Soma is the new cutting-edge understanding of what it means to be human. It’s a completely new paradigm that will change our understanding of healing, which will change everything. Clinical Somatic Education is a “new” modality that includes simple ways to prevent and do away with about 50 percent of all “dis-ease.” By employing our consciousness to integrate our brain/body (which are really one) and by employing simple movements called pandiculations, we can change our posture and radically improve our health.
Everything in the universe is moving even though to our eyes it may look still. The Soma (you and me) are like atoms. In fact, we are made of atoms. We are always moving, whirling, twirling like everything else in the universe. Sometimes we forget we are part of nature and the universe. And, when you think of it, everything in the universe is whirling out of the Big Bang. This new understanding is an evolutionary leap for mankind.
Be sure to view the video in this blog post to see me demonstrate how we can use somatics and pandiculation (movement) to rapidly change our own bodies!
The word Somatic is an umbrella term that means experiencing from within. It is used to mean a large number of things. Yoga and T’ai chi are somatic, for example.
The word Somatics was coined by Thomas Hanna to mean his particular work in that field. Hanna invented some neuromuscular work based on what he knew about Feldenkrais (for Hanna was a certified Feldenkrais practitioner). But he also spent a lot of time at university studying the neuromuscular system. Because of his understanding of the neuromuscular system, he had a very inventive mind so that he took the work many steps forward. As a body of work, it is well beyond what Feldenkrais taught. As I have said before, Hanna’s work is a well-thought-out and almost spectacular (Hanna even uses the word magical) new work in the health care field. Hanna invented slow, easy movements and protocols that have the potential to dramatically improve the way human beings can function while at the same time eradicating almost 50 percent of all physical human suffering (pain) and disease. But this is only part (a wonderful part) of what he meant to include in the word Somatics. In his four-part article titled “What is Somatics,” Hanna said the goal of somatics is optimal mental and physical health.
One must remember that before Hanna became a “body worker” — a term he did not like — he was first and foremost a philosopher. I have read all of his books and writings and I am positive that had he lived he would have made his work holistic — to include the whole human soma. I know he would have taught his students more about the whole human soma and would have left his students with more information about educating the whole brain and not just the sensory motor cortex. Remember he died the first summer of his teachings. He intended to teach for three summers, which leaves two summers of work unknown to his students. As I have said I have read his books and listened to a wealth of tapes he left to posterity. I believe it is our task to take up where he left off — to continue his unfinished work guided by what he left behind and our own knowledge of philosophy, psychology and religion. (He attended divinity school also).
submitted by Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
The following was taken from the book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement Flexibility and Health by Thomas Hanna:
1. These problems are functional, not structural
The problems which on the surface look to be irreparable breakdowns of the body, are instead malfunctions of the nervous system. Viewed externally, they seem to be about bodies that are degenerating; but viewed internally, these are brains that have lost control of their bodily functions. To use my own terms, these are somatic problems — not bodily problems. They are functional problems — not structural problems. These are problems solvable by the patient — not by the doctor. These are problems reflecting loss of control from the inside of the human system — not a deterioration of bodily parts at the outside of the human system.
2. The functional problems are cases of sensory-motor amnesia.
People who come to me are suffering from non-medical problems. They are outside the reach of medical help, whose services they have exhausted. They are not suffering from infectious diseases, or physical lesions, or biochemical imbalance. They are suffering from a loss of memory; the memory of what it feels like to move certain muscles of their bodies, and the memory of how to go about moving these same muscles.
Their memory loss is, to be specific, sensory-motor amnesia (SMA). I know this to be the case simply because their being shows how certain muscle patterns feel, and how these contractions are accomplished, resulting in an end to their problems. They regain their normal functioning and normal bodily wellbeing without any need for antibiotics for infection or surgery for lesions or drugs for biochemical imbalance.
What “somatic” means
The following information presented by Mary Ann Voorhies was taken from “Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health” and “The Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement,” both by Thomas Hanna … with a dash of Moshe Feldenkrais philosophy sprinkled in.
There are two ways in which a human being can be viewed: from the outside in, or from the inside out. Looked at from the outside, by a physiologist or a physician, human beings are different from the beings they appear to be when they view themselves from the inside out.
When one looks at another human being, one sees a “body.” But when a human being looks at himself or herself he or she is aware of feelings and movements and intentions … a quite different, fuller being. To view a body from the outside is a third-person view. But when the human views himself or herself from the inside, it is a first-person view.
When the Body Tilts
These words were taken directly from Somatics: Reawakening the Minds Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health by Thomas Hanna.
Trauma causes the sideways tilting of the trunk. Long-term stress affects the body on both sides equally. But it does not cause tilting. But trauma will affect the body only on the side where the injury occurred, causing the muscles to cringe and curve the body to one side. The trauma reflex can be triggered by any severe damage to the body. The trauma reflex can also be triggered by surgery: a spastic cringing reaction will occur in the muscles surrounding the site of surgery.
Equally frequent are trauma reflexes on one side of the body after a severe fall on the hip, or following a sprained ankle or a broken leg. The inability to put weight on the injured leg causes an automatic shift of weight to the other leg. This is not a voluntary action; it is a reflex to avoid the pain. One cannot help but “favor” the uninjured leg. Tailors as well as chiropractors will frequently tell their clients that one of their legs is shorter than the other. Out of hundreds of persons who have been told that, I have never seen one whose leg was actually shorter; in every case, the muscles of the center of the body were chronically contracted, pulling up the hip on the side …
There are as many varieties of the trauma reflex as there are ways for humans to injure themselves, ranging from the brusquely to the subtly violent and from a whiplash twist of the neck. Except in obvious cases of severe accidents and compression fractures, sciatica is a relatively common adaptive disease. Like all diseases of adaptation, it is directly related to the amount of stress and trauma that has occurred in that person’s life. The longer we live, the more chance we have to experience stress and trauma; therefore, sciatica is often associated with the diseases of aging. But it can occur at any age. As a disease of adaptation sciatica can be either avoided of remedied. Teaching people how to avoid or get rid of the sciatic condition has been one of the more interesting aspects of my work as a somatic educator. I am frequently consulted by persons with severe sciatica who are desperate to avoid surgery.
A baker in his early 40s hobbled into my office with excruciating sciatic pains down his left leg to his big toe. He was terrified of the pain, but more terrified of the back surgery that was considered “necessary.” After a few somatics sessions, he regained sensation and motor control of the lumbar and left trunk muscles … As it turned out, the disc had merely been bulging from the viselike pressure of involuntary contraction in the lower back muscles. With the contractions now under his voluntary control, the vertebrae returned to their normal condition. To perpetually celebrate the fact that his back is perfectly sound, he now makes a great show of lifting 100-pound sacks of flour into his mixing machine. He has been doing this for three years.
It is this near-miraculous capacity of human consciousness and the central nervous system to learn and adapt that is the theme of this book. We are capable of far more than we believe ourselves to be. As we learn more and more about the ways in which brain functions control, maintain, repair, and protect our bodies, we come more and more to respect this marvelous capacity we have. We are far less dependent and helpless than we believe ourselves to be; which is to say, we are far more responsible and self-governing than we know.
Listen to Thomas Hanna’s words:
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by Mary Ann Voorhies
Thomas Hanna has the following to say about lifespan physical and mental fitness in his book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health:
“A common myth of aging is that, after the first flush of youth, we steadily begin to lose both our sexual and our mental competence. But this is not what really happens …
“Our knowledge about early sexuality comes from Alfred C. Kinsey’s groundbreaking report of some three decades ago. But Kinsey’s survey only included persons up to 65 years old, and the number sampled at the 50+ level was minimal. This missing information was richly supplied in 1984 with the publication of the Consumers’ Union Report ‘Love, Sex, and Aging,’ which covered the age span of the 50s through the 80s. This report on 4,246 respondents covered the largest geriatric sample ever assembled for a sexuality study.
“What this report tells us is that the decline in sexual competence in later years is minimal. The frequency may not be that of the late teenager, but if we peruse the reports personal remarks the pleasure is apparently greater.
“Of all women in their 50s sampled in the Consumers’ Union Report, 93 percent were sexually active. When we match this with the 98 percent of sexually active 50-year-old males sampled, we have a picture of human beings at the half-century mark whose sexuality does not subscribe to the myth of aging.
“Given the known muscular discomforts and limitations of the average citizen after a lifetime of stress and accidental traumas, these are astonishing figures. It is just as astonishing that 91 percent of men in their 60s were sexually active, as well as 81 percent of women. (Keep in mind that this reduced percentage includes many widows.) Surely by the time the average man or woman manages reach their 70s they must be sexually exhausted. Not at all; 79 percent of all men and 65 percent of all women surveyed were still sexually active.
“So there is a decline in sexuality as humans age, but it is only a small decline and, if humans could learn how to ward off the cumulative effects of stress and trauma in their nervous systems there might be literally no decline at all.
“We are all familiar with the way some elderly people say ‘I’m not as sharp as I used to be,’ just as we know some elders have the memory dysfunction of Alzheimer’s disease. Given the rapid change of each generation during the twentieth century, we are also familiar with the way the younger generation seems to be getting smarter than the older one. But is this due to a difference in age or to something quite separate: a difference in culture and education?
“There was no way of definitely answering this question until a difficult scientific task could be attempted: to launch a longitudinal study which measured the intellectual abilities of a single group of people throughout their later adulthood. Keeping track of a large group of persons and retesting them over a 20- to 30-year period is a formidable task, and only a few such studies have ever been completed. Eight were published in a unique research report titled ‘Longitudinal Studies of Adult Psychological Development.” Its editor was K. Warner Schaie, whose own 21-year Seattle longitudinal study is the backbone of this book.
“Schaie’s study began with 1,656 subjects age 25 through 67, tested in the years 1956, 1963, 1970 and 1977. This group was tested and retested for the growth and decline of various intellectual abilities. It became obvious that intellectual development did not peak at 16 years. Different intellectual abilities took different lengths of time to mature. For example, the ability to think with numbers does not reach its peak until age 32; reasoning ability peaks at 39; speech and word fluency do not reach their peak until age 46; and the comprehension of verbal meaning does not reach its stride until 53 years. Apparently aging is not a period of decline but one of improvement and development. This was a stunning discovery …
“Schaie pinpoints, in addition to a flexible personality style, two other conditions for continuing high mental abilities: first, a favorable, less stressful personal situation; and second, freedom from arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Schaie roundly confirmed the general thesis of this book when he said, ‘I find myself concluding that the use-it-or-lose-it principal applies not only to the maintenance of muscular flexibility but to the maintenance of flexible lifestyles and a related high level of intellectual performance as well.”
Listen to Thomas Hanna in this excerpt from his opening remarks to his first and only training class in 1990. He was killed in an automobile accident on the last day of class. That was 26 years ago and STILL very few people know about Hanna Somatics. The millions are still suffering!
by Mary Ann Voorhies
The back muscles and the action response
Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., recognized a phenomenon common in industrialized societies. He labeled it the Green Light Reflex — also known as the Landau Response — and here’s what he had to say about it.
“People are always amazed to discover that they are doing things they are unaware of. This is because adults proudly hold onto the illusion that they are always conscious of what they are doing. For not to be conscious of what one is doing strikes on as a sign of incompetence, even irresponsibility. Nevertheless, these acts that we are oblivious of have major consequences in our lives. One of them we now know is the withdrawal response, when our abdomen, shoulders, and neck cringe in apprehension — the Red Light Reflex. There is another response which also occurs consciously but this time when we feel called upon not to withdraw but to act: the Green Light Reflex.
“The Green Light Reflex could almost be thought of as necessary to industrial society; for to create an industrial economy, this reflex must be triggered constantly throughout the entire population. It is just as much a part of twentieth-century society as alarm clocks, calendars, quotas, sales commissions, and deadlines, each of which acts as a spur to this deeply imbedded reflex.
“In our society, 80 percent of the adult population suffer back pain. Apparently, the progress of technology is based on progressively deteriorating backs. This is ironic, because, in our contemporary technological society, the reward from escaping from back-breaking labor should be freedom from such physical pain. Compounding the irony, twentieth-century medicine has been spectacularly successful in extending our longevity to the limit our genes will allow. At the same time, however, it has been spectacularly unsuccessful in combating — even understanding — the epidemic we now see of chronic pain in the skull, neck, shoulders, back and buttocks of the entire adult population. As René Caillet, a well known specialists in medical rehabilitation, observes, ‘Low back pain remains an enigma of modern society and a great dilemma for the medical profession.’ It is the most common disorder for which people seek medical help. Moreover, it is the most common cause of worker absenteeism in industrial societies. It is the general disorder for which the largest amount of money is spent on insurance and pharmaceutical and medical services — in the billions ….
“We have not solved this problem, because we have not — until now — understood it. And we have not understood it because the answer has been hidden from us, as it were in the recesses of our consciousness; or, to be more precise, beneath the conscious control of the cerebral cortex, wherein voluntary movements originate. It lies hidden within the lower regions of the brain in a reflex that is so familiar, so unconscious, and so human that it is as invisible to us and yet ever present as the air we breathe. It is a reflex that is very specific in its function: It readies us for action. And, because we live in a world where programs of reliable and precisely scheduled actions are the necessary oil of the wheels of commerce, this reflex of ours is constantly being triggered until it has become habituated as part of our bodily functioning ….”
“The Green Light Reflex is the opposite of the Red Light Reflex, as both a muscular activity and an adaptational function. The Red Light Reflex contracts the anterior flexor muscles, curling the body forward. The Green Light Reflex contracts the posterior extensor muscles, lifting and arching the back in the opposite direction. The adaptational function of the Red Light Reflex is protective; it is a withdrawal from the world. The Green Light Reflex is assertive; its function is action, and it too is adaptational. One makes us stop, and the other makes us go. They are in balance, and both are necessary for our survival. They are equally necessary to our sense of well-being ….
“From infancy through childhood and on through adolescence, the action response is triggered over and again as youngsters propel themselves into the world around them. The Green Light Reflex centered in the lower back, unconsciously precedes and prepares her for every positive action. Their activity is spontaneous and usually joyful. But as they grow, they begin to learn another reason for action: responsibility. They have to do their homework. They have to do their chores. They have to take baths. They have to go to school. They have to perform more and more actions they are not spontaneously motivated to perform. They are learning what it means to become responsible adults. The Green Light Reflex is still being triggered but the thrill is fast disappearing. The muscles of the back are being activated increasingly toward the responsibilities of life. The more responsible one is, the more often the back muscles are triggered ….
“The role of the adult differs among different cultures; some are more stressful than others. Within the industrial societies of the twentieth century adulthood is very stressful. The specific effect is the habitual contraction of the muscles of the back.
“In our society, most people begin to “get old” early in life. Our technology lets us live a long life, but it also condemns us to live out those years in discomfort and fatigue. And industrial society is fueled by the energy of the Green Light Reflex, which is triggered incessantly. This relentless repetition guarantees that the muscular retractions of the reflex will be constant and habitual. The action response is so steady that eventually we cease to notice it. This is sensory-motor amnesia, and once it takes over we can no longer control the Green Light Reflex. All we feel is fatigue, soreness, and pain — in the back of our heads, in our necks, our shoulders, upper back, lower back, and buttocks.”
These words were taken directly from Hanna’s book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health. Hanna’s answer to this predicament was the practice of clinical somatic education, a legacy continued by his followers today.
by Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
Following are the words of Thomas Hanna, quoted directly from his book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health. No one can explain the red light reflex better than Hanna himself.
The abdominal muscles and the withdrawal response
“It is surprising that a single lower-brain reflex could be the cause of so many of the body changes associated with aging. It is also enlightening, because it helps us toward both understanding and overcoming the myth of aging,
“For many decades neurobiologists have been fascinated with this human reflex because it also occurs throughout the entire animal kingdom. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘startle response;” and other times it is referred to as the ‘escape response” because it aids the animal in avoiding or evading a threat. It is a primitive brain reflex of survival. Its action in the central nervous system is usually mediated by ‘giant nerve fibers” large enough to allow the nerve impulse to travel more quickly. It is a ‘rapid motor act” that is built into the circuitry of even very simple organisms, helping them to survive by rapidly withdrawing them from danger.
“When you touch a sea anemone, its circle of small tentacles simply retracts, drawing back from the threatening stimulus. Fish respond with fast getaways, crayfish with a sudden tailflip response.
“Even in complex animals like humans, the reflex is quick and reflective. If a woman walking down the street hears the sudden explosion of a car backfiring, this is what happens: Within 14 milliseconds the muscles of her jaw begin to contract; this is immediately followed about twenty milliseconds later by a contraction of her eyes and brow but, before her eyes have squeezed shut, her shoulder and neck muscles (the trapezius) have received a neural impulse at 25 milliseconds to contract, raising her shoulders and bringing her head forward. At 60 milliseconds, her elbows bend, and then her palms begin to turn downward. These descending neural impulses continue by contracting the abdominal muscle, which brings her trunk forward, simultaneously pulling down her ribcage and stopping her breathing. And, immediately after that, her knees bend and point inward, while her ankles roll her feet inward. The muscles of the crotch tighten, and the toes lift upward. This sums up the red light reflex — the body’s withdrawal from danger. The body is flexed and crouched, almost as if to fall into a fetal posture …
Why don’t many physicians know about sensory motor amnesia if it causes so much pain, disease, and postural distortion? Thomas Hanna explains this in Chapter 1 in his book Somatics. Here in chapter 1 is a case study of one client, (Barney), who had chronic pain in his right side:
“In addition, he would frequently lose his balance and stumble. When his physician heard his complaint she ordered x-rays but she saw no obvious deformity. She concluded that 42 years of vigorous wear and tear had caused arthritic deterioration of the hip joint. She told Barney, who was a tall man, that he had arthritis, typical of the aging process, and that he had to learn to live with it. She prescribed aspirin and bed rest on days when the pain was extreme.
Not satisfied with this treatment, Barney went to a chiropractor, who told him that the bones of his lower spine were out of alignment and needed adjustment. He adjusted Barney’s spine, but the hip continued to hurt. Barney then went to an acupuncturist, who determined which meridians were involved and inserted needles in the appropriate spots. That relieved Barney’s pain, but four days later it came back. So, with this history, which is typical, Barney presented himself to me (Hanna). He had heard that I do something unusual called Somatic education, which no one quite understood but which nonetheless was said to be highly successful. Having heard his story, I wanted to find where the pain was. Barney pointed to the back of his right pelvis in the areas between the hip joint and the sacrum. I felt the area. The line of pain was in the gluteus medius muscle, which extends across the buttocks from the top of the thigh to the back center of the pelvis. It is the muscle that we usually contract when standing on one leg. It braces the leg against the pelvis to maintain stability while we lean over to one side. Barney’s hip joint was not painful either to the touch or during the movement. It was the gluteus medius muscle that was painfully sore. I informed Barney that he did not have arthritis, but had a painfully overworked muscle that was sore from over-contraction. “Why did my physician tell me I had arthritis, he asked? I told him I did not know. I knew that x-rays do not show muscle tissue, painful or not, and I knew that it was common for physicians to tell patients suffering with chronic and medically incurable pain that they had arthritis and there was nothing to do for it. The ancient myth of aging is firmly embedded in modern medicine.
Clinical somatic education, otherwise known as Hanna Somatic education, makes use of a major “mind/body” discovery. Its use and practice can prevent degeneration, stiffness, aches and pains, certain diseases and age-old health breakdowns in our middle age and older populations. It has the power to dramatically counteract the aging process. But, not only can it counteract the usual affects of aging, it also has the power to REVERSE them. Now, thanks to Thomas Hanna, we have an easy internal way to avoid the decline of bodily function, which is now usually thought of as the curse of getting older.
The fact is that during the course of our lives, our sensory motor systems respond to daily stresses and traumas with SPECIFIC MUSCULAR REFLEXES. These deep stress brain reflexes, when repeatedly triggered, create habitual tightening and shortening muscular contractions, which we cannot voluntarily relax. These muscular habits become so deeply ingrained, habituated, involuntary and unconscious that eventually insidiously we no longer remember how to move about freely. The result is stiffness, soreness, pain and a restricted range of motion. Along with this also in many cases the posture becomes distorted. Furthermore, the habitually shortened tight muscles impinge and pull on our organs, bones, tendons, ligaments and other bodily structures. This habituated state of “forgetfulness” is called SENSORY MOTOR AMNESIA (a state in which the sensory motor cortex has lost control of certain muscles and muscle groups). It is this insidious unconscious process and its secondary effects that we falsely think of as “just growing older.” Actually this “old age” is a STRESS-induced phenomenon that can really happen at any age. With the new knowledge of somatic education, humankind need not become infirm and decrepit.
Presenting Clinical Somatic Education
(Otherwise known as Hanna Somatics, created by Thomas Hanna, Ph.D.)
by Mary Ann Gray Voorhies, Clinical Somatic Educator
Clinical Somatic Education, according to Thomas Hanna in his article of the same name, is as follows. These are his words:
The flowering of a series of developments that have led to a discipline that is as consistently effective as any branch of medical science … This type of somatic education is the use of sensory-motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of one’s own physiological process. It is somatic, meaning that the learning occurs within the individual as an internalized process. Prior to the advent of this teacher/learner form of somatic education, the same self-transformatory events have been commonplace in human history.
“Miraculous” cures and healings and radical changes in physical skills and health are the common lore of martial arts and religious history. Because the mechanisms of such healings performed by shamans across the globe were hidden within the internal process of individuals, they have always (heretofore) had the aura of mystery — the mythology of “good” and “bad” spirits or “good” or “bad” energies. It is this same hiddenness that causes the work of 20th century somatic educators to be “miraculous” in the same mysterious way that the pre-scientific world viewed shamanic work. In a series of articles it will be my task to reveal to the reader an understanding of the somatic world in general — and of somatic education in particular, so that the mystery and mythology can be dispelled.[Read more...]
Somatics, in the tradition of Thomas Hanna, is a powerful new discipline in the field of health care. Somatics (also called Clinical Somatic Education) gives us the technology and the tools that enable us to learn to control our own physiology. Now, for the first time in history, we have the POWER to change our own bodies in relatively rapid ways that can dramatically improve our health and well being. For the first time in history, thanks to Thomas Hanna, we have at our disposal simple ways to become victorious over the negative effects of accumulated stress or trauma on the human body.