Unique Self Somatology by Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
I KNOW the great importance of Somatatology because I owe my life to it. It “saved ” my life more than once. Somatics created by Thomas Hanna (by learning from Moshe Feldenkrais and modern medicine) figured out how to change the brain (the sensory motor cortex) and how to reprogram the neuromuscular system easily and quickly by doing easy to do movements called pandiculations. These movements can be done by children and the elderly and everyone in between. These groups of slow movements are sometimes called FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION. They bring the “body” back into balance and therefore can change posture and prevent and eradicate about 50 % of diseases and terrible suffering that have heretofore plagued humankind since the the beginning of time.
Somatology is a “new type of western yoga” that is extremely faster than yoga to transform, prevent pain, and produce suppleness.
In Hanna`s paper “What is Somatics?” he explains that somatics is not only about “mind” and “body”, but indeed, mind and body are not separate but one entity. Whatever is going on in the “mind” is also going on in the “body.” In this same paper he starts off by saying the healthy person has optimal MENTAL and PHYSICAL health. (It is holistic.)
The practice of somatology leads to a process of greater and greater wholeness and overall health to reach what Hanna called the Fair State.
The practice and popularity of somatology will lead to the positive evolution of the human race. The earth is fast becoming a village and we are all citizens of this village. If we are to survive as a species it is imperative the we learn to respect and love each other and experience the feelings of the brotherhood of man (and women).
Then when we reach this Fair State we also reach the Unique Self stage of spiritual evolution.
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This is THE Thomas Hanna demonstrating just how somatics works to soften, release and lengthen tight uncomfortable and even painful muscles simply through the use of movements called pandiculations.
In his book Bodies in Revolt Hanna predicted the EVOLUTION REVOLUTION that The Center for Integral Wisdom is now spearheading. Since he wanted to make his work holistic, he would be proud that we are on the cutting edge of such work.
I also believe that he would be excited that are calling that holistic work Unique Self Somatology–a more advanced and more spiritual form of his work.
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Since the beginning of recorded history human beings have been harnessing the environment around us very successfully. Up until this time we have focused outward. We have come to a point, however, where we are beginning to look inwardly and harness ourselves. Human beings are beginning to be more self-observant and are inventing techniques to give us the capacity to recreate ourselves and heal ourselves through various forms of somatic education.
Thanks to Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Hanna we now can overcome negative conditioning that causes us to suffer both bodily and mentally. Because of these two pioneers we now have become empowered to control our own physiology. In his book titled The Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement, Hanna writes of two pioneers in somatic education—F. Matthias Alexander and Elsa Gindler—stating that they confirm the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. They had no other option.
“If Alexander was to improve his stage career he had to find a way to improve his voice. He decided to study himself and diagnose what was wrong. To the end, he used the simplest form of biofeedback device: a mirror. He stood before it and watched his own movements. Eventually he saw that his neck was distorted … that it was a distortion of his throat passage, causing him to strain his vocal chords. This observation of the typical, but unconscious, movements of the somatic retraction was the beginning of the Alexander Technique.
“George Bernard Shaw concluded that the Alexander Technique was the beginning of a far-reaching science. Later Aldous Huxley was to say, ‘Alexander’s technique gives us the things we have been looking for … a method for the creative conscious control of the whole psychophysical organism.
It is important to understand that Unique Self Somatology has its roots in ancient Hinduism, yoga, Christianity and the discoveries of Feldenkrais… Clinical Somatic Education is created based on solid science. Ancient Hinduism, though it seems not to be so scientifiic, REALLY IS. It is just that now we have the scientific knowledge and words like neuroplasticity and psychoneuroimmunology to explain what Hindu stories and mythology really meant. Just as Jesus used stories and parables to teach “universal Truths” so did many of the other cultures.
As I explained before, William James wrote volumes about this in the last century but he couldn`t prove. NOW WE CAN!!!
Also carl Jung traveled the world studying many of the various religions. He came to the conclusion that many were teaching the same thing. That being–through various SPIRITUAL SOMATIC PRACTICES we could attain the spiritual consciousness of God–the God within.
Also Ken Wilber has written extensively about this.
In my own tradition, Methodism, John Wesley also wrote about practicing the METHOD to attain this. That is why they are called Methodists.
There is an old Zen saying “There are many paths to the moon”.
Thomas Hanna, the creator of Clinical Somatic Education says in his book The Lyrical Existentialists that modern western somatic philosophy is identical to the philosophy of ancient Hinduism.
In the tradition of the Center for Integral Wisdom we call the HOLY GOAL Unique Self Somatology which encompasses all of the wonderful paths to the holy within and all of the wonderful practices that aid us in reaching our goal. This includes singing, chanting, praying, studying the dharma, yoga, Feldenkrais, somatics and many others.
In the following article taken from Yoga Journal you will get a taste of our various somatic practices (methods) that make new neural pathways in our brains, which transcends the “ego” and transports us into the blissful and erotic Holy–the holy that makes us WHOLE.
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Following is an excerpt from The Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement by Thomas Hanna:
As many of you may already know, Clinical Somatic Education, also known as Hanna Somatics, is based on the findings and discoveries of Moshe Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais called his work functional integration. As such, the improvements that come about are as much psychological as they are physiological.
Somatic education involves the systemic change of the entire human being. The personality, the directions, the intentions of the person are modified. Feldenkrais understood that the human soma is a neutrally organized cybernetic system that is self-adjusting, self-correcting, and self-improving — if that system is given new information with which to interact, and if that system is allowed to become sensorally aware that there are other options than the ways in which it habitually acts. The human soma is self-improving because it has an ancient, built-in bias toward efficiency.
(which will aid in the evolutionary unfolding of homo universalis)
Let me start off by saying that you might think that I am jumping from one subject to another. Since many of us have been conditioned to believe that the body and the mind are separate, we have a tendency to understand things in a certain way. What I will try to do in this paper is to weave these two seemingly separate entities together so that the reader will understand that they are really ONE.
Many of the world’s religions teach that the spiritual journey involves transcending the ego. What is the ego? It is the learned historical self that tyrannizes us. We become enslaved by habits, fixed beliefs and knee-jerk reactions that don’t serve us. When we are under the tyranny of the ego we are enslaved by habitual perceptions and ways of being. These ways of being, which are these habituated patterns of acting, are the somatic structure of what we call personality and character (see Thomas Hanna’s “Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement”). If we understand this, we realize that we are our own worst enemies. When we are under the ego’s control, we are on automatic. We are puppets or automatons. The only way out is so look within.
For a more comprehensive description for what the ego actually is and does, see the book “Your Unique Self” by Marc Gafni. Thomas Hanna also wrote a book about the how the ego tyrannizes us. The title of this book is “The End of Tyranny.” Hanna also writes about how sensory motor amnesia tyrannizes us and causes bodily pain the disease. So, the whole human (SOMA) becomes tyrannized by habits — habituation that enslaves us in every way — body, mind, and spirit. This is known as the false self. It is my purpose in this article to show how we can gain freedom from this inner tyranny that causes so much human suffering. It is also my purpose to show a way out of this suffering through SOMATIC EDUCATION.
By Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
Unique Self Somatology is a path that is not tied to any one culture. The main thrust of the practice is to overcome “bad” habits or habits that do not serve us well. In somatic language this is called habituation. The goal of this somatic learning is somatic freedom. It occurs by reprogramming the whole brain. Clinical Somatic Education is a discipline that helps to reprogram the sensory motor cortex. When the reprogramming of the frontal lobe/neocortex occurs and when both of these disciplines are practiced together, this is called somatology or holistic somatics. The reprogramming of the neocortex is commonly known as growth and spirituality.
I have practiced both of these disciplines and am certified in both of them. Education for Living seminars is a series of workshops that helps to provide somatic experiential learning that leads to more wisdom, self-understanding, love for others, and somatic freedom from automatic knee-jerk behavior. It also leads to freedom from emotional suffering as clinical somatics leads to freedom from physical suffering. My passion in life is to help to spread these two new fields of somatic learning.
Just as Marc Gafni talks about the democratization of enlightenment, I too, envision through the practice of these two somatic disciplines that the process of becoming more healed and whole human beings can happen at a remarkable rate. This freedom from our own conditioning is what Thomas Hanna called THE FAIR STATE. In the article WHAT IS SOMATICS? Thomas Hanna said that somatics is optimal, physical, and MENTAL health. He also says that this is a great leap for mankind and because of the knowledge that we have now, we have landed upon a new continent. In his book BODIES IN REVOLT, he talks about the fact that the human race is evolving and mutating. And it is because of our new somatic understanding that somatology will provide a giant leap for mankind.
By Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
In my last blog post I talked about what usually precedes spiritual growth, and the answer was pain or suffering. In Thomas Hanna’s book “The Lyrical Existentialists” he quotes a well known Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who was also a psychologist and peer to Friedrich Nietzsche — both of whom came to generally the same conclusions about spiritual growth and health and unhealthy states of mind. It was the concept of the healthy individual that guided them in all researches. The working concept that both of these scholars had of health was that it was a condition in which all constituent aspects of an individual’s existence are allowed to have full play in the conscious life. The implications of such a concept are that the given drives, impulses, emotions and frustrations experienced by the human psyche are not to be thwarted, ignored, or repressed but rather are to be consciously faced, expressed, and accepted. There is usually some event. The event does not take place in the world that is outside of us. It takes place in individual consciousness. Hence, by the very nature of things, can be known only within each of us in our solitude.
“My soul is so heavy that thought can no more sustain it. Over by inmost there broods a depression, an anxiety, that presages an earthquake.” These are the words of an individual in psychological trouble: something in the world has failed him or her, disappointed him, abandoned him, something is not right. There are the classical literary figures of Marie Beaumarchais is Goethe’s “Clavigo,” Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” and Margaret in Goethe’s “Faust.” All of them have found something in the world in which they gave themselves in complete confidence and passion, and all of them were betrayed and came to grief. The spectacle of these women being deceived by their extraordinary lovers is the concrete exemplification of how the individual can be deceived by the world.
My purpose in writing this series of articles is to show the way these two concepts can be weaved together to explain how the evolutionary New Human will be able to evolve much more quickly. Using these distinctions together the Center’s goal of the democratization of enlightenment can be accomplished much sooner and on a much larger and more accelerated scale.
The Unique Self, according to Marc Gafni’s book Your Unique Self, is what the human evolves into when he trance-ends the ego. It’s not that we get rid of the ego. We can never get rid of the ego. We all need our egos. But when we reach the Unique Self, the ego takes a back seat and we no longer identify with it. Marc goes on to explain by our Unique Self is like no other Unique Self. We all have different and unique perspectives and gifts that only we can give. “I have noticed that this Unique Self, which has a unique perspective, is like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Since we’ve all lived different lives with different experiences and have been on different paths, we are all different observers. So, no two of us is alike. I have noticed that most all the spiritual traditions teach that we must transcend the ego, which is the false learned small self. Maybe these traditions don’t use those words, but here is an example of what I mean. “Jesus said unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3.)” Saint Paul said in one of his letters that when this happens “we become A NEW CREATION – behold all things are new (2 Corinthians 5:17).[Read more…]
Reported by: Mary Ann Gray Voorhies
This is what Thomas Hanna said to his student in his class of 1990.
We as students practice with each other so that we can experience what the sensations are like with our clients. This experience guides us how to help others. These are not just manipulative techniques. Our experience guides us. We do this so that we can learn to control our hands in such a way that we can almost tell the effect on the client. It’s important to understand what that other person feels. Become very aware. How can I help this person? This leads us into an understanding of what Carl Rogers came up with as an innovator in psychotherapy in relating to another person.
Instead of the one person imposing an authoritarian stance on the other person, we as somatic educators must learn unconditional positive regard for this person as though we were that person. It’s not that you pretend to love this person but to always have RESPECT for the person no matter who that person is. For if we have this attitude we realize that this person is me. Very few people do this.
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.