The Varieties of Sensory-Motor Amnesia

Sensory-Motor Amnesia (SMA), as Thomas Hanna defined it, is a state of habituation in which patterns of muscular tension and movement formed during trauma or under stress displace (make amnesic) the memory (and availability) of free and balanced (healthy) functioning.  One memory of a functional pattern displaces another, resulting in chronic pain and changes of movement ("chronic injuries"),  and a life is altered.

In my work, I have discerned more than one expression or form of SMA.

This article details those findings, which apply when we assess the condition of a client and when we work with him or her.

I identify three variations:
  1. Chronic Contraction (chronic desire - "rajasic" SMA, for those who know yogic terminology)
  2. Restricted Free Range of Movement (chronic limitation - "sattvic" SMA)
  3. No Control/Substitution (chronic differentiation - "tamasic" SMA)
I explain each variation.

In assessment, palpation reveals hard, contracted, ticklish or sore muscle.  Kinetic Mirroring (passively moving a body segment along the involved muscle's line of pull (doing the work of the muscle for it), followed by a lengthening movement) reveals an indisposition to lengthen (muscle stays contracted or involuntarily, sporadically contracts in fits and starts, or "rachets" on the way to length).  This is the most obvious form of SMA.  (If they're not floppy, they're contracting.)

I describe this form of SMA as "rajasic" because it involves chronic activity.

A lengthening movement, either active (by the client) or passive (by the practitioner) reveals free movement up to a point, beyond which no movement is possible without forcing - hence, "restricted free range of movement".  This form of SMA may be (and probably often is) confused with restriction by adhesions.

I describe this form of SMA as "sattvic" because the person has no pain in the involved muscles when at rest and believes (s)he has free control.  (S)he's "fine" when (s)he stays within the "healthy"/"normal"/"anatomically correct" range of motion, but exists in a state of chronic (unconscious) limitation that shows up only in movement (as pain or restriction).

This is the same mentality, by the way, that blames pain on "having slept wrong" or "moved wrong".

This form of SMA, I feel, is more correctly described as "Sensory-Motor Obliviousness" (SMO).  (Please see related article.)  Muscles are relaxed and lengthen freely, but the person has little control or coordination involving them; (s)he is oblivious to them.  There's a "hole" in his/her control.  This form of SMA/SMO is easily missed if the practitioner identifies SMA as a state of contraction, rather than of habituated dysfunction.

I describe this form of SMA as "tamasic" because it involves chronic non-responsiveness of certain muscles in movement or the inability to move in a certain way, altogether.  The person substitutes other muscles to accomplish movements more properly and better done by the muscles to which (s)he is oblivious and/or involuntarily distorts the movement. 

The first two forms of SMA respond well to the three basic techniques of Hanna somatic education:  Means-Whereby, Kinetic Mirroring, and Assisted Pandiculation.

The third form, SMO, requires a completely different approach, which I will outline.

Addressing "No-Control/Substitution" (SMO)
Isn't it aggravating when you ask for one thing and receive another?  This is how people in SMO live.  Everything seems fine until they do something; then, unexpected, mysterious pains appear.  They may not know why things go wrong. But we do.

In SMO, because the person isn't in a painful or restricted state (at least when at rest and when moved passively), we may not know how to interpret their pain when they move.

The pain comes from the substitution of muscular actions that are ordinarily synergistic (helpers) to the "prime mover(s)" -- but without the prime movers.  It's "going through the motions" -- but badly.  It's "taking action without a leader or clear sense of purpose."  It's awkward.  If awkward enough, it's painful, particularly if they are as incompetent in controlling the substituting synergists (helper muscles) as they are oblivious to the synergists' prime movers.  (The terms, "prime mover" and "synergist", are terms from kinesiology.  If necessary, "Google" them for understanding.)

The answer for SMO people is somatic exercises.  They need to awaken control of certain muscles and develop well-coordinated movements.   Then, the synergists relax and their painful excesses diminish into a healthy, well-coordinated grace; joints are no longer put into awkward positions.  When such people take action, things no longer "go painfully wrong"; instead, they get a healthy experience and a sound result.

Avoiding Pitfalls
The pitfall of practitioners during assessment is failure to check for full, free range of motion and so to miss the SMA.

During working sessions, the pitfall is failure to achieve full, free range of motion.  In Assisted Pandiculation, this failure to achieve full, free range of motion shows up as carrying a pandiculation only through the range of free motion evident upon initial functional assessment -- the restricted range of motion -- stopping before achieving full lengthening, as if going past the restricting limit would hurt the client.  (We assume that the practitioner knows the full range of motion available to a healthy individual and does not fall prey to the "everybody is different" cop-out, but rather understands the kinesiology of the human design and the limitations imposed by pathological joint changes.)

The virtue of Assisted Pandiculation is that it frees movement beyond any previous limitation (within the range of movement determined by joint structure) with no pain or sense of stretching, and this is the "miraculous" appearance of the work to which Thomas Hanna referred in his Wave 1 training.  The only dangers of hurting the client are by (1) forcing, by imposing stretch upon the client, rather than relying strictly upon the pandicular response, or by (2) poor (poorly controlled/poorly regulated/awkward) pandicular technique.

When working with a client, never accept a response or action other than the one you asked for.  Coach persistently until you get it.  That's how we teach.

Another "never":  Never accept a movement out of contraction that goes along a line different from the movement into contraction.  That's like changing the subject in the middle of a line of inquiry.  ("Thank you for the answer, but that answers a question other than the one I asked.") 

The only exception is pain, and for that you do "prep work" to clear up the interfering pain until they can comfortably do what you ask.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article! Reading it several times brings a deeper understanding.