What is Clinical Somatic Education?

 
 

Clinical Somatic Education engages the nervous system using an active learning process to help relax muscles and ease pain. First developed by Thomas Hanna, PhD, this process involves slow, focused and gentle movements known as neuromuscular retraining.  Clinical Somatic Education is a direct way to get rid of pain and tension caused by Sensory Motor Amnesia (put hyperlink Kame)

 

Clinical Somatic Education teaches you how to relax muscles that contribute to pain and tension, allowing you to move past something called Sensory Motor Amnesia, a major contributor to chronic musculoskeletal conditions. 

Even though you and your practitioner move your body as part of Clinical Somatic Education, it’s BRAIN WORK, and not traditional bodywork. The education of neuromuscular patterns differs from traditional bodywork, where the person receiving the bodywork is passive (e.g., massage). In somatics, you are an active participant in the process.

Additionally, somatic movement classes are different from other movement classes in that students are asked to actively control movements in a specific way. This allows tight muscles to release for more freedom of movement. As a result, you increase flexibility and improve posture without force.

Muscles don’t move by themselves; they are controlled by the brain (motor cortex). Changing the way the brain messages muscles helps change chronically tight muscle and relieve areas of the body that have pain or discomfort.

 

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Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) and What Causes it?

It is a memory loss of how certain muscle groups feel and how to control them. And because it occurs in the central nervous system, we are not aware of it, yet it affects us to our very core.
— Thomas Hanna

Source: Somatics Reawakening of the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health by Thomas Hanna


SMA is an adaptive response of the nervous system that is not diagnosable and not treatable through traditional medical or surgical applications. Many clients with SMA are deemed “incurable” or "declining due to the aging process" by medical practitioners. 

This adaptive response to our habits of living is like having a blind spot to certain movement patterns that have become automatic.

Sensory Motor Amnesia expresses in these various ways:

  • sciatica

  • pelvic pain

  • frozen shoulder

  • digestive issues

  • urinary urgency

  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction)

  • limited range of motion

  • muscle tightness, pain or dysfunction

  • low-back syndrome

  • hip pain

  • plantar fasciitis

  • carpal tunnel


What Causes Sensory Motor Amnesia?

Based in the nervous system, SMA develops from a person’s response to stress and trauma, creating a newly learned adaptive response that is repeated over time. People who have SMA hold some muscles contracted all the time, essentially developing patterns to one or more stress responses.

These repeated forces or habits become a traumatic insult to your nervous system, directly impacting your body, posture, muscles and skeletal structure. The contractions are so deeply involuntary and unconscious that a person who has SMA no longer remembers how to move about freely. SMA can occur from childhood onward or at any age. 

If you have any soreness, muscle fatigue or think you're declining from aging, chances are you have areas affected by these blind spots.  Most of us have some form of SMA lurking in us and the good news is we can change it.


What are Common causes of Sensory Motor Amnesia? 

  • Long-term sustained stress

  • Specific sudden trauma, such as automobile accident, fall, injury or surgery

  • Habituated movement patterns such as daily computer use with poor posture, sitting and other habits including an activity/sport repeated over and over

  • Lack of movement (sedentary lifestyle)

 


How Do I Correct Sensory Motor AmnesIA?

SMA is a learned, adaptive response of the nervous system. Because it is learned, it can be unlearned. SMA requires re-education of the sensory-motor system. Traditional medical interventions and treatments are not effective for getting to the root causes of Sensory Motor Amnesia.

No amount of stretching can undo tight muscles—you have to change patterns originating from the nervous system (i.e., the brain and spinal cord). Sensory Motor Amnesia can only be relieved by one method: Re-educating the brain’s voluntary sensory motor cortex. This process helps control muscles that are constantly in a state of contraction and allows for full muscle relaxation or release.  This is the focus of Clinical Somatic Education.

Re-education occurs through inner awareness, proprioception (i.e., the ability to sense the position, orientation and movement of the body and its parts), and a combination of somatic “first person” awareness (also called interoception) and “third person” support (i.e., guidance from a Clinical Somatic Educator).


Frequently Asked Questions

Many people who are new to Clinical Somatic Education (AKA: Clinical Somatics and Hanna Somatics,

depending on your practitioner) are curious as to why their discomfort can’t be addressed with traditional approaches. 

Here are a some FAQs to understand why this work will benefit you. (link to pdf)


Q.  Can’t I just stretch if my muscles are tight?

  • Muscles that are tight cannot be stretched to a new length by an external force.

  • Muscles must be actively lengthened and this is an internal neural event that takes place in the sensory-motor area of the brain.

  • Unfortunately, stretching doesn’t work for long-term results because it often triggers the stretch reflex. This ancient reflexive pattern is a primary defensive motor reflex that causes muscles to tighten in order to protect themselves from tearing, or to protect tendon from tearing apart from bone. This signal of the stretch reflex only goes as far as the spinal cord, which immediately sends the signal back to the muscles to tighten and protect.

  • If you want to recalibrate and get a daily stretch, that’s great; however, the muscles will only lengthen to where they are able to in that moment.

If you really want to change the potential of your muscles over time, you need to work with the brain, which is the focus of Clinical Somatic Education. 


Q.  Is Clinical Somatic Education (aka: Somatics, Clinical Somatics) right for me?

Clinical Somatic Education is beneficial for most people (both young and old).

Due to habituated or overused movement patterns, muscles become held in an unconscious and chronic contraction (i.e. due to sport/activity, car accident, repetitive stress, sitting at a computer, texting or wearing certain footwear).  These are just some of the associated daily stressors from our movement or lack of movement habits.

The nervous system learns to adjust to these patterns and postures, leading to a larger impact on health and imbalances.

The way we move, stand and sit every day, and over the course of our lives, causes much of the chronic pain, reoccurring injuries, and even joint degeneration, experienced in our culture. These patterns are not noticeable at first. Soon, however, you might detect an imbalance in your posture or how you perform an activity. As this imbalance becomes a chronic condition (as occurs with low-back syndrome, knee-joint pain, sciatica, frozen shoulder, etc.), you might go to the doctor who attributes this chronic condition to age or other situations. Medical practitioners often prescribe medicine, surgery or other forms of therapy. If none of these interventions help long term, you might come to the conclusion that you’re trying to eliminate symptoms without investigating the root of the problem.

Clinical Somatic Education addresses the root of the problem through simple, gentle movements.


Q.  How is Clinical Somatic Education different from Yoga or Pilates?

Instead of focusing on strengthening around an affected joint or stretching muscles around that joint, Somatic Movement Education trains the nervous system to get back to controlling muscles and joints properly.

During a Somatic Movement class, students experience many of the same benefits that yoga and Pilates provide, such as improved flexibility, breathing, relaxation, spirituality and health. 

Q.  IS CLINICAL SOMATICS SIMILAR TO ACTIVE RELEASE THERAPY(ART)?

No it is not similar at all.

  • Originally used by chiropractors, ART treats your body’s soft tissue by combining manipulation and movement to target the affected area to break up scar tissue.

  • During an ART session, your healthcare provider will apply a precise pressure and use the technique to manipulate or break up the scar tissue - this can be very painful for people with a low tolerance for pain.

  • Two big differences between Clinical Somatic Education and Active Release Technique is: (1) the receiver is active in Somatics and passive in ART and (2) most importantly, Somatics involves gentle pain-free movement.

  • Clinical Somatic Education uses hands-on tools/techniques to teach clients to change their own neuromuscular system.


Q.  How does Clinical Somatic Education differ from other healing modalities, such as physical therapy, massage and chiropractic care?

  • A Clinical Somatic Educator uses sophisticated hands-on tools/techniques to teach clients to change their own neuromuscular system.

  • Other typical hands-on therapies (e.g., physical therapy, massage and chiropractic care) tend to do the work for the client through external hands-on manipulation. In other words, the receiver of the work is passive.

  • This is a major difference between Clinical Somatics and other healing therapies; the receiver is active in Clinical Somatics, rather than passive.

  • Unlike other healing modalities, Clinical Somatics doesn’t focus solely on strengthening muscles or joints or realigning bones. Those benefits do occur with Clinical Somatics; however, it happens over time as you undo years of habitual patterns through reprogramming the neuromuscular system.

Clinical Somatics is a good complement to these other therapies. Often in the healing process, many doctors and physical therapists recommend more than one type of treatment for maximum benefits. 

Clinical Somatics and Somatic Movement classes will support your healing and continue to benefit your overall health and wellness.  In other words, Clinical Somatics isn't only for those in pain.  It's adaptable for any human being because each of us experiences holding patterns caused by stress and life’s activities.


Q.  Is Clinical Somatic Education a form of “bodywork”?

  • It is different than traditional “bodywork” and would be more accurate to say, it’s a form of “brain-work.”

  • Essentially, the practitioner acts as a facilitator for the client to actively re-educate and recalibrate the brain’s feedback loop as it messages muscles.

  • In somatics, the client is ACTIVE, focused and part of the process and progress.

According to the Somatic Systems Institute, “the practitioner does move the client’s body, but this movement is entirely for the purpose of altering signals in the brain and central nervous system to change how the nervous system interacts with, and controls, the rest of the body.”


Q.  Will Clinical Somatic Education work in conjunction with other therapies?

YES. Clinical Somatics is a good complement to other therapies, such as physical therapy, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

These latter therapies may initially eliminate pain and can set the stage for a more long-term solution using Clinical Somatics.

With Clinical Somatics, clients learn to do the work on their own for more lasting improvements and to avoid reoccurrences. This is a win-win approach for people who would like to benefit from multiple therapies.

Be your own health advocate and choose what feels right for you.  There is no 'ONE' therapy for ALL, we are unique and it could be beneficial to try more than one type of therapeutic approach. 



For more information on SMA and Somatic Education, please read the book Somatics: Reawakening of the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health by Thomas Hanna