Somatics for Stress Resilience – Empty Your Bucket

We all have a certain capacity for stress, some of us can handle more, others less. The one thing we all have in common though is that we all respond to stress in the same way. We contract, and our muscles tighten. If the stress is ongoing, the contraction and tightening are ongoing.

Let’s compare our personal capacity to handle stress to a bucket. Some people have large buckets, some people have small buckets, and some have medium size buckets.

empty_bucket_thumb

When we experience stress, a little (or maybe a lot) of water is added to our bucket. Over time, we experience more stresses and our bucket fills up with water until eventually there is no more room for any more. The bucket is now heavy and cumbersome. At this point our capacity to handle stress is reached and then breached as represented by the water beginning to pour out over the sides of the bucket. We now have a very heavy and unwieldy bucket spilling water everywhere.

What happens when our stress levels exceed our capacity to deal with the stress?

We have all, at one time or another, experienced times in our lives when we underwent high or ongoing levels of stress. When we have to endure high levels of ongoing stress we inevitably get sick, we get tired, we age quicker, we become unhappy, we become irritable… So as the bucket fills up with water, our bodies become tighter and tighter due to the involuntary muscular contractions in response to the stress. Our bodies EXPRESS stress as tension, and they express excessive stress as excessive tension.

Unfortunately, stress is an unavoidable part of life, so the bucket is going to fill up in response to stress whether we like it or not. But! If we could empty the bucket somehow…

Well there is a very simple way to empty the stress bucket, Somatic Self Care Exercises.

Somatic Self Care Exercises are simple floor based movements that allow you to quickly and easily lower the level of tension in your muscles in a systematic way by pandiculating, effectively tipping water out of your bucket. An empty bucket can take more water if necessary (read handle more stress!) and in this way allow you to be more resilient to the every day stresses we all experience. A daily Somatic practice will allow you to start and/or finish each day, with an empty, light and easy to carry ‘bucket’.

If you would like to learn how to use Somatic Self Care Exercises to relieve stress, increase your resilience to stress,  improve your movement and eliminate muscle pain, get in touch with me here…

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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

Green Light means Go!

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

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

Green Light_72ppi

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

Mannequin_Stress_Reflex

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

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

Summary:

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

www.clinicalsomatics.ie

Sensory Motor Amnesia – Hidden in Plain Sight

What is Sensory Motor Amnesia and why do you need to know about it?

Sensory Motor Amnesia inhibits movement quality and freedom by reducing muscle control and function and can be defined as:

‘A partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE our muscles’.

Muscles have only two functions, they CONTRACT and they RELAX, that’s it! They do nothing else, so if you lose voluntary control over those two FUNCTIONS, you lose voluntary control over the result of those functions. Which is… Drum roll… your MOVEMENT! The impulses which signal your muscles to contract or relax come from the Motor Cortex (one half of the Sensory Motor Cortex). So the problem of SMA is not a structural problem in the muscles but a neurological event in your brain.

SMA Brain Diagram

Sensory Motor Amnesia can develop in the following ways;

  1. Through Stress (physical and emotional)
  2. Through Trauma (surgeries, injuries, falls, impacts)
  3. Through repetitive actions (working at a computer, driving, playing a musical instrument etc)
  4. Through lack of movement (sedentary lifestyle)

When SMA develops your muscles become ‘stuck’ in contraction to some degree. We ‘forget’ how to VOLUNTARILY release and relax them to their full resting length. These ‘stuck’ muscles pull us out of shape creating postural distortions. These postural distortions make it more difficult to move well by reducing our range of motion and can eventually cause chronic muscle pain (back, hip, neck, shoulder, knee, ankle pain etc.) without apparent cause. What do these postural distortions look like? Check out my next few posts to find out…

Summary:

  1. Sensory Motor Amnesia is ‘a partial or total loss of (memory in) our ability to SENSE and MOVE’ our muscles.
  2. When we develop SMA we can no longer relax our muscles to their proper resting length.
  3. SMA is a brain event that causes a functional muscular problem.
  4. It is not a structural problem.
  5. It is developed through stress, trauma, repetitive actions or lack of movement.
  6. It causes postural distortions and muscular pain in our bodies.

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www.clinicalsomatics.ie