Somatics FAQSHeidi Hadley
Yes. The mindfulness portion of Somatics is important. It allows the following to be effective and occur during your dedicated sessions:
By performing a brief body scan or walking assessment before and after the exercise, you are increasing the sensory feedback and information from the muscles to the brain. This helps to increase your awareness of what is tight, painful, asymmetrical or contracted. As a result, we start to heighten our internal awareness. This allows us to obtain further information as to which somatic exercises have really helped in our personal programme.
By becoming mindful in our practice helps us to focus clearly on the techniques. We are mindful of what is contracting, releasing and when we are to rest before repeating the sequence again. By becoming mindful, we start to also focus on the depth of our breath and allow it to work in unison with our movements.
By increasing our focus on keeping the body and nervous system relaxed, we are able to “shrink” the area in the brain associated with the “fight or flight” response. MRI scans have shown that after 8 weeks of regular mindfulness practice, the “stress” area begins to reduce in size. By training the brain further studies have shown how the pre frontal cortex of the brain begins to thicken. As a result, the connections between the decision making and focus portion of the brain start to get stronger with an increase of connections across the brain.
When we focus or become mindful on slowing the movements and incorporating the slow deep breaths, we induce relaxation to the nervous system. This allows brand new information to be absorbed and travel from the muscle to the brain to create a new neural pathway. This can only occur when the nervous system is in a relaxed state.
Yes. Firstly the best environment to perform Somatics is in a quiet area. This allows us to induce relaxation to the body. It creates an ideal environment to enhance our skills of mindfulness or focus in our practice. We are able to read the sensory feedback so much more clearly and know if we are overarching, pushing too far or reaching a pain point.
By keeping our eyes closed, we are reducing the additional stimuli to the brain and allowing our focus to be purely on our Somatic sequences. Once again, this helps to increase neural connections within the brain and thicken the pre frontal cortex.
Firstly let’s think of how we feel when we have a very tight muscle. This chronically tight feeling from the muscle is holding a great deal of tension. The brain controls all muscle contraction and at this moment in time, it is telling the muscle to stay “switched on” or remain tight.
Stretching focuses solely on the muscle. Stretching will involve specific poses with breath work. We hold and lengthen to encourage a tight muscle to increase in flexibility. But a common incidence can occur with stretching. Many will breathe through the pain they encounter. This means that the person is working through a pain point, which can lead to injury of tendons and/or ligaments. At this point we are no longer stretching a muscle, but rather holding tension and fatiguing the muscle. The pain can often be the ligaments and tendons being over exerted. We may also find the muscles cramps up on us, which has a knock on effect on the surrounding areas. This leads to discomfort in the muscles and joints. It’s not uncommon to hear people say that after stretching, they will notice their lower back or hip hurts. This is due to ligaments and tendons being overworked and affecting the joints. Stretching involves stimulating a spinal reflex, the stretch reflex. This does not retrain the muscle to switch on and off at the appropriate time. During stretching, there is no cortical learning. Stretching is passive, the message travels from the muscle to the spinal cord and back to the muscle, that’s it! So there are no long term changes to how the muscle contracts and relaxes with movement.
In Somatics we work with a muscle or group of muscles to create 3 phases: contraction, release and rest. Focus and internal awareness of these three phases are crucial for effective results. When we increase our focus, we are able to release muscles and remove tension and tightness effectively. This leads to an increase in the length and function of the muscle(s). The gentle controlled techniques of Somatics ensures the ligaments and tendons are not overly exerted. We are able to perform these 3 phases because the brain controls the muscle activity via the motor nerve to contract, release and rest. The brain informs the muscles to relax and contract with the repetitive somatic sequences to release chronically tight muscles. This will bring lasting changes to the muscles because we are using the brain to change the level of tension in the muscle. This is known as cortical learning, we are creating movement integration back in to the body. The message travels from the muscle to the spinal cord, to the brain, creates neural connections relating to that movement sequence, travels back down the spinal cord and into the muscle. This creates a full Neuromuscular communication and changes to the entire soma (whole person). As a result, muscles will lengthen effectively, improve performance in your chosen activities, reduce injury to the muscles and joints, reduce pain, increase range of movement and flexibility.
Flexibility in Somatics refers to bones, muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons. Ligaments are known for being flexible, but taking a ligament too far with stretch techniques can result in injury.
Range of movement in Somatics refers to how well the joints in the human body move. To have good range of movement, the joint must be flexible. Take for example our hip or shoulder joint. They are known as a ball and socket joint (See Image below). Good range of movement in this joint would allow the shoulder or hip to move in all directions.
This is why movement sequences such as the hip and shoulder rotation are great for range of movement. By focusing on contracting and releasing muscles, we encourage the muscular system to relax. This in turn supports the ligaments, which connect bone to bone and tendons which connect muscle to bone. When we take tension out of the muscle, it eases the pressure on the tendons and ligaments; which allows us to create a full rotation within the ball and socket joint. With Somatics, we can do all of this without stretching a muscle and creating discomfort in the ligaments and tendons.
Flexibility is the ability to take a joint through a range of movement PASSIVELY or pulling. Range of movement is classed as an ACTIVE movement because you are doing it yourself. For example with the hamstrings and quadriceps release techniques, you have to contract (and subsequently release) the muscles yourself. By doing this, you take the muscle and joint through its range of movement actively. You are listening to the muscle’s response and allowing it to move without stimulating the stretch reflex. This is how we make long lasting changes to our muscles as a functional unit.
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