Somatic Education as a Way to End Pain, Speed Recovery, and Reduce Injuries

The years take their toll on our agility and speed of recovery not through the passage of time, but through the accumulated effects of stress and injury -- effects that are largely avoidable and even reversible.

Everyone’s initial reaction to insult and injury is the same: we tighten up. Sometimes, we are able to release that reaction quickly; at other times, we retain it -- and suffer the effects mis-labeled as "aging" or "injury". This "tightening up" reaction is the secret origin of the loss of agility and the lengthening of recovery time that accompany aging and that bring many athletes' sports careers to a premature close.What these effects have in common are habituated muscular tension, restricted movement and chronic muscle fatigue.

What makes these effects mysterious is that people commonly think that if "nothing was broken", the injury wasn't "serious"; they ignore pain and fail to notice or give adequate care to changes of movement. So, people don't connect their injuries (and the neuromuscular protective reflexes triggered by injuries and stress) to gradual and cumulative functional changes in performance. These changes persist because brain-conditioning doesn't diminish with age; as a form of learning, brain conditioning (residual "muscle memory" of injuries) tends to accumulate as we become "set in our ways" in reflexive muscular tension patterns. "Injuries" don't heal because they are not injuries; they are habituated muscular tension patterns that often outlive therapy or surgeries.

When muscles go into reflexive contraction from injuries, they generate metabolic waste products (lactic acid and others) continuously. Habituated muscular contraction blocks circulation, slowing tissue regeneration; they muscular contractions lengthen recovery times, often indefinitely.

So, to recover from injuries, two things are necessary: to erase the conditioning affecting our brain and muscular system and to reclaim control of our own bodies. To do so is possible for nearly anyone, once they are shown how.

As part of a general, pre-warmup conditioning regimen, somatic education exercises improve movement and recovery time and reduce the likelihood of injuries, even during maximum athletic activity. These patterned exercises refresh bodily-awareness and improve muscular responsiveness and coordination. Athletes can enhance their performance and reduce the likelihood of future injury.

Brain conditioning is a large part of aging. That is a large part of why pain and stiffness persists and gets worse, whatever part genetics may play. With somatic education, older athletes can improve their mobility, balance and recovery times to younger performance levels. Improvements consistent with age-reversals of ten to twenty years are common.

Somatic education helps prevent sport- and overuse-injuries, reduces post-surgical pain and speeds recovery. To clear up multiple old injures, clients typically need four to eight sessions of clinical somatic education for a definitive outcome-- or an appropriate somatic education exercise program.

After recovery, new injuries can be cleared up much more quickly and self-maintenance (somatic education exercises) can reduce the likelihood of future injury.

The Institute for Somatic Study and Development
Santa Fe, NM
This article may be reproduced only in its entirety.

Avoiding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other 'terminal' Diseases

DATELINE:
Silicon Valley: home of the computer and of the computer terminal.


A large percentage of people in Silicon Valley have at least one thing in common: they spend many hours at the keyboard of a computer terminal. They have another thing in common: tight shoulders, back pain, tendinitis, and in many cases, carpal tunnel syndrome -- "repetitive use injuries".

So let me say a few words about work hygiene -- things beyond "keyboard hygiene" that you may not have heard before -- because if you're going to avoid stress or repetitive use injuries, you're going to do something different to take care of yourself. More on that, later.

Repetitive use injuries do not come from mechanical problems of the body; they, Themselves, are mechanical problems caused by habitual action patterns, ways of working. Habitual ways of working set up habitual tension patterns in your muscles and habitual states of stress. Repetitive use injuries are one physical manifestation of stress.

Your brain is an organ of learning and the master control center for your muscles and movements. If your muscles are too tight, the problem lies not in your muscles, but in your brain, which controls them. You have conditioned yourself to maintain a state of muscular tension. The mechanical problems of the body come from how you have applied yourself to your work.

HOW PEOPLE PROGRAM THEMSELVES INTO WORK-RELATED INJURIES and STRESS

You may notice that people who work at a keyboard spend long periods sitting in one position. As they do, three things happen: they enter a heightened state of concentration, they hold relatively still during those periods of concentration (except for their hands), and their breathing and circulation decrease.

Let's look at what happens with each of those aspects of self-programming.


High Concentration for Long Periods

Usually, keyboard workers enter not merely a heightened state of concentration; they enter a state of high-speed concentration -- the race to beat the deadline or to meet the quota. To work at high speed involves a heightened state of tension.

This heightened tension affects workers in two ways: their whole body gets tense, particularly in the low back, neck and shoulders; and the muscles of their forearms, which control the movements of the hands, get especially tense, possibly leading to tendinitis in the wrists or carpal tunnel syndrome. Neck tension pulls the neck vertebrae closer together and can cause pinched nerves.

Long periods of tension, like long periods of exercise, create a kind of conditioning. As someone programs themselves (i.e., learns) to meet the demands of a job -- they get used to the tensions it entails. These tensions tax the body and form the bodily basis for job stress, burnout, and medical consequences.

This kind of self-conditioning also creates carpal tunnel syndrome. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which involves burning sensations and numbness down the arms, has the same origins.

Lack of Movement 

Movement interrupts tension habits. Conversely, lack of movement while under tension leads to conditioning into a state of tension. Postures become set; people "set up" like jello --but without the jiggle! They get stiff on the job. Stiff jello.

The position most people adopt when working at the keyboard involves suspending their arms with bent elbows, hands over the keyboard. This position places strain on the muscles of the back and shoulders below the shoulder blades, which prevent the shoulders from rolling forward. Those muscles get tired and sore and produce mid-back pain.

The combination of intense concentration and lack of movement is a sure formula for stiffness and stagnation. It is an often unrecognized fact that muscles pump blood as they relax and contract. Muscles that stay in heightened tension produce metabolic waste products that accumulate. The effect is stagnation and fatigue.

Circulation Decreases

In addition, muscular tension blocks blood circulation (since blood must circulate through the muscles). This tension-induced blockage makes the job of the heart even harder, deprived as it already is of the pumping action of muscles in movement.

Decreased breathing leads to decreased mental clarity and decreased productivity -- not to mention decreased vitality.

Lack of good keyboard hygiene contributes to tight shoulders, to low back pain, and to Worker's Compensation costs.

WHAT TO DO TO PREVENT OR ELIMINATE WORK-RELATED INJURIES

Take "stretch breaks". A stretch break interrupts the formation of a tension habit and flushes out stagnant body fluids. There are certain movements that you can perform to prevent tension from accumulating in your back, shoulders, and forearms -- not stretches, actually, but related to yawning.

Here's a video that talks about and shows what I am talking about.



Better than a stretch break, however, is an exercise break. Five minutes of calisthenics -- windmills, side-bends, and running in place -- can make your morning break feel like a vacation (or at least highly refreshing).

Another way in which you can reverse the effects of prolonged keyboarding is with somatic exercises. These exercises reverse the conditioning that result in habitually tight muscles; they refresh your ability to relax.

So break your concentration. Interrupt your "productivity program". Take care of yourself. You'll be more productive.

WHAT HAPPENS TO MANY PEOPLE WHO DON'T PRACTICE GOOD KEYBOARD HYGIENE?


(CHRONIC PAIN, CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME, AND HEIGHTENED JOB STRESS)

Accumulated tension takes its toll. Once accumulated past a certain point, tension cannot sufficiently be eliminated by mere stretching and calisthenics. The person has lost too much bodily awareness to release the stored tensions; you can voluntarily release only the tension you can feel. So the "tension program" continues to run on automatic.

People at that point turn increasingly to massage therapists. Massage therapy produces healthful benefits, and it can be habit forming! On-site massage has become increasingly popular in recent years.

However, massage therapy has a big limitation: its benefits are temporary. Due to the need for repetition, massage therapy can become an ongoing expense of which people may tire -- at the expense of repetitive use injury. Often, by the time chronic tension has produced a Worker's Compensation claim, the person is generally beyond the help of a massage therapist. Their brain is too conditioned to let the muscles relax for long. Something else is needed.

That "something else" is control of your own muscular tension. One name for the training process that gives you back control of yourself is, "somatic education." Somatic education is a kind of self-preservation through grooming out accumulated tension.

Somatic education gives you back control of the brain conditioning that keeps you tight. Once done, you don't need to pay special attention to your muscles or state of tension; you're freed -- and you have sufficient bodily awareness to notice when you need a break -- basically, because you notice that you're not comfortable, any more. You take a break and take care of yourself.

Somatic Education improves or restores natural control of muscular tension by a short-term, physical learning process in which you participate actively, coached as necessary by a somatic educator. The somatic educator's job is to make it easy for you to regain control of your muscular tension. This approach differs from massage and chiropractic because it leaves you self-sufficient and able to manage conditions that might otherwise ultimately worsen until you require medical intervention, such as surgery. There are numerous forms of somatic education: the Alexander Technique, the Trager Approach, Feldenkrais Somatic Integration, Rolfing Movement, Hanna Somatic Education, and others. Some produce results faster than others, and some produce significant improvements nearly immediately.

Of course, if you let things go for too long, you do have a last resort: your doctor -- or his favorite surgeon.


RECOMMENDED:
Lawrence Gold is a certified clinical somatic educator who has been in practice since 1990. His clients are typically people in pain who have not gotten help from standard therapies. Contact Lawrence Gold, here. Read about his background, here.

What Happens When We Ignore Pain?

The question seems to bring its own answers: "Uh-oh!" or its opposite, "No pain, no gain." But there's more to it than that, a bigger picture.

True of Everybody


People have a universal reaction to injury: we tighten up. This reaction occurs in everyone, from infants to adults, and in all animals. It is a universal reaction: to cringe, to pull away, to avoid pain. Our brain senses the pain of injury and causes muscles to contract. It guards the injured part. Everyone has experienced the guarding reaction, but the role of the brain may be new information for some.

Most injuries heal in days or weeks. When pain persists for a long period, it warrants attention. Such pain may indicate, not an injury, but the residual reaction to an old injury, and that reaction can and often does create more consequences than the original injury.

Injuries That Linger, Injuries That Mysteriously Surface


Reactions to injury often persist, sometimes for years after an injury has healed. In my experience, it is common for the muscular tension of the guarding reaction triggered by injury to persist decades after healing has occurred -- and even to surface mysteriously, decades after. The reason: the brain, the master-control organ of the muscles, has made a conditioned habit of the guarding reaction. The guarding-habit becomes part of the brain's conditioning.

Interestingly, it is also common for pain to surface long after an injury has healed. What is interesting is that the pain signals, not an injury, but the brain conditioning that keeps muscles contracted after an injury. Contracted muscles get tired and sore.

Why the pain surfaces when it does involves numerous factors. It could be nervous tension, or overuse, or poor posture has added to the muscular tension of the guarding habit.

Consequences of Unattended, Lingering Pain


Another factor: joints and soft-tissue degenerate under the unrelenting tension and pressure of contracted muscles - with consequences: arthritis, bursitis, disk problems, bone spurs, facet joint syndrome, spondylosis.

That's what may happen in the long-term when you ignore pain: pain, tissue degeneration, poor aging, loss of mobility and at last, for many, decrepitude. Even if you've tended the injury, if you haven't tended the residual muscular tensions, this may become your destiny. It's what we haven't handled that gets us.

Where Do You Go to Correct the Problem?


Having heard this explanation and recognized that it applies to themselves, some people may turn to their chiropractor, their massage therapist, their acupuncturist, their herbalist, their nutritionalist, their surgeon, not recognizing that these health professionals don't deal with the condition described: the brain conditioning that causes residual muscular tension. People sometimes choose a familiar course of action, rather than a relevant one. They act out of habit; the habitual guarding reaction persists, the pain returns.

Others may hear this explanation and do nothing. They may not believe that this explanation is correct and remain unmoved. They may adopt a wait and see attitude. They may lack the will to take action until the situation is unbearable. Sometimes, it's a matter of whether someone is interested in handling the problem or entertaining it. This solution is for handling the problem quickly and directly.

A word, to the wise, is sufficient: Somatic education typically ends the pain and can protect you from the effects of reflexive muscular contractions by easing those contractions.


Lawrence Gold was certified to practice Hanna somatic education® in 1990. For two years, he was on-staff at the Wellness and Rehabilitation Center of the Watsonville Community Hospital, in California. Click, here, for his background, credentials, published articles, and public speaking engagements. Here's his email address:  https://somatics.com/wordpress/contact.

A Critique of the Strategy of Ineffectuality

It's time to move on from traditional, ineffectual ways and actually get the job done.
There is a hidden motivation behind the ineffectiveness and ineffectuality of traditional organizations. It is the same hidden motivation behind the choice people make to resort to ineffectual but traditional means of getting anything done, when something better is available and they know it. It is the fear that if the job actually got done, there would be nothing left to do. Game over.

But people want to keep the game going.

One reason: If the old game is over, people fear that they would not know the rules of any new game into which they might be thrust by the changes engendered by their previous success.

In that sense, people feel unprepared for success.

That is the underlying, and actually dishonest motivation behind ineffectuality. There is a kind of laziness behind fear of success. It is an intellectual laziness that doesn't want to have to learn the new ways triggered by success and it's a kind of emotional laziness of not wanting to have to face the consequences of success, which are learning and more change.

This kind of intellectual and emotional laziness underlies fear of (or resistance to) change, and it works against the emergence of what will benefit people more than before.

This is the paradox of which I am speaking: people often prefer to go on suffering than to resort to the means that will release them from their suffering. "The slave loves his chains," as the politically-incorrect saying goes. It may be politically incorrect, but it is often correct, nonetheless.

Thus, people to come to somatic educators for relief from their afflictions must be well beyond the internal conflict that wonders, "Who might I be without my pain?" Otherwise, their progress will be slowed and their attitude toward the work contaminated by a dishonest attitude that feigns skepticism but is really resistance to change. Such people may fail to complete, to the point of success, what they started, and instead resort again to the traditional therapeutic means that have already failed them.

The same strategy of dishonest "keeping the game going" via failure (or only partial or temporary or slow success) applies to organizations ostensibly committed to change and growth. The same "secondary gains" apply: by avoiding rapid growth and change, people get to stay within the traditional comfort zone dictated by intellectual and emotional laziness and fear. In the case of organizations, those perpetrating the ineffectuality may also protest that they are working as hard as they can to make progress and ostracize, attack, or undermine, verbally or politically, those who work productively toward growth and change.

Such people and organizations, like a too tight, ill-fitting shoe, actually "put a crimp in the style" of those committed to moving forward with growth and change. Thus, recalcitrant and dishonest resistance to change interferes with the creative imperative of those whose actions would otherwise be effective.

What I have just described is the contrast between what, in his book, Bodies in Revolt, Thomas Hanna described as "cultural traditionalists" and "proto-mutants." (If you haven't read the book, I recommend it.) Some people involved with efforts of personal and cultural evolution are actually cultural traditionalists in drag. They talk the talk but don't walk the walk. They involve themselves with the work but their actual efforts impede it.

To persist as a Hanna somatic educator in the face of a culture pervaded by the Strategy of Ineffectuality, you've got to be at least a proto-mutant, as Thomas Hanna described it in Bodies in Revolt - feeling your way creatively into new forms of action that are more effective than the old ways -- and sometimes you will feel compelled to cry out, "The Emperor has no clothes," if that's the case. A word of note: "political correctness" is the instrument of cultural traditionalists, not of "proto-mutants," for whom honesty is more important than keeping the peace.

If the description of "cultural traditionalist" fits you, you've got a choice: honestly admit it and re-evaluate your commitment to growth or dishonestly use rationalizations and excuses to protect your cultural traditionalism and ineffectuality.
It's time for more clarity about which is which and it's time to move on from traditional, ineffectual ways and actually get the job done.