The Magic of Somatics

Mar 31, 2018

Jo Pocock

This month we welcomed our speaker Sarah Guest who kindly stepped in at very short notice. Sarah provided members with an interesting and enlightening topic entitled ‘The Magic of Somatics’. If the title left some of us wondering whether this was a new style of magic trick courtesy of the Magic Circle, we were due for a surprise.

During her introduction Sarah explained how she first became interested in and subsequently involved with practising Somatics, coming from a background of chronic pain herself. She explained the history and meaning of Somatics and how we can learn to release pain and tension from our bodies, followed by some examples of the way this works.

Many of us will ‘soldier on’ and put up with pain and discomfort, convinced that we have tried everything. We often blame our age for our bodies being stiff, but these problems are not age-related. By re-educating our old movement patterns we can begin to create balance between the front, back and sides of our bodies. After all, we have learned our patterns of movement from an early age, through learning to walk, feeding ourselves, riding a bike or driving a car. Sarah reminded us that our muscles only contract and relax, they do not stretch. She then went on to demonstrate this statement by engaging us all in a series of exercises, with most of us experiencing a definite improvement in our ability to move in a particular way.

Sarah explained how our muscles can become so tight that no matter what we do they simply won’t relax – they have developed something called Sensory-Motor Amnesia. When we learn new movement patterns it happens in the motor cortex of the brain and once we habituate the new movement it gets stored in our sub-cortex. We need to ‘wake-up’ those muscles stuck on ‘cruise control’.

So how do we make these changes? Pandiculation is the main technique used in Somatics. It is what we see cats and dogs doing after periods of rest. They contract and relax their muscles several times a day, waking up their nervous systems ready for action. Our human version of this is the full body ‘yawn’ we do in the morning. In Somatics this technique is used to move through three main reflex patterns, retraining the brain to retrain our muscles as follows:

Red Light Reflex: The tightening of muscles at the front of the body, which along with the reaction to fear or anxiety is becoming more known as a muscular adaptation to excessive computer and mobile phone use. This slumped forward posture can lead to chronic neck, shoulder and back pain.

Green Light Reflex: The muscles in the back of the body contract to move us forward. When walking or running, standing or sitting up straight we can overly contract our back muscles, and these can become habituated, leading to back, neck and shoulder pain, disc issues and sciatica.

Trauma Reflex: This is the reflex of pain avoidance. Muscles on the sides of the body contract in response to injury or accidents to further avoid pain. Also, daily stresses like holding a child on one hip or activities where you use one side of the body more than the other e.g. playing tennis, golf or playing an instrument.

All these reflexes can be un-learned through Somatic movement. We thanked Sarah for a fascinating and very educational talk, with many members interested in attending future classes.

We have a variety of events to look forward to in the coming months and, as always, we welcome new guests to attend one or more of our meetings. Our next meeting will be at 7.30 pm on Thursday 19 April at the Beambridge Inn, when we will have a talk on Hestercombe gardens.

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