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An Introduction to Somatics

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

By Susan Cook, RMT

Thomas Hanna authored the book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health. In this book he describes the Green-Light and Red-Light reflexes, which are most often referred to as the Fight or Flight, and Rest or Digest (and have Fun) reflexes. As we age and experience stress, we often develop sensory motor amnesia.  Sensory Motor Amnesia (“SMA” term coined by Thomas Hanna)

SMA describes inefficient patterns of muscular activation that are so habitual you can’t sense or control them. For example, you might have simply forgotten how to relax areas such as the neck, low back and shoulders, or how to activate muscles like the glutes or abs. This leads to weakness, inefficiency, poor coordination and eventually pain.

Somatics, is the cultivation of sensory motor awareness and helps to shift our perception and felt experience of stress. With Somatic practise we reawaken and continue to grow and flow. Flow is a concept coined by Mihaly Chiksentsmilayi, and describes an easy and blissful state of being, despite the challenges we may experience. An investment of effort and time is required to incorporate new or renew movement and perceptual patterns. The reward will be a higher quality of life and the enjoyment of your ability to move freely through the years. There are many approaches to somatic study, and each deserves further investigation.

I was first introduced to somatics through contemporary Dance, which is informed by a variety of somatic techniques; Laban-Bartenieff, Contact Improvisation, Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais, Alexander, Body Mind Centering, Gyrotonics, Essentrics, Ideokinetic Facilitation, Franklin, Jazz, Capoeira, Axis Syllabus, Ido Portal, NIA, Authentic Movement, Tai Chi and Qigong. I eventually trained as a Stott Pilates Trainer, but I’m a mover and a shaker and I enjoy all movement disciplines. All movement techniques share universal truths, that aim to support the functionality of our anatomy and physiology.

Here are a few ideas to inspire your New Year’s movement practise. Be creative as this helps to connect your mind and body. Make time to breathe, balance and be at one with where you are while visualizing where you want to go, or what you want to be able to do, and how you want to be. Enjoy nature, and your natural movement abilities first learned as babies such as; lying still on your back, rolling, twisting, sitting, balancing on your hands and knees, crawling, standing, and walking. The key is to maintain these abilities as we mature. Also, practice the sit-stand test, where you lower yourself to sit on the floor and return to stand without using your hands for support.

Movement is medicine and there are many options to choose from when deciding to move more. Movement pumps your circulatory & lymph system, rebalances and rewires your body-mind-spirit.

Opera singers, boxers, martial artists and dancers are all examples of how dedicated practice reinforces the mind-body complex.

If you are new to the idea of somatics and would like to learn more, let me know and we’ll discuss it further when you schedule your next massage therapy appointment. Somatics, and a regular movement practice will help you maintain the benefits of your manual therapy treatments and help you feel better this winter.

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