The Full Body Tension Buster – Somatic Movement Education workshop with Biliana

Blog Image

The body and the environment it habits are in a constant state of interaction. We, as all vertebrate animals, are wired to adapt to our environment. Let’s look at some examples:

☞ It is a hot day, and you develop a sense of thirst to cool yourself down; or it is a cold day – you shiver to warm up. These are physiological homeostatic mechanisms that happen without your conscious control, designed to keep us alive! Luckily, we cannot mess this system up, only disease can.

Here is something a little different:
☞ You are out on a walk and you suddenly hear a loud explosion. What happens to your body? The likelihood is that you recoil in a protective position. Your brain has sent lightening fact instruction to your muscles to tighten around your abdomen & chest – protecting your most precious organs from the real OR perceived threat of injury or attack. Isn’t this the same posture we adopt when we are stressed or feeling vulnerable? Have you noticed how your abdomen tightens, your head drops forward and your shoulders round? This is known as the Red Light Reflex.

☞ One more example: you have a long list of tasks to tick off in a short space of time, your WiFi is playing-up and you also have to pick up the kids from school. What does your body look like now? Have you noticed how back muscles & your buttocks tighten-up? If you were standing, you would look like a meerkat on full alert, ready to run and raise alarm in the camp! This response contracts the posterior muscles, erecting the back in preparation for moving forward – an unconscious “call to action”- ensuring that you are ready to go-go-go-go and get things done! This is known as the Green Light Reflex.

☞ Finally, there is the unfortunate reality that as we go through life, there is a high chance that we would pick up injuries along the way. When an accident occurs on one side of your body, the muscles on the opposite side tightening to compensate and lighten the load away from the injured & painful area. When blows occur to one side of the rib cage, the muscles traumatized will go into chronic contraction. After hernia surgery, for example, the abdominal muscles on the herniated side will usually be in constant contraction. If the left leg is broken or the left knee is in long-term pain, the person will avoid the left leg and become noticeably pulled to the right side. This is the Trauma reflex.


How does Somatic Movement Education work?
Over time as we habituate movement and postural patterns, our brain learns to keep certain muscles tight. Those muscles will remain somewhat contracted all the time, even when we are sleeping. Both our ability to control these muscles and your ability to sense that these muscles are contracted is decreased. The state of having lost control and sensation of muscle contraction and movement is known as sensory motor amnesia.
As you begin to keep certain muscles partially contracted all the time, the sensory-motor feedback loop – the superhighway between muscles, brain and back to muscles – adjusts so that the increased level of contraction in your muscles actually begins to feel “normal.”
Somatic Movement Education uses advanced movement techniques to reset the sensory-motor feedback loop, thereby lengthening muscles at the brain level! The movement techniques also bring the control of your muscles back into the voluntary part of your brain, restoring voluntary control and allowing you to relearn how to keep your muscles relaxed.

So are we retraining the brain?
Here are 3 really brainy concepts to consider:

1. These unconscious, reflexive physical reactions are controlled by the brain & central nervous system – our hard drive. The muscles only move when instructed by the brain.
2. We learn everything to do with movement by continuous practice i.e. repeating the action over a sufficiently long period of time with great concentration until you no longer fail at that action. Practice makes perfect!
3. Once we learn a movement pattern through practice, it becomes habituated – i.e. saved on our hard drive – so that we can perform the action without having to consciously think about it. Think learning to ride a bike!

The practice of Somatic Movement teaches us 3 things:

THINK Think about & acknowledge what has happened to our body over the years? Or in the past few weeks?!
FEEL Tune in & feel how this is showing up in your body; is there stuck stress? We can only change the things that we are aware of…
MOVE Through mindful micro movements, interrupt the habituation and teach the brain to release stuck patterns of movement or stress.

The guiding principles of Somatic Movement:

  • Move slowly with the LEAST possible effort:
    The slower you move, the more effectively you can retrain your nervous system to release chronic muscular tension.
  • Move within a painless & comfortable range of motion:
    If you experience any pain or discomfort, make the movements smaller, slower or adjust your position
  • Stay in tune with what is happening inside of you as you move:
    Somatic movements are exploratory. Each time you practice them, try to feel and sense something new. The more you sense and feel the more you can control.
  • Fully relax (melt) between each set of movement:
    This gives your brain the chance to integrate & learn the new sensory information from your body.
  • Practice daily to develop greater body awareness & the skills to release your own tension:
    It takes time and patience (i.e. practice!) to re-programme your nervous system. Put aside 10 minutes a day first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening to practice.

The contract / release movement we perform in Somatic practice IS called Pandiculation. Think a cat or dog rising from a nap. By making the contraction stronger than the present current contraction, we are providing a strong sensory feedback and sending a simultaneous sensory reinforcement to the motor neurons while they are continuing their voluntary contractive activity. This is followed by a slow, deliberate and active lengthening of that muscle, which is followed by a complete relaxation. We lengthen the muscle only to a comfortable length and not beyond it. When this is repeated, the brain will begin to reset the system automatically

Some history?
“If you want to be in control of yourself, you have to take time to get to know yourself!” (T. Hanna)

Thomas Hanna, the founder of Clinical Somatic Education, studied neurophysiology and the effects of the pandicular response. He explored how pandiculation directly addressed the habitual muscular tension that was the underlying cause of his clients’ chronic pain and posture and movement issues.
In 1973, Hanna moved to San Francisco and became the Director of the graduate school at the Humanistic Psychology Institute. It was there that he discovered Functional Integration and met Moshe Feldenkrais.
He coined the term “somatics” in 1976, in the hope that it would define the field of movement awareness (including The Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais). He continued his research in Somatic Education, calling himself a “philosopher who works with his hands” and helping many people overcome what was thought by the medical community to be hopeless cases.
If your curiosity has been piqued, meet the man himself here: Thomas Hanna on Somatics



29th April 2020