Somatics meets massage – making body magic

I’ve really been enjoying the classic bodywork book Somatics (by Thomas Hanna) over the summer. Even though it’s 30 years old, it’s applicable right now as we listen to the stories our bodies reveal.

One of his themes is that our body can develop “sensory amnesia” – where we actually stop being able to notice when certain sets of muscles are tight.  Because we don’t notice – we can’t release them.  So over time, we compensate.  Aches and pains start sneaking in.

I explored this with a client the other day – and it was fascinating to observe where she was tight and wasn’t aware of it.  As a massage therapist, I was able to help her find tense spots and  explore ways to release them.  She was able to make connections between the current tight areas and past injuries that could have started habits of muscular tension.

Not all muscle tension comes from physical injury.  Hanna’s work included identifying basic stances of:

1) fear responses, where we contract in the face of threat; and

2) action responses, where we “muscle up” or “soldier on” with our bodies readied for action.

These are the muscular components of the fight/flight response – and often carried over by the body into postural habits long after the immediate challenge is past.

When they become part of our body’s habits, over time they can lead to all sorts of pain and inflexibility.  Our postures can influence our emotions, so long term bad posture can become part of mood disorders such as anxiety.

In the exploration with my client, we found tension in the hip flexors that was contracting her body forward, thus constricting her breathing and creating a very tense neck.   So she had to almost tilt her head backwards to see forward – not obvious, but potentially the beginning of a base of neck hump if not corrected.

With new awareness of her body’s habits, she can start to explore for more useful ways to stand and sit. Awareness is the first step in learning, and over time we’ll continue our explorations.

If you’re creaking a bit and want to keep mobile in the long term, then Somatics is a great perspective on flexibility.   The book comes complete with exercises and explorations – and a little expert observation can add to its benefits.

If you’d like to explore what Somatics can bring to the relationship between your body, your mind and your emotions, then the book is still in print. Or call me to arrange a guided investigation of your body’s “tight bits”.



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