Pain Control, Sensory-Motor Functioning, and Somatic Education

by Lawrence Gold Credentials | Publications | Personal PageClinical Somatic Education Practitioner and Training Instructor
Certified Practitioner, Dr. Ida P. Rolf Method of Structural Integration


pain, muscular hypertonicity, contracture, neuro-muscular, sensory-motor amnesia, sensory-motor learning, Trauma Reflex, pandicular response, muscle-movement memory


Perhaps fifty-percent of cases of chronic pain results not from tissue damage or disease but from chronic muscular contractions maintained by sub-cortical levels of the central nervous system (CNS). In many cases, neuromuscular training (i.e., somatic education) can restore voluntary muscular control, end chronic muscular hypertonicity and eliminate the need for drugs or therapy to alleviate pain.This essay contrasts manipulative and pharmacological methods of pain-control with learning-based methods, using the analogy of "hardware" (living tissue) and "software" (brain-mediated, learned responses); it explains how muscular hypertonicity creates a variety of chronic pain conditions; and it introduces the clinical use of the pandicular response as a way to improve voluntary muscular control and relieve pain.


While the prospect of eliminating pain via a learning process may seem hopeful, at best, a large percentage of chronic pain arises from maladaptive physiological conditioning that can be reversed through sensory-motor learning. The brain, largely an organ of learning, controls most motor behavior. We humans learn nearly all of our movement patterns, except for certain primitive reflexes. For that reason, certain forms of neuromuscular education can, in many cases, provide faster and more complete recovery from musculo-skeletal dysfunctions than can conventional therapeutic methods, alone. 
Pain of neuromuscular origin includes tension headaches, low back pain, regional muscular illnesses and TMJ syndrome. It also includes much of the pain of whiplash injuries, arthritis and other joint pain. Post-surgical pain, the chronic pains and stiffness of aging, and spasm- induced nerve impingement conditions such as sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome also arise from neuromuscular origins. 
Somatic Education cannot replace therapies appropriate for tissue healing; nor can it erase the pain of tissue damage (though it can often reduce it by relieving mechanical stresses on injured tissue). It can , however, provide the relief otherwise sought through analgesics, muscle relaxants, stretching, strengthening exercises, and massage. Moreover, certain forms of somatic education can bring relief faster and more completely than these other methods. 
Claims to relieve such a wide variety of conditions through sensory-motor learning -- or to get functional improvements, rather than merely symptomatic relief -- may seem exaggerated; that possibility is understandable. A closer look at actual mechanisms can clarify the matter.


Most methods of pain control can be reduced to three basic approaches that correspond to the three embryonic germ layers: ectoderm (nervous system/electrical), mesoderm (connective tissues/mechanical) and endoderm (glandular/chemical). For example, herbs and drugs (e.g., muscle relaxants and analgesics) address the chemical/endodermal aspect; skeletal adjustments and surgery address the mechanical/mesodermal aspect, and biofeedback, acupuncture, and electrical stimulation address the electrical/ectodermal aspect --to affect the other two aspects.
Most methods of pain-control treat pain as an electrical (neurological), chemical (dietary/hormonal), or mechanical (musculo-skeletal) problem that must be corrected through intervention; something must be done to the patient to correct the problem because he or she seems unable to correct it by him- or herself. 
However, the functioning of these three aspects of our living organism is controlled largely by our conditioning and voluntary learning. Functional problems also arise from our conditioning and learning. Let's consider how that may be so.


The human brain is, primarily, an organ of learning -- of learning to distinguish one thing from another (to sense) and to move in coordinated ways. (This simplification can easily be extended to include physiological responses, such as breathing and heart rate -- but such considerations are beyond the immediate scope of this discussion about pain.) 
The brain, as an organ of learning, acquires patterns of response over a lifetime, some of which persist beyond their useful term (such as guarding after injury) and produce the wide variety of problems named earlier. Such conditions are not merely psychological, but psycho-physical states; they are the effects of life-level learning on physiological adaptation. The works of Hans Selye (Selye, 1974, 1978) document such effects.
Chronic contraction occurs under three basic conditions: injury, insult, and repetitive conditioning, all of which lead to habituations of neuromuscular activity. In the following discussion, I exclude contractures that result from nerve damage. 
With injury, a person tenses and restricts movement to avoid pain and to permit healing. This psycho-physiological behavior (and postural reflex) known as the "Trauma Reflex" (Hanna, 1988), which occurs at an involuntary level, guards against further injury and permits healing over the long term. 
Habituation can occur instantly in the case of injury or even intensely shocking events (e.g., whiplash injuries). 
For most people, the insult of an injury persists far beyond the time of healing. This persistence happens when a person tightens in Trauma Reflex during a long period of healing, during which time the brain learns a "tension habit" and the sensation of muscular tension moves from "foreground" to "background". 
In that case, not only are the muscles contracted, but the CNS is potentiated (i.e., is primed) to contract them further at the first signs of stress and to release them last, when the stressful situation is past. 
Thus, the insult of long-past injury can predispose a person to mysterious crises of pain from seemingly unrelated causes. Such pain may then be mis-diagnosed as arising from tissue damage or from genetic malformation, sometimes with unnecessary surgical consequences. 
One can often see habituated Trauma Reflex as a postural distortion; the person can feel it as pain, stiffness, and sometimes, as unstable balance. In all cases, habituated contraction prevents relaxation past a certain point; residual tension remains, often enough to create soreness or stiffness, and other physiological effects. 
With intense insult or long-term emotional stress, hypertonicity may develop over time in response to numerous conditions to which the person responds by getting tense: money or relationship problems, fear of loss of employment, or from a sudden shock (e.g., automobile accident), apart from physical injury. In such cases, the Startle Reflex, another postural reflex, recognizable as cringing, is involved and has become habituated (and potentiated). 
Finally, under long-term conditions that involve repetitive motions or that require prolonged vigilance and performance, tension of the involved muscle groups often becomes habituated. Such habituation accounts for most cases of back trouble, which involves excessive tonus of the spinal extensors, which contract during arousal into heightened vigilance. (The name for this latter response is "The Landau Reaction".) 
Though hypertonicity may result from pain, it also generates pain: muscles get chronically sore, joints get over-compressed and degenerate over time, and nerves get trapped either within the soft tissue at the site of contracture or at neighboring bony prominences. So where pain may have begun from injury, it often continues long beyond the time of injury; ordinary functional responses, when habituated, become a pain problem. 
Whereas clinicians refer to the muscular evidence of habituation as a contracture or as spasticity and treat it as a muscular problem, somatic educators call the condition, "sensory-motor amnesia" (Hanna, 1988), and treat it as a learned condition that can be dispelled through sensory- motor learning. 
My central point is this: the brain controls the musculature, and learning, to a large extent, modifies brain functioning. And we can control our learning. 
The big, gaping question, "How can learning relieve pain?" is answered "By learning better voluntary control of the involved muscles." A person can break the tension-habit underlying their pain. End the hypertonicity, end the pain. This method may require closer consideration to be appreciated.


Let's begin with an analogy: you know that a computer system consists of two elements: hardware and software. The physical computer, which is essentially a memory device, is the hardware; what makes the computer able to function in useful ways is a set of memories and instructions -- "software".
Computers and human beings have certain similarities (one being derived from the perceptual/conceptual framework of the other). A computer consists of a central, electronic "brain" connected to peripheral devices, such as a monitor screen, printer, or other robotic devices -- something like a neuro-musculo-skeletal system. 
Our body is our "hardware" and our memories and skills are our "software." 
We humans learn nearly all of our movement skills rather than being born with them. Even our walking and eating patterns bear the stamp of our learning, our skill in movement, and our restrictions to movement. We also learn nearly all of our perceptual abilities, filtered as they are by our interests and beliefs as to what is important. 
Once learned, our software/conditioning predisposes us to a way of doing things, subject to self-correction according to the situation (fine tuning). For example, people tend to have a recognizable postural set; this postural set reveals a muscular tension pattern maintained, for the most part, without much sensory awareness. People get set in their ways. The recognizable, stooped posture and stiffness of an "older" person form in this way. 
A person could, with persistent practice, gradually improve their muscular control through "trial, error, and self-correction." However, few people possess sufficient discipline or understanding of how to do so. Fortunately, such learning can be systematically accelerated and enhanced by a variety of neuromuscular education techniques, each with its own special virtues and degree of effectiveness.
Some examples include Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), Feldenkrais Somatic (formerly "Functional") Integration, Trager Psycho-physical Integration, muscle-energy techniques, Hanna Somatic Education, and biofeedback training. 
The key difference of these methods from manipulative therapies is that they improve the ability to sense the body more clearly and to control the tensions of muscular system. They provide a missing link in the treatment of pain of neuromuscular origin, which otherwise tends to be chronic and refractory. 
In many of these systems, a client/patient can be taught to rehearse appropriate movement patterns on a frequent basis -- as a part of their regular grooming/exercise regimen -- to erase the cumulative tensions of daily life. Thus, the educational nature of these approaches empowers the client/patient to become self-sufficient.


Genetically encoded into the neuro-muscular software of every vertebrate's brain is a response whose function is to refresh sensory awareness and to bring about relaxation. It is triggered by the feeling of stiffness and fatigue, and also occurs spontaneously as part of awakening from sleep.
This response, known as "the pandicular response", consists of a strong, steady, voluntary contraction followed by relaxation and movement. 
Most people have seen that response in action: the "stretching" of cats, dogs, and children upon arising from sleep. Astute observers of bird behavior have observed this response as "wing and leg stretching". Yawning, laughter, and orgasm are specialized versions of this response. It is part of the "operating system" by which vertebrates maintain flexibility and health. 
The pandicular response can be triggered voluntarily to relax muscular hypertonicity -- and it can be assisted and enhanced to bring about distinctly rapid sensory-motor learning and relief from muscular hypertonicity and pain. 
To date, one system of neuro-muscular re-education is known to use the pandicular response: Hanna Somatic Education.


A broad spectrum of chronic pain conditions results from muscular hypertonicity and can be resolved through sensory-motor learning (somatic education). Numerous approaches to somatic education exist; the methods of one, in particular, Hanna Somatic Education, systematically uses the pandicular response to speed the learning process. Once the tension-habit in the involved neuromuscular region is broken, the associated complaint tends not to return. Tensions that accumulate in daily life can thereafter be managed by the client, and further problems, prevented. Thus, somatic education can resolve pain and leave the client able to maintain their own comfort.


I pay my respect to the late Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., whose writings and personal instruction provided a structure for my personal somatic explorations and for my work with others. 


Hanna, Thomas L. Somatics: Re-Awakening the Mind's Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1988
Selye, Hans. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978 
Selye, Hans. Stress Without Distress. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1974. 

For more information about the availability of somatic education, worldwide, click here.
Lawrence Gold has been in practice of pain relief through clinical somatic education since 1990, has developed specialized, recorded, pain-relief programs for public use, and has served a world-wide clientele both on-line and in person. 


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WHAT's the Problem, Here???

The Problem-Solving Mind is an identity of our times.

An identity is something familiar to which we return by preference -- or by tendency.

The Problem-Solving Mind, to have existence, must have problems.

If it solves them, it must have more problems, to exist as The Problem-Solving Mind.

If necessary, it goes looking for trouble to find a problem to solve. It makes problems up as it goes along and treats them as if they are serious and for real, sometimes in a laughable fashion.

The point is, as long as one identifies with or as being The Problem-Solving Mind, one will find problems. One keeps returning to being The Problem-Solving Mind as a matter of familiarity and habit -- and like the bees, the problems come in swarms, sometimes.  The Problem-Solving Mind can be kept busy.

In a sense, The Problem-Solving Mind is a problem -- if it is the identity to which we return. However, if we rest from The Problem-Solving Mind, we fall into what is deeper.  It is no solution. It is also no problem.  No-Problem Mind.

No problem.

Then, conditions may arise as they may, but we are operating from No-Problem Mind.  Fewer problems arise and they are turned into no-problem.

No problem.

No identifying as or with, "The Problem-Solving Mind".

No avoiding it.

No problem.

Problem? No problem.

What Do I Mean, by "I"?

What most people consider, "self", 

is a conglomeration of memories --

memories of intentions,

remembered sensations and locations,

remembered dreams, imaginings, and unknowing).

That's it.

Somehow, the idea of "self",

comprised of those things,

is taken as complete.

There is an attribute of existence

that is universal


and intuitively familiar --

the sense of being, "here" -- wherever that is.

There is no discernable break, in it,

but if there were,

we would never know it

because a break, in it,

would be a break, in ourselves.

No memory would form

and so there would be no way for us to refer, to it,

except, perhaps, for fancy words like

paradox, or mystery.

So, it seems continuous, ever-present, and present everywhere.

For all intents and purposes, it is eternal,


the central pivot point

common to all experiences --

but neither central,

nor anything around anything else pivots,

nor a point -- but present to and at every point.

Now, it is more present than our memories are --

more constantly present

more reliably present

and in fact,


Get that. Inescapable.


for all time.

Now, what does that have to do with, "self"?

It would seem to be more "self" than "self" is!

Wouldn't it.

I think they're going to have to re-write the entire English language

to make the use of a certain pronoun,

a certain pronoun which is neither a common noun nor a proper noun,

but the #1 pronoun,

reflective of reality.

What do you make, of that?

Why, to 'Conservatives', 'Progressives' are The Enemy

I think I know why political "conservatives" consider political "progressives", the Enemy: envy and shame.

Progressives actually work to get things done that benefit large groups of people.

Conservatives work to get things done that benefit small groups of people, "special interests" -- and what they conserve is their own value system and agenda.

Conservatives see what Progressives are up to and feel ashamed that they, themselves, get so little done and deserve so little appreciation. They just don't have it in them to envision and implement programs of large-scale benefit. It is easier to destroy than to create -- and that's what they do.

So, they feel ashamed. They feel it easier to bring Progressives down than to raise themselves up (and do some good) -- and that's what they do, with lies, distortions, omissions, and negative generalizations -- and with manipulating voting. That's the behavior of envy. They attempt to substitute the lift of "winning" for the lift of having brought about benefit (as in, "It is better to give than to receive.")

How Hamstrings and Hip Joint Flexors Get Tight | another way

This entry explains why the hamstrings and hip joint flexors get tight, why they don't respond to stretching, and what it takes to free them.

It's a jammed, turned sacrum, commonly known as "sacroiliac joint dysfunction" (or "SIJD"), and also as a sacroiliac joint strain or sprain, sacroileitis, and as a dislocated or displaced sacrum.

How a Jammed, Turned Sacrum Affects Walking, Hamstrings and Hip Joint Flexors

Ordinarily, each step forward in walking starts with a forward movement of the hip on that side, followed by the knee and foot. The flow of walking feels like a continuous connection through your whole leg through your hip, right up into your spine to about half-way up. Movement is a smooth, continuous flow with a whiplike motion from hip through the foot.

Why the Hip Joint Flexors Get Tight

With a jammed, turned sacrum, the flow of leg movement through the hip joint, in walking, stops short of going through the pelvis. That's to protect against the pain of moving a jammed S-I joint.

The broken flow of movement shows up as the person taking each step by bringing the thigh and knee forward first, rather than the hip; that movement uses the hip joint flexors -- the psoas (or iliopsoas) muscles and hamstrings.

You can neither stand up comfortably nor take a full, normal stride, so a fold appears at the hip joint.

The whole pelvis and leg exist in a state of cringing from the pain -- hip joint flexors and hamstrings, both.

How S-I Joint Pain Changes the Walking Pattern

The hamstrings tighten to stabilize and protect the painful pelvis.

This is not something someone decides. It's an automatic action triggered by the sensation of walking in that jammed a pattern, in part, to avoid the weird, uncomfortable sensation of moving with a strained, painful S-I joint. So, the person walks weirdly.

The person gets used to lugging the laggard leg forward, with the psoas and gluteus minimus muscles -- holding tight in a state of readiness to overcome tight hamstrings. Oddly enough, people consider that weird, altered movement pattern to be normal, if they notice it, at all.

Attempts to free tight hip joint flexors and hamstrings that are tight because of a turned sacrum are fruitless as long as the sacrum is displaced.

What It Takes to Free the Hip Joint Flexors and Hamstrings

One must correct the shape of the pelvis so that strain comes off the S-I joints.

When that happens, the hip joint flexors and hamstrings automatically relax.

After that, it's a simple matter of a session or so of clinical somatic education (clean-up) or some somatic education exercises to restore a healthy walking pattern.


The Soma as a Spherical Field of Feeling

The ultimate focus of somatic education is not the muscular system or the brain -- both of which are 3rd person concepts, only -- but the field of feeling. Somatics is primarily about feeling (or sensing) and movement -- to be understood in just those terms.

As a practical matter, most people are largely oblivious to the field of feeling; "feeling" is even disparaged in today's left-brain-analytical culture of science and control. Because of that untrained obliviousness, most people cannot attend to the field of feeling very well, in the practice of somatic education action patterns ("exercises") or in life, in general -- and for that reason, as a practical matter, people must start with feeling muscular activity to awaken to the overall field of feeling -- which is not shaped like a human body, with two arms, two legs, a head and a trunk. The shape of the field of feeling is spherical.

It doesn't seem spherical, for most people, because what they feel primarily are areas of pain or pleasure (occasional moments of sensation) and areas of themselves that they have specifically awakened by participating in various activities. So, the sphere isn't "filled out".

However, as areas and intensities of pain diminish and sensory (or feeling-) attention awakens, the sphere of feeling does fill out.

That spherical field of feeling has a boundary that does not exist at the skin, but extends beyond it and fades as it extends outward, fades first into a kind of subtle feeling of attention-presence and then fades further into an incomprehensible "unknown Unknown". The sense of self, and general feeling-attention, exists within the confines of that spherical shape. All sensations exist within it -- physical sensations, emotional sensations, and mental sensations (the feeling of thinking). Attention, intention, memory, and imagination operate with the "unknown Unknown" at the far periphery of the spherical field of feeling. The sense of objects and of others appears within it.

Just as pains and pleasures tend to "shape" the field of feeling, so also do subjective occupations, such as reveries, dreams, memories, conceptualizing and stress-states. Reveries, dreams, memories, conceptualizing, and stress states contract -- constrict -- the spherical field of feeling and appear to define us into the shape of human somas that feel the way we look.

Just as somatic education action patterns free us from the habituated muscular constrictions of sensory-motor amnesia, somatic education in the form of the TetraSeed Awakening Invocations, or other disciplines of mind and attention, frees us from the habituated stress-constrictions of attentional-intentional amnesia. As that happens, feeling-intuition progressively reveals our form to be (in the rest condition) spherical, and (in activity), modifications of that sphericality.

As a note of interest, if you pay attention in this moment to the feeling of your bodily form, you will notice that it has places where sensation is prominent and where it is less or absent. When you move, new places of sensation light up; when you come to rest, they fade out in seconds. What is commonly left is the feeling of mind, or attention, flickering from subject to subject, object to object. 

"Mind" is a kind of subtle, internal feeling-attention. When mind comes to rest (as in the practice of TetraSeed Awakening Invocations or other disciplines of transcendence), even that subtle, internal feeling-attention subsides and we lose the sense of self-and-world altogether.

To retain any sense of defined form requires movement or change of some sort, whether of muscular movement or the movements of attention. The most common form of sensation produced by muscular movement is that of breath and heartbeat, the waves and pulsings of which keep the non-spherical sense of the body more or less continuous, from moment to moment. When attention ceases to be directed to, or distracted by, these waves and pulsings, they also fade out. This, in the language of yoga, is called samadhi.

In samadhi, we do not go unconscious; the sense of consciousness persists, but in a non-self-conscious way that feels entirely ordinary and congenial. It is only when we come out of samadhi that the world (or the room we occupy) surprises us with its (really, our) re-emergence.

a resource for people whose capacity to take action is ensnared in conditioning that robs them of initiative (and the capacity to coordinate with others) 

This video is an overview of a procedure to come out shortly in instructional form. It's called, The Invertor TetraSeed Awakening Invocation. 

It and works upon intending and refusing as forces affected by obedience-conditioning. By exposing the listener to those two forces in different sequences, it dislodges the listener's attention-fixation and exposes obedience conditioning, regardless of source or characteristics.