Somatics, If You Can Sense It, You Can Change It

By Kristin Jackson

After two years of trying “every imaginable treatment” to treat her pain, and having to walk with crutches, Debra now walks and functions perfectly well.

Angie suffered from dystonia for more than 16 years. Muscles in her neck and torso were chronically contracted, causing her head to remain rotated to the side. She can now stand comfortably facing forward.

Corey, who was born with a significant leg length discrepancy, knows how to keep back pain at bay so he can work full time and attend graduate school.

All three believe they have reclaimed their bodies and lives due to Essential Somatic Education (ESE).

Every experience humans have, whether physical, emotional, or psychological produces a muscular response within the body. The brain and nervous system control these responses, known as “reflexes.” ESE deals with the effects reflexes have on people’s bodies and lives.

Each day, we react to thousands of stimuli around us. We arch our backs when we need to take action. ES Educators call this fight-or-flight or green light reflex. When we are frightened the red light, or startle reflex, triggers the front of the body to close up.

To avoid pain or discomfort the trauma reflex will twist or bend the body to the side. Most people present with one or more of these reflexes.

The somatic reflexes, green light, red light, and trauma are perfectly natural. In prehistoric times, they helped species survive.

Fast forward to modern times. Today, our brains and nerves interpret everyday stressors as threats, even if we’re in no real danger. The brain’s sub cortex doesn’t know the difference between a saber-toothed tiger, rush hour traffic, or an argument on social media.

If we perpetually respond to stressors without relaxing our muscles to their natural resting lengths, we can end up with chronic muscle tension and pain. Repeated motor patterns: sitting hunched over a laptop for hours, compensating for a sprained ankle, being busy all the time, can result in tension, limiting our ability to move easily and without pain.

Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., the founder of Hanna Somatic Education, called this habituated tension Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). The brain’s sensory-motor cortex loses its ability to sense and control muscles voluntarily.

With SMA, we can feel anxious, fatigued, or in pain—in essence, not like ourselves. A common response is to stretch or strengthen muscles in an effort to force change. This can make things even worse.

ESE relies on intentional movements called pandiculations, which reset muscles to their natural length under the control of the brain and nerve receptors.

Pandiculations are gentle contractions and slow, mindful releases of muscles that  can reverse SMA. Somatic educators teach you pandiculations so you develop a greater awareness of how your body moves. With greater somatic awareness, you self-regulate and self-soothe to let go of your tension and stress.

Thomas Hanna was a philosopher. He aimed to help people realize their greater human potential and take greater responsibility for their own bodies, lives and minds.

“You are not a bunch of parts. You are not a broken doll [or machine]. You are a human being, a whole system, a whole process.” Hanna said.

The human body and brain work in tandem at all times. Hanna recognized that the majority of modern health conditions are not diseases or syndromes, but rather learned dysfunctions in response to stress.

Neurologically, we are wired to constantly be able to re-wire. The choice is ours. People often come to somatics as a last-ditch effort for pain relief.

They are pleasantly surprised to find many other conditions they didn’t even consider can be addressed through somatic education.

With Somatic Education, one can relearn to move and live freely.

Kristin Jackson enjoys helping others help themselves with Essential Somatics Education. For more information visit 

Somatics, If You Can Sense It, You Can Change It

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