What is Somatics?
Somatics is a safe, gentle, low effort movement practice designed specifically to release chronic muscle tension, alleviate the physical effects of stress and allows you to move freely and comfortably. Somatics puts you back in charge of your body, you learn how to recognise when your muscles are getting stiff and tight, what causes this to happen, and best of all, what to do about it.
It’s a practical and straight forward self care strategy.
Sounds great, how does it work?
By engaging your brain. Your brain has absolute control over your muscles, so if your muscles are stiff and tight, it’s because your brain is telling them to be stiff and tight. Somatics is all about learning how to use your brain to quickly release tension and relax your muscles. This is achieved via a technique called Pandiculation.
Animals pandiculate all the time, up to 40 times a day! Cats in particular are master pandiculators, no wonder they move so well. Kids will also naturally pandiculate a lot, but it is something adults tend to stop doing. A yawn upon waking is a type of reflexive pandiculation. You reach out your arms and stiffen the trunk and extremities often even opening the jaws wide, then you gently relax. Can you remember the last time you actually yawned in that way before getting out of bed on a Monday morning?
So what exactly is a pandiculation?
Within the context of Somatic Education a ‘pandiculation’ is a voluntary and deliberate tightening of our muscles, followed by a slow, smooth voluntary and deliberate release of those muscles, then a pause at rest. It’s that simple. By voluntarily contracting your muscles you engage the part of your brain involved in learning movements, the sensorimotor cortex (see below). This takes your muscles off auto pilot and puts you back in voluntary control of your muscles.
Interesting. So how do our muscles get all tight and sore in the first place?
Great question! There are many reasons; stress (both physical, mental and emotional), accidents, falls, injuries, surgeries, repetitive actions, collisions. All of these can contribute to chronic muscle tension. This tension builds up in our nervous system day after day, week after week. The more stress, accidents and injuries we experience, the more tension we accumulate, the stiffer our bodies feel, and the harder it is to move freely.
A little bit of tension might just make us feel a bit inflexible, not able to touch our toes, or not able to move as freely as we used to.
A lot of tension can contribute to chronic muscle pain anywhere in our body, and severely compromised movement.
In Somatics we have a name for chronic involuntary muscle tightness. We call it Sensory Motor Amnesia or ‘SMA’. You have literally forgotten how to sense and move some of your muscles. Somatic Movements help you remember how to sense and move those muscles, and, when practiced regularly, get even better at sensing and moving your muscles.
Ok tell me more about Sensory Motor Amnesia…
Sensor Motor Amnesia (SMA) shows up as three predictable patterns of tension that are easily observable in people.
Thomas Hanna, author of the book Somatics, called these patterns ‘The Three Reflexes’.
- Green Light Reflex – this is tightness in all the muscles of the back of the body.
- Red Light Reflex – this is tightness in all the muscles of the front of the body.
- Trauma Reflex – this is tightness in the muscles of one side of the body usually centred around a site of physical injury.
There are a series of specific Somatic Movements to address all of the muscles involved in each of the reflexes described above. Once you have learned them, you never have to worry about getting stuck in one of those reflexes ever again. Somatics takes the mystery out of muscle tension.
Neck and shoulders tight after a stressful day in the office? No problem, I’ll do my Somatic Movements when I get home, that’ll have my neck and shoulders feeling loose and comfortable in no time.
Hips sore from that run at the weekend? Not for long, I’ll do that nice twisting Somatic Movement I learned before bed tonight, that always makes my hips feel better.
Lower back feeling tight after that Deadlift PR? Not to worry, I know just which Somatic Movements to use to make it feel supple and strong again.