice something. It is accompanied by very little effort and/or movement. Only the gentle rise and fall of the belly. Breathing in this way, the way we are designed to breathe, is effortless, requiring the work of few muscles but the relaxation of many muscles. The main muscle of inhalation is the diaphragm. In its relaxed state, it has a dome or umbrella shape. When it contracts, the dome flattens out downwards, this flattening out makes the thoracic cavity larger, creating a vacuum that sucks air in, expanding the lungs. The flattening diaphragm also gently pushes the stomach and intestines downwards to make room for this expansion of the lungs. When the the diaphragm relaxes back into its dome shape, it decreases the space in the thoracic cavity pushing the air out of the lungs again. Simple, elegant, efficient.

This free expansion of the lungs is dependant on many muscles being able to lengthen and relax fully. The ribs that form a cage around our lungs are all attached to each other by muscles called intercostals. When these intercostals are able to to relax and lengthen the ribs are free to spread apart like fingers accommodating the expanding lungs within.

The rectus abdominus, your ‘six pack’ muscle, connects the sternum to the pubic bone. When this muscle can relax and lengthen, the stomach and intestines can be gently pushed downwards and outwards by the action of the diaphragm to accommodate the expanding lungs.

The internal and external obliques which wrap around the space between ribs and pelvis also must relax and lengthen to facilitate the internal organs moving downward and the ribs expanding with each inhalation.

Breathing-Anatomy

You cannot breathe as deeply and freely as possible if you have chronic muscular contraction in the muscles that attach to the ribs or cross the ribs. That is a lot of muscles.

1. Rectus Abdominus (addominals), 2. Intercostals, 3. External Obliques,
4.
Internal Obliques, 5. Pec Minor, 6. Pec Major

By learning how to release and relax these muscles we can breathe easier, inhaling more air with less effort. This is a very important skill to possess as our breathing has such a profound effect on how we feel. When our breathing is weak and shallow, we feel anxious, fearful and fatigued. When our breathing is deep and free we feel relaxed, calm and content.

Releasing the muscles of Red Light Reflex greatly improves breathing as it involves most of the muscles mentioned above. Somatic movements such as Arch & Curl (see below) address these muscles. Arch & Curl is just one of the many Somatic movements that also allow us to gain greater freedom and control of the muscles that can restrict our breathing. By spending some time releasing and lengthening these muscles our breathing will be deeper and freer and require less effort.

Arch & Curl releases the belly and chest which facilitates freer breathing. Why not give it a try.

So how does your breathing feel? Can you breathe deeply and freely into your belly? Or do you breathe into your chest? Do you think you would benefit from being able to breathe deeper with less effort?

Learn Somatics online with me, check out my online learning options here!

Or if you’d like to get started right now explore the Learn Somatics YouTune Channel.

As always thanks for reading

www.learnsomatics.ie

Somatic Movement – 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 voluntary/deliberate/conscious control of those muscles, and then voluntarily/deliberately/consciously relaxing them slowly and under control. This simple act of pandiculating reduces the resting level of tension in the muscles for better movement, reduced pain and improved comfort.

Below is my video demonstrating a simple Somatic Movement 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 again.

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

As you can see from the videos, Somatic Movements are performed, slowly and gently with the intention of something like a yawn. Try these out and leave a comment on your experience.

You can find more of my free videos on the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel where I will be breaking down all of the most fundamental Somatic Movements.

If you are interested in books on Somatics, I’ve provided a short list below;

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

If you think you’d like to Learn Somatics online with me, you can check out my online learning options here.

As always thanks for reading

www.learnsomatics.ie

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

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

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

2015-05-08_0919

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

SMA Brain Diagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to learn more about Somatics and how it can help you to improve your movement, relieve stress and reduce or eliminate your muscle pain, check out my online classes here.

 

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www.learnsomatics.ie