Gentle Somatic Yoga is Tailor-Made for People with Chronic Pain
Did you know that the root cause of most chronic muscle pain is sensory-motor amnesia (SMA)? In simple terms, years after you have recovered from a trauma to the body or emotional trauma, you can still be experiencing pain in parts of your body. This is due to the sensory-motor complex of the brain. It has either stopped communicating with that part of the body or has developed an alternative path! One result can be that to compensate for the temporary amnesia, you end up overworking other muscles. Even worse, you might become totally fearful of moving that part of the body at all. Thus begins a chronic pain cycle or a continuous search for pain relief. You might visit a massage therapist for pain relief. This works temporarily but then the pain comes back! Why is that so? It is because your body is still moving the way it did before you went to the massage therapist. The real key to permanent healing is to re-educate your muscles through very specific ways of movement. That is where Somatics comes in.
I just spent 14 hours in an all weekend intensive somatic training with Gentle Somatics Yoga (GSY) founder James Knight. Over the next few weekends, I will be completing a certification in this miraculous way of healing the body. I have been using these new ways of moving on myself and have been introducing these techniques to my yoga students. One student told me after a GSY session, that these new yoga practices are “life-changing for him”. I would have to agree. Along with my HeartMath training which works on my nervous system through breathing and emotional self-regulation, I am now learning skills through Somatics to self-regulate my nervous system. Here is a bit about how it works:
One of the basic movement patterns in Somatics is called Pandiculating. (What is that you might ask?) Pandiculation is the engagement of a set of muscles and then an extremely slow mindful release of that set of muscles. It is basically helping your brain get clear on the differences felt when a set of muscles engages and when it disengages. Your brain likes contrast, according to Founder and teacher James Knight.
Another term you might be unfamiliar with in Somatics is feathering or micromovements. The concept of feathering is to move a part of your body back and forth in an area exploring many different angles or vectors. Knight says this can be particularly helpful to parts of your body that are always feeling discomfort, clicking, popping, or numbness—all are symptoms of Sensory Motor or Muscle Memory amnesia.
12 Tips When Practicing Somatic Yoga Flows
As in yoga, setting an intention before your practice will illuminate what you are trying to accomplish. As Knight puts it, “Energy follows consciousness, and intention leads the way.” When releasing old habits and patterns of holding stress, it does help to embrace your whole body (soma) even those parts that are causing you pain. Adding in the following mantra can help according to Knight when it comes to mindful movement. “Make the impossible possible; Make the possible easy; Make the easy elegant.”
2. MOVE WITH PLEASURE
“Be mindful of your body’s feedback as you explore the Somatic Movement Flows (SMFs). Never endure discomfort. Trust what your body is telling you and adjust accordingly,” according to Knight who adds by honoring the process of discovery, you will regain your mobility over time.
3. FEATHERING TECHNIQUE
Also known as micromovements, they are used in any area that you either are experiencing tightness, soreness, or numbness. The idea is to move organically with a sense of ease in and out of an area and vary the direction, speed, and angle of movement. It is suggested to change directions, reverse the direction in the middle of the movement, and pause. In other words, this type of movement prevents your brain from directing your body to move in a habitual way. In this process, you are repatterning muscles to allow for greater freedom of movement and choice.
4. SLOW AND SMOOTH
The brain learns best when in a relaxed state, so keep your moves slow and smooth. If your smooth movements are interrupted by skipping or jerking, it most likely means you are experiencing temporary amnesia in those areas of your body. “Think of GSY as a moving meditation,” Knight says. He also suggests keeping other parts of your body relaxed to assist your brain in staying in a learning mode.
5. PROCESS OF DISCOVERY
Practice with the mindset of a child learning something new will help with safe discovery. Try to remember that we are not aiming for perfection, instead, we are aiming to break old habits and learn new ones.
6. PERFORM MOVEMENT WITH EYES CLOSED
Consider Gentle Somatic Yoga as a “moving meditation”. It is optimal to keep your eyes closed to limit other sensory information. “The less external stimuli, the more effective your brain-to-muscle repatterning will be,” according to Knight.
7. “SECRET” TENSION
We all hold secret tension in our bodies. Figuring out where that is can be illuminating. The key, according to Knight, is to keep only the parts of the body we are working engaged when we want them to while choosing to keep other parts of your body relaxed.
8. THE BREATH
In general, Knight does not focus on specific breath practices during the Somatic flows because he believes that is way too much information for most of us to handle. We usually do breath practices before and after the Somatic flows. However, it is recommended that you maintain a natural, easeful breath. A shallow breath can often indicate hidden tension in the body.
In Somatics, we do not hold any position for longer than 3 seconds so that your body does not go into the Stretch Reflex, which is an involuntary recoiling of muscle groups when they are protecting the body from perceived danger. Also, we avoid doing too many repetitions of one movement to avoid reinforcing bad habits. Knight suggests 3-5 repetitions for each move. Less is More.
10. PRACTICE ON A FIRM SURFACE
Practicing on a firm surface allows us to better sense the floor against our bodies. Chairs can be used for many of the practices and if you are unable to do the move, you can visualize it. Remember we are working with the brain and nervous system.
11. MODIFICATIONS AND PROPS
Props and modifications are to allow you to access the flows. Any discomfort you feel in your body will cause contractions. Instead of focusing on outcomes, keep an attitude of discovery, curiosity, and compassion.
12. BODY SCANS
After each yoga or Soma Flow, pause for at least 60 seconds to notice any differences which allow you to integrate your body and mind to integrate the new learnings.