CLINICAL SOMATIC EDUCATION
& ESSENTIAL SOMATIC MOVEMENT CLASSES
WHAT CONDITIONS CAN CLINICAL SOMATIC EDUCATION ADDRESS & ELIMINATE?
CSE & Essential Somatic Movement can help with a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to:
SI joint pain
Foot pain including plantar fasciitis
Leg length discrepancy
Thoracic outlet syndrome
Chronic muscle tension
If the pain or tension you feel hasn’t got a name or a formal diagnosis (or if it’s ‘medically unexplained’, or - as often the case - is put down to ‘ageing’), it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you feel.
Whatever the feeling, whatever the problem, Clinical Somatics works to help you feel more at ease in your own body. About much more than ‘treating’ an injury or condition - although that may be what brings you to it - Clinical Somatics opens up the possibility of truly transforming your relationship with how you experience yourself in the world - what you sense, how you move, what you understand about your own nervous system, & how aware & in command of your embodied self you can be.
When people first come to Clinical Somatics, they have often (like me) ‘tried everything’ and yet are still experiencing pain &/or restricted movement. It can be hard to move on from the feelings of defeat, and of pain. But Clinical Somatic Education offers a gentle, long-lasting way to move away from pain, & to rediscover the pleasure of being a living, breathing, moving ‘soma’ (mind-body) in the world!
Because it works with the brain, central nervous system, muscles & more, clinical somatics is quite a complex process to fully explain & understand. What matters, though, is that it works for so many people, & so many types of pain, tension & stress.
Fundamentally, in Essential Somatic Movement classes & in clinical sessions, you are helped to feel & change the amount of tension/contraction held in your muscles, as it’s the largely unconsciously-held contraction that causes pain, tightness, tension, shallow breathing, etc. (& also keeps even elite athletes from fulfilling their full potential).
So, for example, through a movement class you may discover that when your shoulders feel ‘at rest’, they are actually something like 50% contracted: your brain has got used to this feeling of contraction over time, so regards it as ‘normal’ for your shoulders. It (you) does not notice the ‘resting’ level of 50% contraction. And your brain is interested in ‘normal’ - in getting you through each day, in a familiar way - rather than what is ‘good’ or ‘better’ for you.
As a result, even when you try to alleviate such tension - e.g. by using heat packs on your shoulders, or by stretching them - your largely unconscious level of contraction means you can’t really achieve positive, long-lasting change: you are ‘stuck’ with the underlying 50% contraction level as a starting point, beyond which your muscles will not release & relax - because they (you, your brain) don’t know how to. (So, when you then suffer additional stresses that tighten your shoulders, your contraction increases… & the related shoulder pain, tension & tightness gets worse.)
Through bringing back conscious awareness to the areas of contraction in your shoulders, & using voluntary control to ‘override’ your brain’s information about what is ‘normal’ for you, Essential Somatic Movement enables you to release, lengthen & relax the contraction in your shoulders below the 50% level in our example: it helps you get ‘un-stuck’, so you can start to fully relax your muscles & use them more efficiently, effectively, & free from pain.
Basic Essential Somatic Movements are actually pretty simple - even if the ‘science’ behind them is not! They are slow, easy, & often small movements: the key is in your paying attention to the movements & to what is going on inside your body while you make them… This is what Clinical Somatic Educators & Movement Teachers help you learn.
Here’s a video of Arch & Flatten - a key, fundamental Essential Somatic Movement that helps not only to ease tight back muscles & increase awareness of & control over them, but can help with breathing, with linking the head into your movements, & builds a foundation for other lovely somatic movements. The video is by my teacher & mentor, Martha Peterson, & is on her YouTube channel:
And here is a short video about how how to become aware of your BREATHING & any limitations caused by being ‘stuck’ &/or holding areas of muscle tension. (These relate to the 3 stress reflexes (read more on them below)… Martha explains this, in brief, in introducing this very short exploration of breathing, in this video):
More information about what Clinical Somatic Education and Essential Somatic Movement is & involves, where it comes from, & how it works in physical-neurological terms, is below - as well as elsewhere on this site & on the site of my teacher, Martha Peterson, & other teachers & ES practitioners. (Please realise you don’t have to read any further! You can ask me questions, or simply book a taster session or 1-2-1 session to learn more!)
If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me.
What is Clinical Somatics?
Clinical Somatics was first developed by philosopher Thomas Hanna in the 1970s. While it has its roots in the work of Alexander and Feldenkrais, Clinical Somatics is unique in its approach to using movement & activating neurological awareness to combat pain & increase ease & efficiency of movement.
You can’t be independent unless you can stand on your own two feet, and it’s not a matter of just rebelliously standing on your own two feet, but of knowing who you are, knowing your powers, and being able to be creative and productive on your own. - Thomas Hanna in conversation with Helmut Milz, M.D.
Further making Clinical Somatics unique is its central focus on full body patterns, & its working via ‘pandiculation’ to get us out of unhelpful habits caused by the three natural stress reflexes of the body. Clinical Somatics aims, centrally, at enabling us to move away from what it terms ‘Sensory Motor Amnesia’, via the centrally important process of Pandiculation, to bring about ‘Sensory Motor Awareness’.
I’m aware there’s a lot of information – & several terms unique to Clinical Somatics – in that sentence! In attending Essential Somatics sessions, you’ll learn more about all of this: Somatics is very much an educative process, not a therapy or ‘treatment’. Below is some further, basic information about some of the key concepts of Clinical Somatic Education & Essential Somatic Movement, & how it works.
SENSORY MOTOR AMNESIA
Sensory Motor Amnesia, or ‘SMA’, is what Thomas Hanna identified as & named the underlying condition that Somatics addresses - that is, forgetting how to sense & consciously control your muscles.
This lack of awareness & control arises from getting ‘stuck’ in, or habituated into, patterns of movement (& lack of movement) related to the 3 natural stress reflexes all humans (& most other living creatures) experience.
The stress reflexes themselves are not a problem - but getting stuck in them is a problem. When you suffer an injury, or repeated stress, for instance, your muscles tense to address the perceived problem. When your muscles don’t release that tension, but stay contracted, that’s when pain & restricted movement arise, & your inability to notice this problem & address it, is SMA.
To ‘reset’ your nervous system - that is, to learn how to sense & move in ways that ease you out of such habituated muscle contractions - Clinical Somatic Education teaches you to ‘pandiculate’.
learn to pandiculate… just like a cat!
Learning to pandiculate is key to Clinical Somatic Education: it helps you identify & change unhelpful habituated patterns, & so to move away from pain & towards improved ease of movement.
Pandiculating enables your brain to sense & learn to release tension in your muscles whenever such tension & contraction is serving no positive purpose. Importantly, it works by contracting & lengthening muscles slowly, gently & easily - without stretching, so you don’t damage yourself by activating the stretch reflex.
Pandiculation is a big part of what makes Clinical Somatics unique - & what makes it so effective. It develops your Sensory Motor Awareness, in place of Sensory Motor Amnesia.
Read what the Association for Hanna Somatic Education has to say about stretching versus pandiculation, here: https://hannasomatics.com/index.php/the_somatics_difference/truth_about_stretching/
This is Martha Peterson’s video about pandiculation versus stretching - which also guides you to experience the difference: click here to watch!
SENSORY MOTOR AWARENESS
Through pandiculation, Clinical Somatics heightens your awareness of & control over your muscles, thereby diminishing your problematic habituated reflex patterns that cause areas of tension, pain & restricted movement.
Rather than having a therapy or treatment done ‘to’ you, Clinical Somatic Education requires you to be proactively engaged in learning & doing. This ensures that you sense & understand the patterns in your body, so that ultimately you can avoid SMA through increased sensory awareness & implementing appropriate movement strategies to avoid or ease your way out of habitual muscular contractions.
Crucial to increasing your awareness, as well as your ability to pandiculate effectively, is recognising the interconnectedness of every part of your body. In learning Essential Somatic Movements, you’ll learn that understanding & addressing full body patterns is essential to easier, pain-free movement, & appreciate the importance of the relationship between the centre & periphery of the human body.
Also crucial to remember is that it’s never just one muscle: pain in one area of your body might be caused by SMA in other areas, & by full body patterns. Clinical Somatics recognises & addresses this, & encourages you to understand your own patterns & their relationship to any pain, tension & tightness you feel, & so your ability to improve your physical performance & sense of well-being & ease in your own body.
Centre to Periphery
Pain experienced in the periphery - e.g. wrist pain, foot pain, knee pain - most often needs to be addressed at the centre of the body. This is because full body patterns such as the stress reflexes we need to deal with everyday stresses & strains often cause peripheral pain, but cannot be ‘undone’ only at the site of pain, but must be completely unravelled - from the centre, out.
The Myth of Ageing
Thomas Hanna firmly believed that it’s NOT inevitable that as you age, you’ll become stiffer, experience muscle & joint pain, & even develop what is widely described as a ‘senile posture’.
On the contrary, key to Clinical Somatics is that it’s habituated stress reflex patterns that cause these ills. While you may develop more of these as you get older, ageing is NOT the cause: just as you can habituate into unhelpful patterns at any age, so you can educate yourself out of these patterns at any age. (Learn more about the 3 stress reflexes below - including what Hanna termed the Red Light Reflex, & held was erroneously associated with ‘ageing’.)
Clinical Somatic Education teaches you to actively release muscle tension, thereby relieving pain & improving your ease of movement - whatever your age & level of fitness.
The Three Stress Reflexes
Clinical Somatic Education focuses on how the 3 stress reflex full-body patterns show up in you, especially in ways that are problematic. Each of the 3 reflexes - called, as per Hanna Somatics, the Red Light Reflex, Green Light Reflex, & Trauma Reflex - have essential roles to play in our everyday life: they serve positive purposes, without which we would not be able to move, nor to protect ourselves effectively. The problem is when we get ‘stuck’ in a reflex pattern - when our muscles are habituated into a reflex response when there is no need for the reflex to be active. This is what creates muscle tension, lack of movement, & chronic pain. Clinical Somatic Education works to enable us to identify these unnecessarily held patterns in ourselves, & to take back control to turn them off when they’re not helpful to us.
Green Light Reflex
The Green Light Reflex is associated with a call to action, activity, & forward movement. It’s the ‘get up & go’ reflex! It’s also the reflex that made us start walking, as an infant (the ‘Landau reflex’). As such, it clearly serves a positive purpose. However, when it’s activated constantly - for example, every time the phone rings or there’s a knock at the door, every time you worry about a deadline, or recall there’s something you need to do - it can become a problem, & cause you pain. When you’re stuck in the Green Light Reflex, muscles all over the back of your body are over-contracted, often causing a ‘swayback’, lower back pain, & associated problems such as sciatica, hip pain, knee pain & more.
Red Light Reflex
This reflex is the one most often associated with old age. It’s the reflex that activates when you experience fear & alarm - it’s the ‘startle reflex’. It effects all the muscles at the front of your body. The red light reflex serves a very important purpose, protecting the most vulnerable parts of you when you’re under threat. But sitting at a desk all day, or repeatedly checking a mobile phone, can lead to getting stuck in this reflex, too. Habituated Red Light responses can create anxiety & depression, neck pain, hip pain, rounded shoulders, shallow breathing, & more.
Suffering from being stuck in a trauma reflex is often the result of an injury to one side of the body - e.g. surgery, a sprained ankle, or an accident - but can also be the result of habituation, such as carrying a baby on one hip, or a bag on one shoulder, over long periods. The trauma reflex helps you in everyday life by guarding & protecting against pain & injury - e.g. by cringing or flinching away from a threat, or by limping to protect an injury. It effects the muscles along one side of your body, & can lead to all sorts of one-sided pain in the body, & distort your sense of balance & your gait when walking.
THE THREE STRESS REFLEXES:
AREAS OF MUSCLE TENSION ASSOCIATED WITH EACH REFLEX