What Are You Really Feeling When You’re Stressed?

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?

Continue reading…

Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

Somatic Movement Playlists For You

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.

As always thanks for reading and watching.

Until next time!

learnsomatics.ie

Freedom & Control

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.

Weird right?

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.

Check out my Learn Somatics YouTube channel to start learning Somatics right now. Want some help? Book a 1-1 online session and get tuition from the comfort of your own home.

As always thanks for reading, until next time.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

www.learnsomatics.ie

The Clues in Our Language

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.

Photo by Clarissa Watson on Unsplash

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The Fine Art of Relaxation

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 know how 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.

This one is for all of the muscles of the back of the body.

And this one for the muscles of the front of the body.

See if you don’t feel more relaxed after practicing them.

Enjoy, and as always thanks for reading.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

www.learnsomatics.ie

A Tight Belly Means a Tight Body

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?

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. Anxiety: the reduction in your ability to breathe can contribute to low level anxiety as your body responds to this ongoing oxygen deficit. 😦
  6. 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!

Thanks for reading! 

www.learnsomatics.ie

Relax and Comfort Your Lower Back

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!

Arch & Flatten: the simplest way to relax your lower back muscles

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.

learnsomatics.ie

You Are Not a Mind and a Body

I often use the following diagram to help explain the concept of the ‘Soma’. I have found it to be a useful way to elaborate on this idea. In his book Somatics, Thomas Hanna defined ‘Soma’ as ‘the body experienced from within’. That is, your first-person internalised experience of yourself.

So let’s say the circle above represents your physical body and all its associated physical sensations. Hunger, thirst, hot, cold, pleasure, pain, tension, fatigue, and so on. These sensations are constantly changing. So we include arrows on the circle to reflect this ever changing flow of sensations

Now we add a second circle to represent your mind or mental faculties. All your thought processes essentially. We add an arrow to this circle to indicate that thoughts and mental activity are also always in flux, changing, flowing.

And we add a third overlapping circle. This overlapping circle represents your emotional world, your moods and feelings. Again these are transient, fleeting ever changing, so we add the arrow.

Traditionally in western culture we tend to look at these facets of ourselves as somewhat separate from each other. Mental health as distinct from physical health etc. But the reality is…

…you exist right in the middle where all these elements converge and overlap. That is the point from where we live out our first-person experience of ourselves. The ‘Soma’;And what is it that we experience? The constant flow of ever changing physical sensations, mental activity, thoughts and emotions. All three aspects of our experience are overlapping and concurrent, and they all have direct influence over each other. The following would be a closer visual representation of what we experience…

The divisions between our physical, mental and emotional experience becoming far more indistinct.

Our thoughts influence our emotions and in turn our physical body – mind racing, feeling anxious and tense.
Our emotions influence our physical body and in turn our thoughts – one can be physically sick with worry/fear/apprehension.
Our physical body influences our emotions and in turn our thoughts.- angry and frustrated by chronic muscular pain.

Because they can all influence each other we can use one to make a change to another. Like using exercise to improve mental health, or breathing exercises to calm our emotions and quiet our mind.

But it is not so much that these elements influence each other, rather that they are different elements of the same thing as illustrated by the diagram. Looked at it in this way we begin to realise that there is no such thing as a mental state that is distinct from a physical or emotional state. There are really only unified states of being that encompass all facets of our experience; mental, emotional and physical. ‘Somatic’ states if you will.

To ‘experience your body from within’ is to experience all these facets of yourself, simultaneously, in real time, like we all do, all day every day.

So what is the relevance of all this?

Of the three elements, mental, emotional, and physical, the easiest one to manipulate is actually the physical, because we have, or can very quickly develop, direct control our our muscular system. This is where a Somatic movement practice comes in. By learning how to regulate your own muscle tension and increase your awareness of your physical body, you are also learning how to regulate an increase your awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Because as we have discovered, they are all just different elements of your ‘Soma’, your direct first-person experience of your own process. When regulating the ‘physical’, what you are actually doing is regulating your physical, mental and emotional, your unified state of being.

When you can release the muscular tension that accumulates in the physical body, you are also releasing the associated thoughts and emotional states that are bound up in the physical state. Because it’s all the one process. You are not a mind and a body, you are a constantly moving, changing, evolving, growing, self-aware process. You are a body, experienced from within. You are a ‘Soma’.

If any of these ideas resonate with you and you think you’d like to learn more about Somatics, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch. You can contact me here and you can find my online Somatic movement classes and 1-1 options here.

Thanks for reading!

learnsomatics.ie

Hard Body, Soft Bed – Soft Body, Hard Bed

When I first began practicing Somatic Movements for myself a funny thing happened, I kept falling asleep when I would do the Backlift. I would lay down on my belly on the hard carpetted floor to do some Backlifts, I would begin with slow, careful contraction of my back muscles, lifting my head arm and opposite leg, and then slowly relax back to the floor under control…

…and then I would wake up about 20 minutes later in a little puddle of drool, slightly confused but very relaxed. The slow gentle release of tension in the muscles of my back as I pandiculated the Backlift, created a deep sense of relaxation and without even realising it I would drift off.

You see when you pandiculate, your muscles relax, soften and lengthen, reducing the level of tension in your body. And as they do this your whole body becomes more soft and pliable, making the hard floor feel more and more comfortable.

This led me to thinking about how many people sleep on incredibly expensive orthopedic mattresses. The manufacturers promise that it will feel like floating on a cloud, or being weightless. And I’m sure it does, but therein lies the problem. If YOU are hard, tense, stiff and immobile, you have to sleep on a bed that is soft and yielding in order to be comfortable. But, if YOU are soft and yielding in your body, suddenly the hard floor begins to feel just fine and comfortable. YOU begin to accommodate the floor.

Remember for hundreds of thousands of years we didn’t have beds or matresses. So as an experiment of sorts, I began sleeping on the floor. I did this for about a month. I slept on carpetted floor, on top of a yoga mat and a blanket. And whilst I did go back to sleeping in my bed, I slept just as well on the floor as I did in the bed. I will still periodically sleep on the floor, just because it feels good.

floor_sleep

When I teach clients Somatic Movements on the floor, a question I often ask them at the end of their class is “Do you feel like you could go to sleep where you are now on the floor?” And they always, without exception, answer with a kind of surprised, “Yes!”

I am not suggesting you throw out your bed and begin sleeping on the floor, but you could certainly use your comfort level on the floor to give you an idea of how much unneccesary tension you are holding in your body involuntarily (Sensory Motor Amnesia). If laying on the floor is very uncomfortable, you can be sure your body is tighter and more contracted than it needs to be.

If you would like to learn Somatic Movements that will enable you to release and relax your whole body try one of my online classes here or visit Learn Somatics on YouTube. With a daily Somatics practice the floor can be your friend again, just like it was when you were a kid.

As always thanks for reading.

www.learnsomatics.ie