Sensations You May Notice When Beginning Your Clinical Somatics Practice
The main effect of Clinical Somatics exercises is the release of chronic muscle tension. But along with the retraining of the nervous system can come a variety of sensations—some of which may be surprising and even unpleasant. Please read this article if you’ve just started practicing Clinical Somatics exercises and are experiencing any of the following sensations:
- Nausea, dizziness, feeling off-balance
- Muscle twitching
- Muscle soreness or pain
- Emotional release
- Lack of sensation or awareness of certain muscles
Nausea, dizziness, feeling off-balance:
These three sensations are all typically due to the vestibular system being affected, both by practicing the exercises and by the shifts in posture experienced after practicing the exercises. The vestibular system creates our sense of balance and spatial orientation so that we can coordinate our movement while staying balanced.
When you start practicing a new type of movement, start releasing habitual muscle tension, and start standing and moving in new ways, your vestibular system’s “status quo” can easily be affected by the new incoming sensory information. Feeling dizzy, off-balance, or nauseous should be temporary. If you experience these symptoms, you can skip any specific exercises that cause them, do shorter practices, or do fewer repetitions of each exercise.
Muscle twitches—quick, painless, often repetitive contractions—can occur in muscles when they start to release. As muscles start to “wake up” and release after being stuck in a frozen, contracted state, sometimes the nervous system doesn’t know whether to keep them tight or let them relax! The nervous system is dealing with conflicting messages, and the result is muscle twitching. The twitching should be temporary, and you can take it as a sign of progress.
Muscle fatigue may also cause twitching. If you feel that you’re working hard while practicing Somatics exercises and you experience twitching afterward, I suggest practicing the exercises more gently and doing fewer repetitions.
If you experience muscle cramps, please read What really causes muscle cramps?
Muscle soreness or pain:
When you start practicing Clinical Somatics exercises, muscle soreness can occur for two common reasons. First, as muscles release and begin working through longer ranges of motion, they are moving in ways that they haven’t in a long time; it’s like doing a new kind of workout for them. So, they will be sore from doing this new work.
Second, as you release muscles, it affects the alignment and movement of your entire body. You may feel soreness or discomfort in seemingly unrelated parts of your body as your posture and movement patterns change, and muscles throughout your body begin working in new ways.
It is also possible for soreness or a mild “crampy” feeling to occur as a result of contracting too hard in the pandiculations. While contracting hard can feel good and can be beneficial, you do have to become sensitive to how hard you can safely contract your muscles.
Pain, above and beyond muscle soreness, can also occur. Clinical Somatics exercises increase internal awareness and sensation, so existing sensations can become heightened. And as muscles release and the alignment of your skeleton shifts, you may find that pressure is put on joints and nerves in new ways. Any new pain sensation you experience should be temporary, and should be relieved as you continue to make progress in releasing your tight muscles and improving your alignment.
If you experience bothersome soreness or increased pain, I recommend easing yourself into this practice very gradually. You may need to move more slowly through the courses than the set pace in order to allow your nervous system to gradually start letting go of tension and the tissues of your body to adapt to this new way of moving.
Some approaches you can take to ease yourself into this practice are:
Practice less often (every other day or even less).
Do very short practices (just 5-10 minutes), and/or do fewer repetitions of each exercise than I demonstrate in the videos.
Practice only one exercise per day so that you become aware of the effects that each exercise has on your body. Be sure to do the Standing Awareness exercise before and after, so that you can notice the immediate effects that each exercise has on your body.
Skip any exercises that cause bothersome soreness or increased pain; you can always come back to them in the future.
Practice the exercises as micromovements.
Simply visualize yourself doing the movements that are challenging for you.
To aid in this process, you can also do other things to relax your muscles, like take a hot bath, use a heating pad, or take a magnesium supplement.
Above all, always remember that you are in charge of this process, and only you can decide what is the best thing to do for your body each day. This process is about you becoming the expert in your own body! So, keep exploring and sensing what you feel each day. With continued exploration, you will unravel your patterns of muscle tension and discover the answers to all of the “puzzles” in your body.
If you experience increased pain when you first begin your Clinical Somatics practice, and you feel confident that the underlying cause of your pain is chronic muscle tension, it may be helpful to read After a Crisis of Pain, written by Mia Juhn.
A few students report experiencing a temporary headache when they start practicing the exercises, most often after doing the Back Lift for the first time. This is likely due to increased blood flow.
If you experience a headache repeatedly from the same exercise, feel free to skip that exercise and come back to it in the future. You can also try practicing it just once instead of several times, practice it as a micromovement, or simply visualize yourself doing the movement.
If your headache persists or is worrisome, please seek medical attention.
It is completely normal to feel a release of emotions as you do the exercises, because we hold our emotions and stress as muscle tension in our bodies. When we feel scared or experience chronic stress, we tighten our muscles in order to protect ourselves. These patterns of muscle tension can become deeply learned by our nervous system over time, and tend to persist even after the source of trauma or stress has passed.
As you release your muscle tension, the emotions associated with your muscular patterns may come to the surface. Remember that you are in charge of this process; so if the emotions are overwhelming, you can choose to do shorter practices, practice less often, or only practice certain exercises.
If you want to learn more about the relationship between anxiety and muscle tension, read
The Life-Changing Link Between Anxiety and Muscle Tension.
If you want to learn more about how body-centered therapies can be helpful in healing after trauma, read Why Body-Centered Therapies Help Heal Post-Traumatic Stress.
If you can’t feel certain muscles working or aren’t aware of your internal sensations:
As we build up muscle tension over the years, we gradually develop what Thomas Hanna called “sensorimotor amnesia.” This means that as we lose voluntary control of our muscles, we also lose the ability to sense them. Not to worry! Sensation is easily regained with regular practice.
As you practice Clinical Somatics exercises slowly, consciously, and with your eyes closed, you will start to notice more and more sensations in your body. You’ll notice where you feel muscle tension, and you’ll notice the sensation of your muscles feeling more relaxed after pandiculating them. You’ll gain awareness and control of the muscles that are contracting and releasing in each exercise. (If you’re having trouble sensing a muscle that’s supposed to be working, rest your hand on it while you do the exercise—the sensation of touch will help you gain internal awareness of the contraction.)
As you continue to practice the exercises, you’ll also become more aware of how you’re standing and moving throughout the day. You can learn about the process of retraining your proprioception (internal sense of body position) in How to Retrain Your Proprioception and Posture.