Can Stress Management be Simple?

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Stress. It’s unavoidable. No matter your circumstances you are going to experience, and have to manage, some degree of stress in your life. But what is stress?

“Stress has many faces, and creeps into our lives from many directions. No matter what causes it, stress puts the body and the mind on edge. It floods the body with stress hormones. The heart pounds. Muscles tense. Breathing quickens. The stomach churns.
The body’s response to stress was honed in our prehistory. Collectively called the “fight-or-flight” response, it has helped humans survive threats like animal attacks, fires, floods, and conflict with other humans. Today, obvious dangers like those aren’t the main things that trigger the stress response. Any situation you perceive as threatening, or which requires you to adjust to a change, can set it off. And that can spell trouble.
Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. It can dampen the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other common infections. It can contribute to asthma, digestive disorders, cancer, and other health problems. New research even supports the notion that high levels of stress somehow speed up the aging process.
Though stress is inevitable, you can help control your body’s response to it. Exercise, meditation, invoking the relaxation response, and mindfulness are great stress busters.”
https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/stressSource

From the above, the point we’re most interested in is this: “Muscles tense.” What they are saying is that stress causes involuntary muscular tension. That’s a problem. This muscle tension happens subconsciously. We are not really aware of it. This muscle tension, as well as making us feel stressed, can lead to chronic muscle pain and stiffness.

When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress… https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body

This also leads to automatic activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (‘fight or flight’ response). The physiological effects of activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (SNS) include:

  • ACCELERATED Heart Beat (anxiety anyone?)
  • HIGH Blood Pressure (uh oh)
  • INHIBITED digestion (hello belly ache)
  • RELAXED Bladder up (I never used to make night time trips to the bathroom?)
  • CONTRACTED Rectum (why am I constipated?)
  • Secretion of STRESS HORMONES from the adrenal glands (I can’t shake this bad mood)
  • SUPPRESSION of the immune system (why am I always sick?)
  • REDUCED growth (suppression of growth hormones) (that little cut still hasn’t healed)
  • SLEEP PROBLEMS (so tired all the time)
  • MEMORY DYSFUNCTION (sorry, I totally forgot about your birthday)

Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?

Do any of these sound familiar to you? If so, you may be suffering from some degree of chronic stress and the chronic SNS activation that goes along with that. SNS mode is not necessarily a negative state, as indicated above it is necessary to respond to a threat/situation appropriately. The problem is when we find ourselves in a state of chronic SNS activation. As humans, we are well-equipped to deal with short periods of SNS activation, then ideally, when the perceived threat has ended, we would return to PARASYMPATHETIC Nervous System (PNS) activation. PNS is, or should be, our default mode (also known as ‘Rest, Digest and Repair’ mode).

PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system activation has the opposite effects to the Sympathetic Nervous System:

  • SLOWER heart beat (feeling calm…)
  • LOWER blood pressure (…and relaxed…)
  • STIMULATION of digestion (…and well nourished)
  • NORMALISED bladder function (no more getting up in the night)
  • RELAXATION of rectum (regular as clockwork)
  • INHIBITS secretion of STRESS HORMONES from the adrenal glands (happy mood, happy days)
  • STIMULATION of the immune system (I can’t remember the last time I was sick)
  • NORMALISED growth hormone responses (that cut has healed right up)
  • DEEPER more restful sleep (Zzzzz..)
  • NORMALISATION of memory functions (I planned a surpise for your birthday)

That all sounds much more conducive to feelings of relaxation right?

But how do we switch back to PNS mode, or ‘invoke the relaxation response’ when we are chronically stressed?

Well, if you could somehow release the involuntary muscular tension caused by stress you could deliberately switch back to PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system mode. Somatic Movements provide us with a simple and straight forward way to do just that. They use a technique called pandiculation to reduce muscular tension (and reduce pain and improve movement, bonus!). Pandiculation works by re-establishing your voluntary control over your muscles and in the process, relaxing them. This leads to de-activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (fight, flight or freeze mode) and activates the PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system (rest, digest and repair mode).

This makes Somatic Movements a simple and effective stress management tool. By learning how to monitor, regulate and control your own muscle tension you are learning how to monitor, regulate and control how you respond to stress. With practice you can become more resilient to the myriad effects of stress. You can literally learn how to relax, and activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System, any time, on demand. Becoming an expert at relaxing. Sceptical? Take less than 3 minutes and try a pandiculation right now by listening to the audio below;

The pandiculation technique utilised in the audio above can be applied to all the muscle groups in the body for total body relaxation. By deliberately releasing the muscle tension triggered by stress you can return to a state of relaxation and calm. When you are relaxed you can sleep better, when you sleep better you will feel more refreshed, when you are more refreshed, you can think more clearly, when you think more clearly you can make better decisions, when you make better decisions… well, who knows what good things might happen!

If you’re interested in learning how to use Somatics to release muscle tension and manage stress check out my Online Class offerings and 1-1 options here.

When stress is unavoidable, simple, effective stress management techniques become essential. So why not Learn Somatics? You’ve nothing to lose… except all that tension.

If you found this post helpful, please share it with anyone you think may benefit. Thanks!

learnsomatics.ie

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, effecting 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 on purpose the client regains cortical 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 learning part of the brain. Once the client has cortical 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.

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 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

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

~

www.learnsomatics.ie

 

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.

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.Breathing-Anatomy

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 The Flower address these muscles. There are many other Somatic movements that 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.

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!

~

www.learnsomatics.ie

 

Who developed Hanna Somatic Education?

It is impossible to talk about Hanna Somatic Education without discussing the man who developed it, Thomas Hanna PhD. His contribution to the realm of Somatic Education has been both ingenious and profound. But, most people have never heard of him. So, who was Thomas Hanna?

Check out the links below to learn more…

Thanks to Carrie Day, CCSE, for this first one;

http://essentialsomatics.com/hanna-somatics-articles-case-studies/about-thomas-hanna

http://hannasomatics.com/index.php/about_somatics/history_and_founder/

http://somatics.org/library/mh-hanna-conversation

http://essentialsomatics.com/hanna-somatics-articles-case-studies/clinical-somatic-education-new-discipline-field-health-care

Thomas Hanna in action

 

Books by Thomas Hanna

Somatics

The Body of Life

Bodies in Revolt

The End of Tyranny

 

Guided Somatic Movement Classes on CD by Thomas Hanna
Highly recommended.

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

~

www.learnsomatics.ie

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.

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

~

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.

 

~

www.learnsomatics.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.

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www.learnsomatics.ie

 

Low Back Pain and Green Light Reflex

In this post, I described The Green Light Reflex. When this reflex becomes habituated, it can often cause back pain, particularly in the low back.

But how does the Green Light Reflex cause back pain?

When the thick strong muscles of the spine, known collectively as paravertebrals, are involuntarily stuck in contraction (SMA) they draw the spinal vertebra closer together, this causes the lower back to arch forward excessively. This is often referred to as lordosis, or lordotic posture. It is easily identified by a lower back that is pulled to the front, it also makes the belly protrude and tilts the pelvis anteriorly.

Stickman_Template_Green_Light

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

 

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

  1. The excessive arching of the lumbar spine
  2. The change in angle of the rib cage and pelvis due to the tightening of the back muscles
  3. The drawing drawing back of the shoulders and head
  4. The corresponding forward position of the hips
  5. The hyperextension of the hips and kness
  6. The protuding of the belly as a result of the overarched low back

When these paravertebrals are stuck in contraction, they will make any type of forward bending action more difficult. In order to bend forward freely, you must be able to relax and lengthen all the muscles along the back of the spine. If you cannot voluntarily relax and lengthen these muscles you have what we call in Clinical Somatic Education, Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).

Spinal_Highlighted

Paravertebrals

 

Paravertebrals (the muscles running either side along the length of the spine) that are habitually contracted pull the vertebra (bones of the spine) closer together. This can compress any or all of the nerves that exit the spinal cord in the lumbar area or any other area of the back, leading to trapped nerves, sciatica or similar complaints.

This compression of the spinal vertebra can also create a situation where the intervertebral discs that are supposed to act as shock absorbers between each vertebra, are pushed out of place leading to bulging/herniated discs. This spinal compression is also what causes “wear & tear” in the lumbar spine. Even if you don’t have nerve pain or bulging discs from habituated Green Light Reflex, the constant contraction of the paravertebrals leads to fatigue and aching muscles in the back.

So an habituated Green Light Reflex can be the cause of several problems from a reduction in mobility all the way to herniated discs. Each of these problems occur along a spectrum of Green Light Reflex. At the low end of the scale, .ie minimal green light reflex you might expect to have reduced forward bending ability, and at the high end of the scale you might expect, tension headaches, chronic pain and bulging or herniated discs.

These are not the only issues that can occur as a result of habituated Green Light Reflex. It can also lead to tension headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, tight hips, hamstrings and calves, knee pain and other issues. But the mechanism by which these problems occurs is the same. Chronic involuntary contraction (SMA) of all the muscles of the back of the body. In the image below those muscles are highlighted in green.

Muscles involved in Green Light Reflex highlighted in green

So what can we do about it? Well in truth the solution is quite simple. We must RELEARN optimal control of all the muscles of the back of the body. When we relearn proper control we will have the ability to relax and lengthen these muscles to their full and proper resting length. When this has been achieved pain is reduced or eliminated and movement quality improves.

How do we relearn proper control of these muscles? We pandiculate them using safe simple Somatics Exercises or through a series of Hands On Clinical Somatic Lessons. If you would like to learn how to release and relax all the muscles of the Green Light Reflex for a looser more comfortable back and freer movement, try one of my online classes here.

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www.learnsomatics.ie