Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Bust the Myth of Aging
What most people think is an inevitable part of aging – losing our natural mobility and becoming less able-bodied – Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., the developer of Hanna Somatic Education, calls the “Myth of Aging.”
In cultures around the world, people continue to move and function effectively throughout their lives. Meanwhile, many of us in first-world countries are being beaten down by stressors: workplace anxiety, accidents, repetitive actions and surgeries that take a toll on our bodies, affecting whether or not we age well and enjoy good quality of life. We can become old before our time.
One way to counteract the affects of everyday stress is through Hanna Somatics.
Hanna Somatics goes to the root of all movement: the brain. This is because our brains and nervous systems control everything our bodies do. There are voluntary actions (series of movements that we consciously learn to do) like dancing, knitting or driving a manual transmission.
Then there are involuntary actions like digestion and heartbeat. Over time, many voluntary actions become practically involuntary. We become able to think about other things while virtually unaware of what our bodies are doing. Consider this next time you arrive home, barely aware that your arms and legs magically worked the gearshift, clutch and brake of your car.
Involuntary actions humans respond to stimuli with are called reflexes, an example of which is when a baby reflexively grips a finger when it’s put it in her palm. There are three reflexes humans can get “stuck” in, which can lead to postural problems, discomfort and chronic pain.
• Green Light Reflex – This is where you arch your lower back with your chest lifted and is often in response to “take-action” demands on your attention. All “go-Go-GO!” type-A personalities can probably relate.
• Red Light Reflex – Called the “startle reflex”, it triggers a rounding of the shoulders with the head forward. It’s a reflex in response to fright, stress, anxiety or depression. This pattern is also prevalent due to too much sitting and playing with electronic devices.
• Trauma Reflex This happens when the body bends to the side in response to injury or surgery as a way to protect itself from further pain. If this pattern becomes habitual, one can develop scoliosis or a leg-length discrepancy.
These reflexes happen in-the-moment as we lead our lives, and they are perfectly normal. They only become a problem if our bodies get stuck in one or more of them and don’t remember how to release muscle contractions associated with them.
Imagine you sprain your ankle. At the moment you injure it, your brain will automatically trigger the trauma reflex by bending your body to the side and retracting the twisted ankle upward. Then, while recovering, you will consciously change the way you walk, leaning sideways to take the weight off the injured ankle. Eventually, though, you heal and become able to walk on it again but by then, your waist muscles on one side have shortened in response to your altered gait.
You had first voluntarily altered your gait to protect your ankle, but now your brain has developed a new (faulty) pattern, so you can no longer voluntarily and fully relax your waist muscles.
When you get stuck in one of the reflexes, your brain has gone “offline” and reflexes have become habitual. Thomas Hanna called this Sensory Motor Amnesia; your sensory and motor neurons (part of your nervous system) are no longer able to control the muscles.
Our brains, by way of our nervous system, control our muscles, so the brain must be involved in relearning to relax, lengthen and move with ease again.
Using these somatic exercises, you use your brain to neurologically “reprogram” your muscles so they can relax to their natural resting length. Your brain regains better sensation and control of your muscles, so you can move with more ease and fluidity, and ultimately, without pain.
There is a strong interrelationship between the nervous system and the endocrine system, which results in multiple physiological benefits as well. Many report feeling less anxious, clearer thinking, better coping skills, deeper sleep, improved digestion and more.
If you want to regain your edge in your sport, feel better in your body, or your doctor attributes your pain to “just getting old”, debunk the Myth of Aging using your brain to ease your pain!
Kristin Jackson is a Hanna Somatic Educator in training, Personal Trainer and Health Coach and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or thinksomatics.com.