April is Stress Awareness Month 2021 so let’s take this opportunity to talk a little bit about stress. Perhaps you’re feeling stressed right now. If you are, consider this question, ask yourself what does it ‘feel’ like to be stressed? What are you really feeling when you are stressed? What happens in your mind when you are stressed? And what happens in your body when you are stressed? What emotions do you associate with feeling stressed?
Trouble shoot your Somatic movement practice…
In the final part of this series, I’d like to share with you what is maybe the most important point to consider when learning Somatics. And that is; attending a regular Somatic Movement class!
The most effective way to learn any new activity or skill is to attend a regular class. Somatic movement is no different in this regard. Whilst it is certainly possible to learn Somatics by yourself from all the many online resources now freely available, attending a weekly class will accelerate your progress tremendously.
So, what are the advantages of attending a regular online Somatic movement class?
- A regular class will hold you accountable. You won’t want to miss a class you have commited to and paid for.
- By attending classes you will ensure that you are getting at least an hour of high quality Somatic Movement practice regularly.
- It allows you to be observed by a teacher who can then help you modify, or correct your movements as necessary, thus accelerating your understanding progress and learning.
- You get to experience different movements or variations of movements, and different sequencing of movements.
- Real time feedback on what you are doing.
- More learning about anatomy, pandiculation, somatic theory, the three reflexes, and the nuances of all the movements woven into your classes.
- The opportunity to ask questions, share your experiences, and give feedback
- Access to Somatic Movement education from anywhere in the world.
If you like the sound of attending a regular online Somatic Movement group class, why not sign up for my Learn Somatics Beginners classes. I have three time options available, all beginning this coming January 2021. These are 6 week courses of weekly classes that will cover all the fundamental Somatic movements and everything else you will need to develop an effective and rewarding Somatic movement practice.
One more thing, if you find the thoughts of another Zoom meeting/class off putting, consider that during an online Somatic Movement class, you do not need to look at the screen. For the online class you can simply relax on the floor, close your eyes, and enjoy the class. You can forget there is a screen there at all! So with all that in mind why not make 2021 the year you Learn Somatics!
Book your place in class here: Learn Somatics Beginners Classes
Now onto the final Somatic movement in this series; the Washrag. This gentle twisting movement is a great way to close out your practice. Rotation of the trunk, spine, hips, shoulders and neck like this allows you to release tension and improve sensory motor control throughout the entire body. The ability to twist and rotate freely and comfortably is essential for pain free walking and running. It also helps to integrate all the movement patterns addressed by the previous movements in this series, namely; extension and flexion, of the trunk/spine and hips.
So that concludes this 5 part series, I hope you have found it helpful and have begun to practice some of the Somatic movements I have shared with you here. If a group class is not for you but you’d still like some more help getting to grips with your Somatic movement practice, or you have a particular movement issue, or muscular pain you’re struggling to resolve, you can book a 1-1 online session with me and get an individualised lessons tailored specifically for you.
Or if you are enjoying learning by yourself, don’t forget to subscribe to the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel for a regular helping of Somatic Movement tutorial videos.
As always thanks for reading. Until next time!
Trouble shoot your Somatic movement practice…
In Part 4 of this series I want to talk about course corrections or making adjustments so you can continue making progress with your Somatic movement practice. If you want to recap on the previous entries here they are, Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 .
When it comes to course corrections and making adjustments. This is where your note taking becomes invaluable. Hopefully you have been keeping some brief notes about your practice. If you have, you now have a record that you can look back on to help you make sense of what is working for you, and perhaps what isn’t working for you.
So before we get into that we need to clarify something. When it comes to a Somatic movement practice, what IS progress?
Somatics is all about improving our sensory awareness (our ability to feel our muscles) and our motor control (our ability to contract and relax our muscles voluntarily). So how do we measure that? Well, when we can sense ourselves better and control our muscles better we should begin to experience at least some of the following improvements;
- Less muscle pain
- Deeper and more restful sleep
- Freer Breathing
- Improved mobility (walking, sitting, standing should all be feeling more comfortable)
- Reduced feelings of anxiety and/or stress
If you are not experiencing some or all of the benefits liste above, try the following adjustments;
- Make sure you are doing the movements correctly, sometimes what we think are doing and what we are actually doing are quite different. Watch the videos again, listen to the instructions and cues very carefully, and pay close attention to which muscles you can feel as you do the movements, particularly in your trunk. If you cannot feel the correct muscles contracting when you do a movement, you will not be able to get the intended muscular release.
- Perform the movements slower, it’s really important to go slow, particularly on the relaxation phase of each movement as that is when you are literally releasing the tension and lengthening the muscles back to their proper resting length. When we move slowly we engage the part of the brain that is responsible for voluntary movement, the sensory motor cortex. Going slowly allows time for the sensory motor cortex to sense what is happening during the movement. When we don’t have good control of a particuclar group of muscles we will experience jumps, jerks, or shakes in the movement as we relax back to rest. If this happens, simply repeat the movement, but go more slowly through the jerky portion of the relaxation phase. In doing so, you allow your sensory motor cortex the time to smooth out the movement. When the movement is smooth you know voluntary control has been re-established.
- Do less. This may sound somewhat counter intuitive but favour quality over quantity. Do just 3 or 4 repetitions of each movement you practice, but slow it right down and put all your focus on what you can sense and feel before, during and after each movement, applying what you learned from point 2 above.
- Make sure you are not holding your breath during the movements. This is a common one and something that we can do without realising. If we are holding anything, then we are using more tension than is necessary. Generally with Somatic movements, we inhale on the effort and exhale on the release. But if you find that challenging just breathe however feels most comfortable. But ensure you are breathing in and out and not holding your breath.
- Pause at rest. Be sure to pause at complete rest for a full in and out breath between each repetition. You need to allow you sensory motor cortex time to sense what ‘at rest’ feels like. Don’t be in a hurry to rush through your practice.
- Use you own hands. Use your own hands to help you sense more clearly what you are doing during the movement. For example; In Arch & Curl put one hand on your belly so you can clearly feel your belly muscles contracting and relaxing. In Arch & Flatten, feel your lower back muscles with your fingers as you do the movement, feel the lower back muscles contract and stiffen as you arch and soften and lengthen as you flatten.
- Change the order you do the movements. This is a simple strategy that often really helps. I have presented the movements in the standardised order but you are free to modify that order. Experiment to find what order of movements works best for you.
- Remove a movement. Look back at your notes and see what happened after adding each new movement. It may be that just one movement is problematic for you, if you know which one it is you can either remove it for a while, or give it more focused attention, see point 1.
- Allow more time for sensing changes. After each movement, lay out flat and really focus intently on any changes you can sense in your body, where is tense, where is less tense, has you comfort changed, has the resting position of your legs or arms changed, has you comfort increased. Sensing like this is a skill, and the more your practice it the better you will get at it and the more you will begin to notice. This sensing is just as important as the doing of the movements. Sensing and moving are two sides of the same coin.
Implement a couple of these tips next time, and see if it doesn’t improve the quality of your practice and facilitate greater or more noticable changes for you.
Below is the video with the next two movements to add to your burgeoning Somatic movement practice. Lateral and Diagonal Arch & Curls. These movements build on the previous movements in this series.
We’ll conclude this series with Part 5 next week. In the meantime keep up your practice! If you’d like some more help getting to grips with your Somatic movement practice, or you have a particular movement issue you’re struggling to resolve, you can book a 1-1 online session with me and Learn Somatics from the comfort of your own home.
Until next time!
In Part 1 of this series I gave you some quick tips on how to start building a Somatics practice into your routine, and then in Part 2 I offered some tips on how to track the progress of your Somatic Movement practice. Today I want to talk about keeping up your routine.
When people start a new routine, diet, or exercise program in the beginning they are highly motivated and enthusiastic about it. But inevitably, life gets in the way, and they eat that cake, can’t make that gym session, or just feel demotivated to stick to their new routine.
Well guess what? That’s totally normal! The problem is when you allow one bad day to derail all your progress.
If you miss a day of your Somatic movement practice (or your diet, exercise routine) for whatever reason. Firstly, don’t worry about it, and certainly don’t give yourself a hard time about it. One single missed day isn’t going to adversely affect your long term goals or progress. But letting one day turn into two days or four days or a week? That will derail your progress, break your habit and put you back where you started.
So the trick is to get back on the proverbial horse the very next day. But don’t try and make up for the day you missed by doing more than normal, just get back into the habit. Do a short movement practice, remind yourself why you wanted to implement this new Somatic movement routine (or whatever your new activity might be) and jot down again in your notebook/journal how you feel after your practice. As you string together days of practice and start to experience improvements in how you move and feel, you will be far less inclined to skip or miss days.
Hopefully you can reach a point where the new routine/activity, whatever it is, is not a chore, but something you look forward to. Any routine that feels tiresome or a burden, you will not stick to. This is also why it’s important to keep some notes. You can look back at these notes and begin to see a clear reocrd of your progress, or perhaps even more importantly, your lack of progress. If there is a lack of progress or positive change, you know that it is time to make a change of some kind to begin progressing again. A course correction if you will. We will talk about how to do just that in Part 4.
For now though let’s get into today’s Somatic movement. Hopefully you are able to do Arch & Flatten and Arch & Curl effectively without following the videos. But if not please keep using the videos as long as you need to.
Lets explore the third movement in your new Somatic movement routine. The next movement your going to add to your practice is called the Backlift. The Backlift is one of the most important Somatic movements for a couple of reasons;
- It relieves the insidious effects of the Green Light Reflex.
- It allows you to pandiculate a lot of muscles all at once.
- It relieves tight, stiff and sore back muscles quickly and easily.
- It improves contralateral coordination.
Practice the Backlift after you have done a few easy repetitions of both the Arch & Flatten and the Arch & Curl. Then when you are done with the Backlift, close your practice with a few final repetitions of either Arch & Flatten or Arch & Curl.
I hope you enjoy practicing the Backlift and find it as useful as I do. If you have any questions about the movements, you can leave a comment below. Have fun with your new Somatic movment practice and I’ll be back with part 4 of this series real soon.
In Part 1 of this series I gave you some quick tips on how to start building a Somatics practice into your routine. Hopefully you have decided on a time of day that works for you and are now practicing Arch & Flatten regularly. If you have, you will hopefully have noticed that your lower back now feels a lot more relaxed and comfortable than it used to.
So now that your Somatic habit has been somewhat established and you’re familiar with Arch & Flatten, it’s a good idea to start keeping some brief notes, (or journaling if you want) about your practice.
This doesn’t have to be terribly detailed, just some quick notes about your stress level, any pain you may have, your breathing, your sleep, your digestion, your motivation, your sports/exercise performance (if you are an active person) and also your mood.
Take any of the metrics above (or choose your own), and start keeping track of them, give them scores, or grades. Some simple way of measuring them. It could be a score out of 10, or a grade like, A,B,C etc. Score them twice a day, once maybe before or after work, or when you wake up. And also, very importantly, score them after your Somatics practice. Also score the practice itself. DIdi yo enjoy it? Were you distracted or fidgety? Did you rush it? Were you able to pay attention to it? etc.
And whilst I’m sure you will notice changes in how you feel quite immediately after your practice, its still a good idea to take these notes so you can have written evidence of your progress. This will motivate you on days when you lack motivation. It will also show you what happens on days you don’t practice, which of course will happen now and again and is totally fine.
By keeping track in this manner you will begin to see very clearly the effects a simple Somatic movement routine can have.
Now. It’s time to add another movement to your Somatics routine. The more Somatics movements we learn, the more tools we have at our disposal, the more benefits we can experience, the more we can learn about ourselves, and the more comfortable we will feel in our bodies.
So without further ado, the second movement your going to add to your practice is called Arch & Curl. It’s a simple movement that builds on what you’ve already learned through practicing Arch & Flatten. It will help you to regain control of your belly and chest muscles and will address both Green Light Reflex and Red Light Reflex.
Hopefully you are now able to do Arch & Flatten effectively without following my video. But if not please keep using the video as long as you need to. You will still only need about 10 or 15 minutes to do your practice when we add this second movement. Below is the tutorial video for Arch & Curl. Practice this movement after you have spent a few minutes doing Arch & Flatten as normal. Then make some notes on your experience, breathing, comfort and relaxation.
I’ll be back with part 3 of this series soon. Until then try to keep practicing daily, taking notes, and enjoying the benefits of Learn Somatics.
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)
Thanks for reading and see you next time.
Look at the words and phrases below, think about what they describe, what do you notice?
Uptight, high strung, wound up, uneasy, nervy, restless.
All these words imply tightness or tension, and as we know, tension is always muscular tension. There seems to be a subliminal understanding, clearly reflected in our language, that excessive tension is negative, or at least unhelpful.
Now lets look at words/phrases that mean the opposite.
Calm, easy-going, laid-back, unworried, at ease, peaceful.
Again an implicit understanding that an absence of tension is a positive or at least more favorable state.
Which of these sets of words or phrases best describe you?
You can learn how to release muscular tension, resolve muscle pain and relieve stress through the practice of Somatic movements. Check out the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start right now. Need help? Take an online 1-1 session with me.
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.
As always thanks for visiting.
You often hear it said that you spend about a third of your life in bed. Note that’s in bed, not necessarily asleep. But judging by the data available about sleep or lack of it, people spend more like about a sixth, of their life asleep. That is definitely not enough sleep to function even normally, never mind optimally.
Sleep is a non-negotiable. If you go for long periods without getting enough sleep, your quality of life, and your health, is going to suffer significantly. Further, your performance in everything you attempt to do while you are awake is going to be severely compromised. Sleep is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity. In fact… “a chronic lack of sleep puts people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.” (Source)
The diagram below highlights just how damaging insufficient sleep really is.
Well I’m going to say something really obvious about sleep now; You must be relaxed to get to sleep and stay asleep. Well, duh!
If you are not relaxed but are in fact in a state of arousal/excitement you will struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep. A state of arousal/excitement means you are in Sympathetic Nervous System state, also known as ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ The clue is in the name there, ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ These are not states that are conducive to deep restful sleep.
Unfortunately there are many, many stressors in our modern environment that can put us in Sympathetic Nervous System mode, particularly if we have to, or choose to, interact with these stressors in the hours before bedtime. We live in an ‘always on’ culture, and while this has some advantages it also has many disadvantages. Humans are not designed to be always on. You’re phone is. But you? Not so much. Work, screens, emails, phones, kids, partners, money, the news and so on, all of these are stimuli. You do not want to be highly stimulated when you are going to bed, if you want to experience high quality deep sleep.
If you can relax yourself before bed, your chances of getting to sleep and staying asleep will increase massively, as will the quality of your sleep. Getting into that Parasympathetic state is essential. The Parasympathetic Nervous System state is also known as ‘REST, digest and repair.’ Part of the ‘repair’ that goes on during deep sleep is the clearing of waste products from the brain. That sounds like something you’d want to keep on top of. It also offers an explanaion as to how lack of sleep can increase your risk of Alzheimers disease and other neurological disorders as noted previously. Check out this excellent TED Talk for more on that.
So how can we increase our chances of getting a good nights sleep? One of the most common comments I hear from clients after their first experience of Somatics goes something like this; “I had a great sleep after my appointment/class.” This is something I experienced myself when I first began practicing Somatics so I can relate, one moment I’m practicing my Back Lifts on the floor, next thing I’m fast asleep, drooling away. Good times…
But how could slow movements improve sleep? Well when you practice Somatic movements, you are very carefully and deliberately reducing muscle tension that has accumulated during the day. To reduce muscle tension is to relax your muscles. To relax is to shift into that Parasympathetic Nervous System mode, that ‘rest, digest and repair’ mode. An improvement in the duration and quality sleep is then much more likely.
If you’d like to improve the quality of your sleep consider learning Somatics and making it part of your bedtime routine. Deep, restful sleep can become a reality and not just a pipe.. eh.. dream?
Thanks for reading.
According to this study, 28 million people in the UK are living with chronic pain. That is almost half of their entire population. Think about that for a moment. 28 million people living with chronic pain. In a wealthy, first world, industrialised nation.
Those quite frankly crazy numbers prompted me to have a quick google for some statistics for the US, Ireland, Europe and globally.
USA: “In 2016, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% of U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain.” (source)
Ireland: “Chronic pain is thought to affect 1.65 million people in Ireland, with chronic back pain one of the more common diagnoses.” (source)
Europe: 20% of all Europeans experience chronic pain “…200 million musculoskeletal disorders and 100 million people experiencing other forms of chronic pain.” (source)
Globally: “Estimates suggest that 20% of adults suffer from pain globally and 10% are newly diagnosed with chronic pain each year.” (source)
High percentages of people suffering with chronic pain places a massive strain on healthcare services and costs the economy billions.
“The two health conditions most clearly associated with disability benefits are musculoskeletal disorders (particularly non-specific lower back pain and general chronic pain syndromes) and mental health problems. In the UK, these complaints comprise more than 50% of sick certification. Musculoskeletal complaints, predominantly mild to moderate in severity, and often with no clear or consistent underlying pathology, account for around 20% of benefit recipients in the UK, and therefore account for a significant proportion of incapacity for work20. Given that the annual economic costs associated with sickness absence and worklessness amount to over £100 billion21, the impact of pain and associated conditions remains a significant contributory factor.” (source)
How did we get to this point? With all our technology, medical advancements, nutritional supplements, oils, ointments and tinctures we still have not addressed something as common as chronic musculoskeletal pain. We put men on the Moon, and rovers on Mars, but back pain? Sorry, no idea.
And what is it about modern industrialised societies that leads to such high numbers of chronic pain sufferers? What has changed?
I believe one major factor is that our modern environment is now unrecognisable to how it was even 15 years ago. Technological advancements, and the rise of smartphones and internet connected gadgets has led to a sharp increase in how connected we are, and in turn, how many potential stressors we are exposed to.
People are constantly connected, or ‘on’. Work email alerts, FB alerts, IG alerts, LinkedIn alerts, SMS alerts, Whatsapp alerts, alerts, alerts, alerts, ALERTS! Kids, spouses, family, jobs, friends. All of these things are vying for our attention. This creates an almost imperceptible background milieu of chronic low level stress. Except it’s not imperceptible at all.
Humans respond automatically and subconsciously, to all of the above. Our landau response (Green Light Reflex) is triggered. On a wholly subconscious level we mobilise ourselves, preparing to attend to all these demands, by contracting our back muscles. This contraction of the back is the beginning of the act of moving forward, out into the world. Moving forward to deal with alerts, life etc. This is why “musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.”(Source) Go, go, go! More, more, more!
Then there’s social media, a digital addiction which can bring its own heady mix of validation-seeking, fear-mongering and anxiety to people’s lives. This can trigger our startle reflex (Red Light Reflex) further increasing our stress levels. Nothing inherently wrong with social media by the way, but it is defintely prudent to limit your exposure.
Our environment has changed far faster than we have. Whenever there is an environmental change, the inhabitants of that environment (that’s us) must also change. It just so happens that the modern environment we have created for ourselves is incredibly fast paced, over stimulating and highly stressful for many of its inhabitants.
It is predicted, and expected, that our technological environment will continue to change even faster in the future. The meteoric advancement of technology will continue unabated. So how can we keep up? In order to survive in this new technological environment, we must be capable of change. We must become as adaptable as our technology.
We must learn how to adapt, and to continue adapting as we go forward. We need to learn skills and techniques which will enable us to cope with our new highly stimulating and potentially stressful environment.
A good start would be to learn how to better monitor, and regulate our responses to stressful stimuli. This will involve becoming more aware of ourselves, our automatic and involuntary responses and how we interact with our new environment. Ironically the ancient aphorism “know thyself” will become ever more relevant and important as we speed into the future.
A regular Somatic Movement practice can help us in this regard. It can provide the means to monitor, regulate and release the involuntary muscular tension that is triggered in response to the myriad stressors in our environment. The same involuntary muscle tension that can cause much of the chronic musculoskeletal pain experienced by so many.
The solutions to living in a highly stimulating and fast paced modern technological environment will not come in the form of a pill, a powder, a gadget or an app. It will come from cultivating your own self awareness and developing more control over your self and your responses to the ever growing number of stressors in this brave new world.
If any of this resonates with you, and you are interested in acquiring practical stress management, muscle pain relief and relaxation techniques, consider learning Somatics. There are more avenues for learning than ever before. If you’d like to learn with me, you can get in touch with me here.
As always, thanks for reading.