Somatic Exercise Cycles -- The Power of Integration

Somatic exercise cycles are sequences of somatic exercises done repeatedly to accomplish a purpose.

Somatic exercises are methodically-done movement patterns that work with so-called "muscle memory" (actually, better stated as "movement memory") to dissolve habitual patterns of movement memory (implanted by trauma and stress, such as pain and stiffness associated with aging) and to replace them with healthier, more variable and free patterns of movement memory.

Now, if you've got that paragraph under your belt,
we may continue . . . . .

If not, better go back and get it, as everything that follows builds upon it.


Now, each somatic exercise works with a single movement pattern -- examples being inhalation, exhalation, backward bending, forward bending, twisting, etc.

In life and movement, at least two movement patterns are always involved with any action.  Every bending movement must have its opposite straightening movement; every twisting, its untwisting.  Without its opposite, we are stuck.  Imagine going through life bent over and twisted.  Know somebody like that?

That's a small clue to the use of somatic exercises to undo unhealthy stuck patterns of movement.  (What makes them unhealthy is the excessive muscular tension and lack of suppleness that's involved -- leading to nerve impingement, joint degeneration, chronic pain.)  Movement patterns assemble into patterns of coordination.

Hence, the array of somatic exercises found in Thomas Hanna's "Myth of Aging" series and in my own "special purpose" somatic exercise programs.  They fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to constitute patterns of coordination for activity in daily life.

Somatic exercises work two ways:
  1. to undo the habituation we might have in a posture or movement pattern
  2. to develop healthier patterns of posture and better control of movement -- generally free-er and better-functioning
To do so, somatic exercises awaken awareness of how we are habituated/stuck and develop voluntary control of those habituated patterns (generally, simultaneously) so that we can either do habitual movements more freely or move differently, freely and at-will.

So far, so good.  Still with me?


Now, just as visual depth perception requires two viewpoints (left eye and right eye), and just as visual depth perception gives us more and different visual information than sight through one eye, more than one somatic exercise can address a habituated/stuck movement pattern or posture, and when more than one is used, we get a kind of kinesthetic depth perception that gives us both more sensory information and more control than we can get by one somatic exercise, alone.

Here's where somatic exercise cycles come into play.

There exists a way of using more than one (and more than two) somatic exercises to address especially stuck conditions or to get larger changes faster with not-so-stuck conditions.

The steps are these:
  1. Identify two or more related somatic exercises that either belong to the same larger coordination pattern or that address the same muscle groups in different ways.
  2. Practice each exercise until well-internalized (remembered and fruitful in producing its specifically-intended change.  (rule of thumb:  seven cycles or until "milked for all it's worth")
  3. Cycle through the identified exercises, one after the other.
I'll give you some examples of related somatic exercises that can be assembled in this way.


example:  Lesson 1 of The Myth of Aging series
Landau Reaction is a movement/action pattern involved in sitting, standing, and walking.  It involves the backs of the shoulders, spinal erector muscles, buttocks, and hamstrings.  Its purpose is to bring the person erect through the action of backward extension.

Lesson 1 of this series, therefore, involves movement elements for each of these places, first done individually, then assembled into a single, larger pattern.

This exercise, when followed by Lesson 2 of The Myth of Aging series (which addresses the movement of curling forward), constitutes a "unit of movement" -- straightening and bending.

That understood, I can now identify four entire somatic exercise lessons that, when learned and then put into a cycle, get more done than any one of the exercises can, by itself:
  1. Lesson 1 of The Myth of Aging series
  2. Somatic Exercise for Hip Joint Pain (posterior)
  3. Free Your Hamstrings
  4. The Athletes' Prayer for Loose Calves
Each of these exercises gets something done that is not done well by the others; each addresses an element of Landau Reaction; each provides its piece of the "jigsaw puzzle".  I've noted four movements; you could do three or two, but more movements provide higher integration.

The proper approach is to learn each of these exercises well and to get the result of each, then to cycle through them, (1.) - (4.), repeatedly.

Of course, other sequences of exercises, related by function, exist.

In the program, Free Your Psoas, the first exercise, "Locating the Center of Breathing", produces system-wide changes in the direction of greater freedom.  The second exercise, "Slide and Turn", disarms muscular restrictions that force legs into a knee-out or knee-in twist that would interfere with the third exercise, Walking into the Floor, which requires that freedom (and awakening of sensory awareness) to reach the psoas muscles.  The exercises that follow integrate the freedom resulting from the earlier exercises into a well-coordinated pattern.

So, I've just outlined two different approaches to using more than one somatic exercise to accomplish a single purpose.

There exist situations where the trauma of an injury is so great that a person contracts (involuntarily) a single muscle or muscle group so strongly (with the physiological intention to immobilize), and in entanglement with other muscular actions that no one somatic exercise is sufficient to disarm the situation.

Here's where two or more somatic exercises that address the involved region can get the job done.  It's a little like having more than one person reassure you that "everything is all right", vs. having just one person reassure you.

example:  The Gluteus Medius Muscles
A condition of having your leg yanked in an accident (such as falling off a horse with your foot caught in the stirrup and being dragged for a quarter mile) provides a protective response of holding on to your leg for dear life.  You prefer to keep your leg attached.  So you (reflexively) contract all of the muscles around your hip joint.

Well and good.  You've kept your leg; but you've lost freedom, as now those muscles are painfully contracted all the time.

It's not about any one muscle, but about an action involving muscle pulls from many directions, at once, but all summating/adding together to hold onto your leg.

The glueus medius muscles have several movement functions:
  1. providing stability during walking or running, as the pelvis turns from side-to-side (i.e., active external rotation of the thigh in the hip joint)
  2. movement of the leg backward (extension)
  3. pulling your hip bone and thigh together (hipbone/iliac crest down) in an action that lifts the opposite hip, in walking
  4. (Note that although these muscles can abduct (move sideways) the leg, that's not their typical function.)
In the situation described, no one somatic exercise addresses all these movements.  However, a combination of exercises can address these movements.

A corresponding combination might be:
  1. Lesson 4 of the Myth of Aging series
  2. Somatic Exercise for Hip Joint Pain (posterior)
  3. Lesson 8 of the Myth of Aging series
You first learn each of these exercises well (memory plus results); then cycle through them repeatedly -- according to your energy level, result obtained, and interest.

So that outlines the principles and practices of cycling through somatic exercises.

Muscle Memory Isn't Muscle Memory
An Entirely New Class of Therapeutic Exercises
All Somatic Exercise Programs | Free Your Psoas | Free Yourself from Back Pain

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