We Can Learn A lot about Movement from Babies! I watch my granddaughter all the time!
When I first got into yoga, it was to help with my emotions, most particularly anxiety. However, over the years, I realized that the yoga practices were helping me stay fit and active and allowed me to do the sports that I loved. For years, it was tennis. However, over time things started to change in my body—in part from aging, in part from physical traumas to my body, and in part, from the autoimmune disease which aggravated inflammation.
So, for the past few years, I have been on a hunt for yoga practices that would help with chronic pain. I soon realized that the athletic style of yoga that has come to be so well-loved in the West was causing me more injuries than it was helping. At this point, I decided it was time to add in some restorative and therapeutic styles of yoga. I explored Yin, which I still love and teach to this day. I became certified in Restorative Yoga (I include a restorative pose at the end of all my classes) and now I am fully immersed in Somatic Yoga Flow with a master teacher from the Hanna Somatic School. His name is James Knight. Of course, what I am learning, I am sharing with my students, clients, family, and myself. It is helping. Let me explain what Somatic Yoga is and why it is so effective.
Somatics Works On Your Brain and Nervous System!
Somatics, according to this tradition, are internally felt sensations also known as interoception. So as my husband would say to me, “What does that mean?” Actually, a particularly good question. You see most of us do not know how to observe what is going on inside ourselves with curiosity and compassion. We only look inside when something hurts, which brings our attention to the place of pain, which we do not like. We want to stop the pain immediately.
So, we pop a pill or get a shot (no judgment) and we go on with our lives. Until a few months later after being tired, or carrying too many groceries, or bending over to do some gardening, or pick up the trash and it happens again… Ouch. “Where did that come from?” we ask ourselves. “Is it serious? Do I need surgery?” And we go looking again for more permanent pain relief. Sometimes we figure it out and take drastic steps to correct it, but many times it remains a nagging problem that we continue to treat with medicine, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, dietary changes, supplements, you name it. I know from what I speak. Been there and continue to do some of that. I do not take prescription or over-the-counter medicines and I have avoided shots and surgery.
Gentle Somatics Yoga® (GSY) Is Not Stretching!
What I have done instead is learn about simple ways to self-heal. And this is where Somatics comes in. What I am learning is how much of our pain is controlled by our nervous system, which has some close ties to our brain. In fact, there is a part of the brain called the Sensory-Motor Cortex which communicates all the time with the rest of our body through the Central Nervous system. It can be immensely helpful at first when experiencing pain. It tells your hand to get off the hot stove. But over time, post-injury, it starts overreacting to any sensation it experiences in an area of the body—basically immobilizing an area.
What happens over time is our bodies develop compensatory moves using other muscles and you develop something called muscle or sensory-motor amnesia. Luckily, Somatics has hundreds of practices to retrain our muscles and help the brain either develop new neural connections to the area or start to repair the existing connections. In other words, we are re-teaching our body how to move with flow and ease. Over time, we restore our range of motion and move without as much pain.
Below find a mini sample of a somatic routine. You might notice I do not mention stretching. Stretching an injured area or a perceived injured area causes your brain to resist the new education. In Somatics we learn to move in a way that feels nourishing, slow, and smooth and focus our attention internally to the felt sensations we want to highlight, according to Knight.
If you want to understand Somatics better, watch a baby move or any animal in the natural kingdom. Or you can learn these skills to incorporate into your own life by taking my classes. You can sign up here. More Somatic tips in next week’s newsletter.