What are Clinical Somatics exercises?
Clinical Somatics exercises work directly with the nervous system to release chronic muscular tension, relieve chronic pain, and improve posture and movement. The exercises are extremely slow and gentle, and are appropriate for all ages and fitness levels.
The exercises that I teach at Somatic Movement Center were developed by Thomas Hanna. Hanna used his background in the Feldenkrais Method combined with his knowledge of neurophysiology to develop a highly effective system of neuromuscular education that retrains the nervous system through an active learning process. Hanna’s method is known as both Clinical Somatic Education and Hanna Somatic Education.
Clinical Somatics exercises allow you to prevent, alleviate, and recover from many common conditions such as chronic muscle and joint pain, disc problems, sciatica, scoliosis, rounded posture, plantar fasciitis, temporomandibular joint disorders, and more. If your condition is being caused by the way you’re using your body—as most musculoskeletal conditions are—then Clinical Somatics exercises can help you.
How can you learn Clinical Somatics exercises?
You can learn Clinical Somatics exercises by attending private lessons or group classes with a certified Clinical Somatic Educator or Hanna Somatic Educator. If you don’t live near a certified educator, you can learn the exercises in the comfort of your home with online courses.
How you can get the most out of practicing Clinical Somatics exercises:
1. Set aside time and space to practice the exercises so that you don’t feel rushed or distracted. You should practice the exercises in a quiet, private space, especially while you are first learning them. If you live with people, ask them to not interrupt you while you are practicing the exercises. Focused attention is very important to the learning process.
2. Any amount of time is better than nothing. If you only have five minutes, take the five minutes to focus completely on just one or two exercises. Personally, I like to spend twenty to thirty minutes every day doing the exercises. Some days you will have more time than others. Make the most of the time that you have by moving slowly and focusing completely on the movements that you have chosen to practice that day.
3. Find space in your home where you can lie on the floor, on a carpet or exercise mat. You need to be comfortable, but you also need to be able to get sensory feedback from a fairly firm surface. A bed is too soft, and a bare hardwood floor is too hard. Make sure you can stretch out your arms and legs without restriction.
4. I recommend closing your eyes and having no background noise while practicing the exercises. Closing your eyes removes all the visual information that your eyes automatically take in. Keeping your eyes closed allows your brain to focus completely on your internal sensations, making the learning process more effective. Likewise, practicing the exercises in silence removes all of the auditory information that your brain would otherwise have to process.
5. Clinical Somatics exercises should be performed as slowly as possible. If this is the first time you’ve practiced Clinical Somatics exercises, you’ll notice that the movements are probably much slower and more gentle than other techniques you’ve done. The magic of these movements is in the slowness. The slower you move, the more effectively you can retrain your nervous system to release chronic muscle contraction and stand and move in a new way. Since the movements are so slow and gentle, you may not feel like you’re doing very much—but when you stand up at the end of your practice, you’ll feel the effects of what you’ve learned.
6. Remember that Clinical Somatics exercises are not stretches. You will be gently contracting and then very slowly releasing your muscles. It’s important to remember that the exercises are not stretches, and you should not be feeling the sensation of pulling in your muscles as you practice them.
7. Clinical Somatics exercises should be relaxing and comfortable, and they should not increase your pain. The movements are very slow and gentle. If you do experience any pain or discomfort, you can make the movement smaller, or you can adjust your position, or you can choose not to do the movement at all.
8. You’re in charge! Pay attention to what you’re feeling as you practice the exercises, and don’t overdo it. Even though Clinical Somatics exercises are extremely slow and gentle, it is possible to do too much. If you’re in a lot of pain to start with, a full class or lengthy home practice may be too much for you. Take it slow and try doing just one or two exercises per day until you become comfortable with the movements and the effect they have on your body.
9. Don’t do any intense or vigorous exercise right after practicing Clinical Somatics exercises. If you wish, you can take a slow, gentle walk afterward, and it will help you integrate everything you’ve just learned. But I don’t recommend doing any intense or vigorous exercise, because it will probably bring you right back into your old muscular habits.
10. Be aware of how other physical activities and therapies may be affecting you. I often recommend that people cut back or stop practices such as stretching, chiropractic, rolfing, deep tissue massage, and any other manipulative therapy while practicing Clinical Somatics. These therapies do not retrain the nervous system and can often cause muscles to become tighter, interfering with the somatic learning process. Also, any intense workout will likely bring you back into your old muscular habits, undoing the learning you have gained through your Clinical Somatics exercise practice. Slower, less intense workouts can give you the opportunity to integrate what you’ve learned from your Clinical Somatics exercises.
11. Always approach Clinical Somatics exercises in an exploratory manner. You will learn more effectively and make more progress if you do each movement as if it is the first time you have done it. Take the time to notice what you feel as you do each movement. Notice how it might feel different than it did the day before. If you do several repetitions, notice how each repetition feels different.
12. Enjoy the learning process—the journey—rather than focusing on the end goal. This can be the most difficult aspect of practicing Clinical Somatics. Improving the use of your body with Clinical Somatics is a life-long learning process. Some people feel the improvements that they seek very quickly, and for others it takes a longer time. The more chronic muscular tension you have, the longer it will take you to work through it. The process is much like peeling an onion. You will work through many layers—patterns of tension—along the way. You will have good days and bad days. Try to relax and enjoy the process!
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Why We’re in Pain: Why chronic musculoskeletal pain occurs–and how it can be prevented, alleviated and eliminated with Clinical Somatic Education by Sarah St. Pierre, CSE