Somatic Education, as based on Hanna Somatics (see resource tab) in which I am trained, is gentle, simple, enjoyable movement that releases habitual tension holding patterns due to sensory-motor malfunctions (or amnesia) – relieving or eliminating chronic pain, and restoring muscles to their full functional length and tone. Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is the term coined by Thomas Hanna to describe the habituation of a response to stress resulting in the loss of voluntarily control of affected muscles or systems in the body. It keeps us stuck in one or more of our inherent reflex arc patterns (startle, fear, trauma) and is the root cause of most chronic, functional muscle pain.
Because we are somas (for our purposes here, embodied beings), we function as a whole. The somatic exercises originated by Thomas Hanna, which I practice and teach, are specific movements that address SMA and tension holding patterns in the front, back, and sides of the body related to the reflex arcs. These exercises make full use of our innate powers of pandiculation to restore full muscle & tissue health. Pandiculation is the gentle contraction and controlled release of a muscle to reset its length, function and range of motion. It is like a yawn upon waking, something cats, dogs, and all animals do 40 times per day to reset their muscles for action. These exercises enhance our ability to move freely and easily from our center (our trunk, pelvis, and shoulder girdle) which in turn allows ease in moving our limbs.
Practicing the movement patterns in a different relationship to gravity (i.e. lying down versus standing) wakes up our sensory motor connections and offers a relaxed way to reset our functional movement patterns. It allows us to notice and explore, move from center to periphery, unwind tension holding patterns – become self aware, self monitoring, self adjusting, and self healing.
Pandiculation. It’s the key. It’s what animals do dozens of times every day – we say they are stretching. What they are really doing is contracting into their tight muscles and then lengthening their muscles to allow them to relax and reset at rest. Learning or remembering how to do this is what allows us to be comfortable in our bodies (and selves).
When we have regained voluntary control of full muscle resting length and function, we have ease and freedom. We have grace. All the things we love to do – including traditional exercise like walking, running & sports, or mind-body exercise like pilates, yoga & swimming – are so much more enjoyable when we can move freely, when we have learned how to use our awareness to heal and care for ourselves.