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Stress is recognised as a contributing factor in all diseases. We are all exposed to stress every single day, therefore it is important that we have some simple and effective stress management strategies that we can use daily (or almost daily). The more regularly we manage and relieve our stress the less chance it has to build up in our systems and potentially cause or contribute to illness and disease.
Implementing a daily stress management becomes a total no brainer when you consider the sobering statistics below in regards to stress and disease/illness. (Source: webmd.com)
43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
75 to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
So it would seem that if you can manage your stress you can stack the deck in your favour and potentially avoid, or reduce your chances of experiencing, a lot of health problems. But how? Well, a regular Somatic movement practice would be a great place to start. Stress is expressed in the body as muscular tension, and when practicing Somatic movements you learn how to release this muscular tension quickly and easily.
“You can’t save your stress management for the weekend, its’ gotta be something you do almost daily” Prof. Robert Sapolsky, – SF Being Human Q&A(this quote appears at around the 13:55 mark of this excellent conversation)
Wtih all that in mind, I’ve created another Somatic movement playlist for you that you can use any time to release any accumulated stress at the end of your day, or anytime for that matter. Give it a try and see if you don’t feel less stressed, calmer and more relaxed afterwards? I’d love to hear your feedback too, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment or get in touch via my social media channels. (links in side bar)
With Somatic movements it is really helpful to put them together in sequence to address a particular problem area, movement, or complaint. Doing 3, 4 or 5 movements one after the other can really create a profound change in how you feel.
So with that in mind I’ve created some playlists on my YouTube Channel to help you get more from your practice. So if you have been wondering what movements go well together, or how to combine different Somatic movements together, these playlists can give you some ideas. Following along to these playlists is a bit like taking a Somatic movement Class.
Give these a try and let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear your feedback. Enjoy!
This first playlist addresses the Green Light Reflex in 3 movements. It’s all about the back muscles. If you tend to have stiff sore back you’re in for a treat.
The next playlist addresses the Red Light Reflex in 4 movements. It’s all about the muscles on the front of the body.
Next up this playlist addresses the Trauma Reflex in 3 movements. It’s all about the sides of the body.
After a busy day working diligently at your laptop, the following Somatic movement playlist will help you quickly relax your neck and shoulders. Four movements in this one.
And finally here’s Somatic movement playlist you can do just before bed to set you up for a great night’s sleep. Four movements here too. If you find it hard to get to sleep defintely give this a try.
I hope you find these playlists useful and that they inspire you to start a regular Somatic movement practice. And if they help you to feel better why not share with frends and family so they can benefit too. There are also two more playlists you can explore over on my YouTube Channel (don’t forget to subscribe!) and I will be adding more Somatic movement playlists as I add more tutorial videos.
If you’d like some help learning Somatics, remember I offer Online 1-1 lessons so you can learn from anywhere in the world.
At first glance freedom and control may seem to be somewhat opposing notions. They are however deeply intertwined, in fact they may be the same thing. How so? Let me elaborate…
The most immediate freedom one can attain is the ability to move ones self freely. To be free in ones own body. This is something we experience as children but somehow lose as we move through time/life.
As healthy children we generally have good freedom of movement but we lack real control. So we are loose and relaxed but lack the requisite control to coordinate ourselves skilfully. This puts kids in a great position to learn new movement skills (dance, sport, martial arts, etc) and explains why it is easier for them to do just that. They are already quite free in their movements, all they need to learn is the control aspect.
As adults we succumb to having no freedom of movement and no control. Essentially we become tight and tense and then lack the requisite control to relinquish this tightness. This puts us at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to moving freely and learning new movements. Thomas Hanna described this state, of having a lack of control, as Sensory Motor Amnesia. In this state we have essentially forgotten how to sense and move (motor) our muscles freely.
The net result of that? We lose control of our physical selves. We lose control of our ability to operate our muscles and in turn we lose our ability to move well. Or should I say to move freely. Ah, without control, we can’t be free. We must be able to control our ‘selves’ if we wish to be free. Otherwise we are inevitably subject to our own demise.
This is why it becomes more difficult to learn new movement skills as adults. We must address our ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’ first. By relearning how to be free in our bodies again. And this requires re-establishing good sensory motor control over our muscles.
So how is our control lost? Everything that happens in our lives is expressed in and through our physical bodies, every grievance, every accident, every injury, every broken relationship, every confrontation, every thought, and every emotion, our entire history. And all these experiences are expressed how? As involuntary muscular tensions. How else could they be expressed?
These involuntary tensions accumulate, contributing to our SMA, and, because they are involuntary, they seem outside of our control, and as they accumulate they interfere with our freedom of movement.
You cannot do the things you want to do unless you have the ability to stop doing the things you don’t want to do.
Do you see where this is going?
You cannot go forwards when you are still stuck moving backwards.
But those involuntary (contr)actions that can entrap us, they can be made voluntary. We can do them of our own volition. And in doing so reestablish our voluntary control over them.
We have more power over them than we realise. In fact we have complete power over them. If we knew how to exert it. Or could learn how to.
“The basic somatic task during our lifetime is to gain greater and greater control over ourselves…”
(Hanna, Somatics p.15)
But what does this mean in practical terms. It means this; if your body is stiff and tight beyond your control, you must make it stiffer and tighter on purpose. Take control of the tightness. In doing so you become the master. Then you are free to choose to relinquish that tightness.
Control, freedom, freedom, control. Freedom and control are two sides of the same coin.
A regular Somatic movement practice will allow you to experience all of this not just as an intellectual idea but as an embodied reality, a somatic process.
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.
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.
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.
What does it mean to be relaxed? How can we define relaxation? It can be a somewhat elusive notion.
A quick google of the definition provides the following:
‘the state of being free from tension and anxiety.’
There’s that word again – tension. And anxiety too! So to be relaxed is to be in a state that is free from tension and anxiety.
So how could we practice relaxation?
What might this relaxation practice look like?
It seem we’d have to be practicing how to be free from tension or anxiety. That means we’d have to knowhow to reduce tension and calm anxiety.
Most advice around how to relax is quite vague. Many practices are suggested without any clear description of how EXACTLY these practices help you to achieve relaxation. That is not to say that they don’t, suggestions such as Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Yoga, Massage, Meditation, etc are all perfectly valid but the HOW is never really explained in any real way. The question remains as to what are the mechanisms that lead to the relaxation. These mechanisms seem to be poorly understood, or at least poorly explained.
From a Somatic perspective to ‘relax’ is to relax YOUR MUSCLES. If your muscles are relaxed you will feel relaxed. If your muscles are tense you will feel tense and perhaps anxious. This is the giant elephant in the room.
It is impossible to feel relaxed when your muscles are held tight and tense. Conversely it is impossible to feel stressed/anxious when your muscles are relaxed.
So, If we had a means of relaxing our muscles quickly and easily we could use that to ‘relax’.
This is where a Somatic Movement practice comes in. A clear, concise way to literally relax and lengthen our muscles swiftly, with the added bonus of improved sensory awareness and motor control.
Somatic Movements are full body pandiculations. First, you deliberately TENSE your muscles. They’re already tight anyway, we may aswell tighten them on purpose. This reestablishes the neural connection between your brain and your muscles. This action in and of itself puts the muscles back under your voluntary control. Then you SLOWLY AND DELIBERATELY RELEASE THAT TENSION until your muscles are back at rest, relaxed. You have just used your brain to very deliberately ‘relax’ your muscles. If the untightening phase of the movement is not smooth. You simply repeat it and focus on taking out the bumps. Usually 3-4 repeats will provide an immediately perceptible difference to your sense of relaxation, softness, comfort and control. And the more skilled you become at doing this, the easier it becomes. It is a learning process. You can learn how to relax.
Once you have actually relaxed your muscles by pandiculating, doing things like getting a massage or meditating or tai chi or taking a walk etc. will be even more enjoyable and effective.
You need to BE relaxed in the first place to get the most out of many of the practices touted as good for relaxation.
As Thomas Hanna once said, “It’s hard to meditate with a crick in your neck”.
So if you are looking for a way to “relax” after a hard day at work, a tough training session or a stressful life experience you could Learn Somatics. You’ve nothing to lose, except your tension!
You can try this right now using these short Somatic movement playlists I’ve created for you on YouTube.
Walking. It’s so simple. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. It’s one of those things you don’t really think about too much, or at all. That is, until you can’t do it any more, or it causes you pain and discomfort.
Walking upright on two legs is a quintessentially human characteristic. No other creature on earth walks like we do.
Upright bipedal locomotion walking requires a different type of brain than that which is required for quadrupedal locomotion. So the fact that human brains are unique and our method of locomotion is unique are not coincidental. Daniel Wolport maintains that the only reason you (or any other creatures) have a brain is to organise movement. And the most fundamental human movement is upright walking. There are of course two other distinctly human characteristics we could discuss here. Namely speech/language and opposable thumbs. But I will save them for another day.
The entire first 0-24 months of our lives is a self-guided, self-directed developmental journey towards walking. Almost everyone learns to walk purely through a process of trial and error movement exploration. We learn to roll over, sit, crawl, and eventually walk, and run. And all of this before we ever learn how to think. Movement proficiency first, cognitive development second. Hmmm….
Compare this to the quadrupedal animals that can walk within moments of birth. Interestingly it is generally prey animals that can walk immediately, for obvious reasons; to escape predators. Predators can take a bit longer as their parents will provide food and protection in the meantime. Just like humans.
But how do you walk? Do you walk well? Can you walk freely and comfortably? That is, can you walk for long distances without getting fatigued? Or experiencing pain and/or stiffness? Or maybe you don’t walk much at all because it causes pain or discomfort.
Look at the soles of a pair of your shoes that you walk in a lot? Are the wear patterns symmetrical? If they’re not why do you think that is?
Do you wear high heels a lot? Do you think wearing them changes the way you walk? Do they make your feet/ankles/knees/hips or even your neck, hurt? Do you think that might be problematic in the long run?
Because walking is such a fundamental movement pattern it makes a fantastic means of assessment. In Somatics we use walking as a before and after. Why? Because it can tell us an awful lot about how free or stiff our bodies are and how much unneccesary muscular tension we may be holding. The three reflexes, when habituated, also have a very strong influence on our gait/walking pattern. Being unable to walk freely can indicate an injury, disability or simply excessive muscular tension.
Have you ever thought about how you walk? Why would you, you’ve been doing it for years. But walking smoothly and freely requires you to be relaxed. Particularly in your trunk. The arms should be able to swing freely and the legs too. The shoulder girdle needs to be resting squarely on the ribs and the waist needs to be relaxed so the hips can rotate forward and back and also tip up and down/side to side. Walking ‘freely’ requires you to be ‘free’. And running even more so.
Walking freely is low effort, efficient, smooth, comfortable and can be sustained over long distances easily.
Walking that is not smooth, efficient, comfortable and free cannot be sustained over long distances because it will cause either excessive fatigue, stiffness or pain.
It’s also worth noting that we evolved walking over highly varied and uneven terrain. Beaches, rocks, plains, mountains, sand, stone, grass. The uniform, flat even paths of modern civilisation are a very new phenomenon. Walking over uneven ground is far more demanding than walking on the flat and also requires much more freedom of movement through the trunk and also through the hips and ankles as you have to orient your hips, legs and feet so you can navigate the surface and maintain your balance as you do so.
If you’ve never really thought about how you walk, let me guide you through a Walking assessment via the audio file below. You can listen directly here or download the audio to your device and follow along the next time you go for a walk.
I’d love to hear what you learn from it.
Don’t forget you can Learn Somatics with me directly from anywhere in the world via 1-1 online Sessions. All you need is an internet connection and enough floor space to lay down.
There is a preoccupation in the modern world with tight toned bellies. In an effort to hold in our bellies we constantly contract the muscles of our stomach and torso, sucking our guts in. As we continue this ritual every day we gradually forget how it feels to let these muscles relax. The feeling of holding our bellies tight becomes ‘normal’.
But what are the implications of habitually tight belly muscles?
Poor posture: a tight belly will draw your ribs down, and your head and shoulders forward, instantly creating that stooped bent over posture so reminiscent of the old and infirm, yay!
Painful Back: this bent over posture then places extra strain on your back as your back muscles must compensate for your tight belly, working even harder than normal to keep you upright. Sweet!
Tight, stiff, sore Shoulders: a tight belly limits your ability to extend your thoracic spine and in turn your ability to raise your arms overhead.
Shallow Breathing: A tight belly will inhibit your ability to breathe deeply. When you cannot relax your belly muscles, your diaphragm cannot contract or relax fully and your ribcage cannot expand fully, this limits the amount of air you are able to inhale. Gasp!
Anxiety: the reduction in your ability to breathe can contribute to low level anxiety as your body responds to this ongoing oxygen deficit. 😦
Chest Breathing: when you can’t breath in to your belly, you have to breath into your chest, chest breathing is inefficient and uses far more energy than belly breathing and can lead to even more tightness in the neck and shoulders.
The above are all characteristics of what Thomas Hanna called Red Light Reflex. or Startle Reflex. An involuntary and automatic reflex that tightens all the muscles of the front of the body.
You can avoid all of the negative consequences of a tight belly by pandiculating the belly muscles and all the muscles of the front of the trunk. The result is more upright posture, freer breathing and broader chest and improved shoulder mobility. Check out the video below to see just how easily this can be achieved using the simple Somatic Movement called Arch & Curl. Give it a try and see if you like how it makes you feel.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with wishing to have a toned belly or a lean body. It’s a perfectly reasonable and admirable goal. But being lean and being tight are two completely different things. You can have a lean body that is relaxed or a portly body that is tight. Or vice versa. In reality leanness and muscular tonus have very little to do with one another. But certainly sucking in your gut all day by constantly contracting your belly muscles is a not a habit we want to form.
As a further irony if your low back muscles are tight, they will push your belly forward as your back arches. Thus creating a belly. In that case relaxing your lower back muscles will allow your belly to recede as if by magic. No diet required!
Everything feels easier when your muscles are relaxed, consider practicing Somatic Movements daily so you can stay relaxed, limber and comfortable all over. If you need help or would like to learn from me, hit me up!
What if there was a safe, quick and simple way to make you lower back feel less tight, less painful, and much more comfortable. Wouldn’t you want to hear about it?
Often times lower back pain is caused by the muscles of the low back simply being too tense. This muscular tension is an anutomatic and involuntary response to stress. Muscles that are too tense are being held tightly in contraction by your brain. If you suffer from low back pain, check the tension of your lower back for yourself by simply feeling the muscles with your fingers. Press the muscles on either side of the spine in the lower part of your back, from the base of the spine up to where the ribs begin in the back . If they feel hard to the touch and also tender when you press them you can be pretty sure your brain is holding them tighter than is necessary.
So what can you do about it? If you watch the video below you will see a demonstration of ‘Arch & Flatten’, a simple Somatic movement that when performed correctly will relax and lengthen those tight, sore low back muscles.
We do this by tensing and tightening the lower back muscles deliberately and then slowly, and again deliberately, relaxing them back to their proper resting length. This act is called ‘pandiculation’, animals do this reflexively throughout the day. Give it a try and afterwards see if your back doesn’t feel lighter, longer and much more comfortable. You can also feel the muscles again with your fingers and you will find they feel softer and more pliable. Soft muscles are relaxed muscles, and relaxed muscles are comfortable muscles. Win, win!
Congratulations. You’ve just learned how to more fully control your lower back muscles. Practicing this simple movement every day for just a few minutes will help you to maintain a pain free and comfortable back. Try it for a few days and let me know how you get on.
If you found that video helpful and would like to learn more you can find more videos here.
Enjoy your more comfortable lower back! I’ll be posting new videos regularly so you can start to integrate a Somatic movement practice in to your daily routine.
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?