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 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 and also 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?

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie

 

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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.

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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

Red Light means ‘No!’

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

The Red Light Reflex, also called the Startle Reflex, is an automatic brain reflex that is activated every time we are startled or feel we are in sudden danger .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.

The job of Red Light Reflex is to contract all the major muscles of the front of our body so as to enable us to make ourselves smaller. This protects the soft and vulnerable internal organs located in our abdomen. Red Light is in effect the very opposite of the previously described Green Light Reflex. Green Light involves mostly muscles of extension (expansion), where as Red Light involves mostly muscles of flexion (withdrawal). Throughout our evolution, Red Light Reflex served a very practical and useful purpose. If Green Light is the ‘fight’ or the ‘flight’, Red Light is the ‘freeze’, or ‘play dead’. It is a shrinking away from fear or danger. Animals in the wild do this all the time as a means of hiding from predators, making themselves small and withdrawing into themselves. The main muscles involved are indicated in the image below, also involved but not indicated are the hip flexors, flexors of the arms and legs, and the internal rotators of the arms and legs.

Red Light_72ppi

Just as Green Light Reflex can cause problems when it becomes habituated, so too can the Red Light Reflex. It can lead to chronic neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, hip pain, mid back pain and shallow breathing. Shallow breathing in and of itself leads to low level anxiety as the body becomes stressed due to a lack of oxygen. This can lead to fatigue, depression and sleep problems. The wooden mannequinn below approximates the Red Light Reflex as it typically appears.

Mannequin_Startle_Reflex

Do you recognise this type of posture in yourself, or in others? It is, unfortunately, very common in modern society. Again, this type of stooped over posture is often associated with the aging process, but it is merely an habituated physical response to stress, and one that is easily reversed. But before we get to that there is one more brain reflex to discuss. Next up… The Trauma Reflex.

Summary:

  1. The Red Light Reflex is an automatic Brain Reflex triggered when we are startled or feel we are in danger.
  2. It allows us to withdraw from a perceived threat by causing all the muscles of the front of the torso to tighten.
  3. If habituated it can cause neck, jaw and mid back pain, shallow breathing and fatigue.
  4. The slumped posture it creates is associated with aging but it can be easily reversed.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie