Photo: Havilah Galaxy
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What kinds of conditions are best addressed by Hanna Somatics?
Many people have enjoyed relief from chronic pain and stiffness caused by stress, repetitive movement, traumas, accidents, surgery, and including the symptoms of sciatica, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, breathing issues, neck, jaw pain, headaches.. This work can be a great ally to anyone going through a stressful time, calming the nervous system, creating more resilience to stress.
Q2. How is Hanna Somatics different from other modalities?
There are four major factors that set this work apart:
- Rapid progress: In many cases, Hanna Somatics gives faster results due to the techniques Dr Thomas Hanna developed that apply neuroscience in some very unique ways. Many conditions can be changed in four to eight sessions.
- We put the tools in your hands. In a somatic movement class or in a private session, you learn sequences and principals that become part of your daily self-care effort. Once you learn them and get good results, you will be inspired to continue using the techniques so that your body remains pain free.
- Hanna Somatics targets Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). Hanna identified SMA: the response of the brain to traumas and stresses, which is a habituation of the muscle in a contracted state, and loss of some of the voluntary control of and sensation in the muscle. The techniques of this work recalibrate the brain with the tissue to restore range of motion and intelligence to the body.
- Our approach is based on three major reflexes of the nervous system. A reflex is a reaction by the brain and nervous system to emotional or physical trauma and occurs on an unconscious level. The result is muscle contraction and habituation. Repetitive motion or posture can also create contraction and habituation, literally teaching the brain a short signal to the muscles as its resting default length. See description of the the Three Reflexes, Q16.
Q3. How does Hanna Somatics impact the rest of the body and overall health?
If a body is locked down due to SMA (see Q2 above) and has lost its mobility, then many systems within it are compromised, such as digestion, cardiovascular issues, lymphatic function, oxygen intake, or any organ system within. Restoring motion to the spine and all the joints of the body can have substantial positive effects on all the other systems. For instance, if each breath is free to move deeply into the lower torso (freed belly muscles) then the digestive organs get a gentle compression and release, a massage, with each breath. If the muscles in front of the shoulders are freed to an optimum resting length, lymphatic drainage and flow is enhanced, benefitting breast health and immune function.
In addition, the movement practice calms the nervous system and tends to lower blood pressure, making it an excellent adversary to stress and an ally for promoting better quality sleep.
Q4. Is Hanna Somatics useful for psychological issues?
If you are engaged in a psychological counseling process, Hanna Somatics may be a positive addition. Since the brain responds to emotional trauma with muscular habituation (see Q2 above, regarding SMA), this work can help change the muscular and brain level blueprint of the trauma and potentially accelerate your recovery process from the imprint of trauma.
Q5. Are Hanna Somatics movement classes and the hands-on work safe for older bodies or people recovering from injury?
Both the movement practice and the hands-on work of Hanna Somatics are very gentle and the activity involved is in very slow-motion. The somatic educator helps the student or client to sense the limitations that the body presents, stay within his/her comfort zone, and avoids pain, deep stretching, or intense muscle contraction. These ingredient so gentle effort, slow motion, avoiding pain/stretch are surprisingly effective for changing the brain and muscle function and restoring optimum resting length, and much safer than strecthing.
If you have a very recent injury or surgery, or take pain medication, please consult Laura as to the appropriate time to begin your somatic educational process.
Q6. Can this work improve function for clients with degenerative diseases such as MS, ALS, and Parkinson’s?
Hanna Somatics can't cure a degenerative disease, but may very well help to create overall improved function in the case of certain diseases and syndromes. Nearby to a compromised nerve pathway and the muscles affected, there may be healthy nerves and muscles that have become amnesic due to proximity to trauma and/or lack of activity. Those healthy nerves/muscles can be restored bringing increased circulation, motion, and can improve overall function.
Hanna Somatics may give the client empowering tools for improvement that they can used on a daily basis.
Q7. Can this work serve as an enhancement to other activities?
Yes, both the hands on techniques and the movement practice can free the body for better performance. A short set of somatic movement provides an excellent neuro warm up for dance, pilates, yoga, fitness, and weight training.
Somatic movement is beneficial for any athletic activity, by connecting the brain with its body, increasing proprioception for better coordination, balance, and organizing the breath and awareness of the front, back and sides of the body to work together as a team.
Q8. How does somatics serve people with tight bodies as opposed to those with hyper-mobile bodies?
Somatics serves both these extremes very well. If your body is tight and you would like more range of motion, the techniques offered in this work help to reset the brain towards a longer resting length for the muscles and you can mobilize the body well over time.
If you have a hyper-mobile body, so called double-jointed, you don't need more range of motion. In fact, your ligaments are more lax and there's nothing to stop the movement. What you do need is more control, sensation, and proprioception so that you can move safely without injury. Somatics is excellent for this as well.
Q9. How many sessions does it take to solve a problem, get rid of pain, change a scoliosis or other postural issue?
The answer depends on many factors, including how severe the problem is, how old (and stubborn) the particular neuromuscular patterns are, and maybe most important, how willing you, the client, are to embrace a somatic practice and use it on a regular basis.
A key ingredient to the success of the this system that Hanna designed is the client's efforts to develop somatic skills over time with practice and turn the new short-term learning occurring in a session into long-term learning with the solo practice. Those two types of learning are different events in the brain, and overlapping, and together create the potential for long-lasting change. In the words of Lawrence Gold, CHSE, “You gotta wanna!"
Q10. What are the best times to do a somatic practice? How can I find time to fit this into my day?
Some folks prefer beginning their day with some somatic floor time to calm their systems and mobilize their body. Others prefer evening to prepare for better quality rest. I recommend evening practice if you're someone who must spend a lot of time in one position, curled over your computer, bending over your client or patient, wrapped around your musical instrument in the same position for many hours of practice, etc. You can use your evening practice to "take the day out of your body" and bring it back to neutral. Other folks find they can find some floor time here and there through the week but bring some daily sitting somatics into short breaks during the day at the their workplace.
Sitting, standing options are available and really useful for work day and long travels. If you have a flexible schedule, give yourself somatic floor time more than once a day. The more you do, the better your skills will become and your results. If you can get to some somatic movement group classes or purchase some audio or audiovisual support material, it can greatly enhance your progress. Most somatic practitioners, like myself, offer long distance options on Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts.
Q11. How can I move forward with my learning in this modality? What are the options?
I am a senior member of the training team for Essential Somatics LLC, based in the USA and offering trainings currently in USA, Canada, UK, and Australia. There are several learning pathways to choose from including Fundamentals Emersion Course (weekend event); ESMTT (Essential Somatics Movement Teacher Training) Levels 1 and 2 (a one-year program); and the three-year ES Clinical Practitioner Training. For details and prospectus go to EssentialSomatics.com and choose "trainings".
Q12. What is the difference between somatics and physiotherapy?
Depending on the training of the physiotherapist, he/she may use some techniques that are more somatic in nature, or not. There are some physiotherapists who have taken this training and have told me that they use Tom Hanna's techniques a great deal due to the effectiveness.
Physiotherapy in the USA tends towards the western medical model, that of focussing on the symptoms, or particular muscle groups and their issues, as opposed to Hanna Somatics which sees the system as a whole and addresses and re-patterns contractive patterns that occur in the full-length of the whole body. I have worked with particular physiotherapists whose work I know and that have referred clients to me.
Sometimes the two modalities can be very complementary. Other times, I may ask my client to either take a break from their physiotherapy and do a few months of somatics or wait until the end of a physiotherapy treatment and keep the two separate, so that they can see more clearly the outcome of each modality.
Q13. Is it a good idea to mix modalities?
I sometimes ask my clients to take a break from other modalities or activities that seem to be exacerbating a problem. Hanna somatics is all about eventually getting back to the activities you want to do in a pain-free, safe way. Some modalities that are very gentle, like cranial sacral work, acupuncture, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, usually work well alongside somatics.
Q14. Can I do strenuous activities or exercise right after a session?
Tai chi or taking a walk are highly recommended activities following a session, giving the brain a chance to digest the new learning and reorganize itself. Strenuous activities or deep stretch right after a hands-on session is not recommended. Give the brain a chance to integrate its new learning, new range of motion and proprioception.
Although this work is very gentle and slow-motion, it can produce dramatic change to the nervous system. Save your more demanding exercise or workout for the following day and add a short somatic practice as a warmup. Notice the changes!
Q15. What is the difference between Hanna Somatics and Feldenkrais, and other somatic modalities?
Tom Hanna brought Moshe Feldenkrais to the USA for his first workshop and studied with Feldenkrais extensively. Hanna then developed his own unique technique pandiculation and designed a different system based on three major reflexes. These elements are different than Feldenkrais, but there is much of Feldenkrais's work inside of Hanna Somatics and the two modalities can rightly be considered cousins.
Other modalities that fall under the umbrella of the somatic family include Bartinieff, Body-Mind Centering, and Alexander. There are many pioneers in the somatic field upon whose shoulders this work stands.
Q16. What are the Three Reflexes?
Red Light Reflex is familiar to everyone and also called “startle response”, that primordial reaction to perceived danger that tightens the front of the body, inner thighs, back of the neck. In today's world, technology such as computers, texting, and activities like driving create the same posture negatively effecting breathing, cardiovascular health, emotional state, lymphatic health, movement mechanics and much more.
Green Light Reflex was the name Hanna gave to the “moving forward” reflex that contracts the back of the body, legs, front of neck. It begins as the Landau response, when babies first lift their head, leading to crawling and finally walking. It gets triggered and habituated later in life in response to the stress of linear time, deadlines, earning a living, or perhaps getting away from danger.
Trauma Reflex was how Hanna described the habituated contractions to the side of the body, usually a response to physical trauma, injury, compensation for injury to one leg, etc. It may be a hiked hip, or a low shoulder or even a laterally curved spine, and usually involves twist to the torso as well. This asymmetry can lead to wear and tear on joints and chronic pain.
Most people have a combination of some or all of these reflex patterns, the imprint of their history. Making changes to the results of the imprint of this history is quite possible, addressed through the hands-on protocols and movement practice developed by Hanna. This change potential is what we now call neuroplasticity , the ability of the brain to change itself, at any age.
Q17. Can this work change scoliosis?
I can tell you from my own first-hand experience and working with my clients that scoliosis and its symptoms may be greatly improved, sometimes measurable change to the curves, or at the least prevention of it getting worse, and very helpful for increasing mobility, taking away pain, and the feeling of "compression" of the vertebrae. I consider Hanna Somatics "must have" information and tools for living with and improving scoliosis.
“MIND YOUR BODY”
— LAURA M GATES