The Three Postural Patterns of HSE
In Hanna Somatic Education we view the overall postural pattern of the person based on, what TH called, the 3 postural reflexes he named: Red Light, Green Light, Trauma Reflex. They are not recognized physiological reflexes, but rather postural patterns expressed over and over, through time, such that they are so habitually held they “act” like reflexes.
4th posture, he called the “Senile Posture” which is a combination of the other three whereby the person has a large number of co-contractions between opposite sets of muscles and thereby is stiff everywhere and displays very little movement mobility.
Of course, the whole person is assessed for variations of limb and head carriage within the general schema of the 3 postural patterns. For example, a person might display an over-all RL pattern, however one shoulder may be more curled forward or held backward than the other, one hip may be more flexed while the other more extended, the head may be both forward and tilted, as well as rotated to a particular side, one foot may be more supinated relative to the other, and much much more subtly of assessment may be noted. However, the central muscles of the center of body in a RL posture, the abdominal muscles, especially the rectus abdominis, will be held in a shortened contracted state and various RL pattern configurations will follow as a general rule.
All quotes are from: “Clinical Somatic Education, A New Discipline in the Field of Health Care,” by Thomas Hanna, Ph.D; Somatics Journal, Autumn/Winter 1990-91.
F. Matthias Alexander, father of the Alexander Technique, 1904 - 1955, “elaborated this internal self-teaching technique by means of discoveries he had made within himself in the course of a sustained effort to change his won posture. He had excessive habituation of the startle reflex - a posture condition causing lorgosis of the neck vertebrae, depression of the chest wall, and a too-forward carriage of the head. This distortion of the the windpipe also distorted the projection of his voice. Alexander focused his attention on the “means” by which he was unconsciously using his neck, shoulders, chest, and head while doing any movement whatsoever. By “inhibiting” the “end” and focusing proprioceptively on the “means - whereby,” Alexander taught himself to control the muscles of the upper trunk, he changed his posture - something no one believed was possible. This was the beginning of somatic education in the twentieth century.”
John Dewey, the philosopher and professor at the Un of Chicago (and one of my father’s professors), under Alexander’s guidance, changed his posture and realized “not all problems are solvedby intellect, for some are solved by direct experience of oneself - a somatic insight.” Dewey learned he could interrupt a habitual pattern by sensing some of its components and making what was unconscious, conscious, which allowed new motor control. Dewey saw that this was a radical new physiological educational process which achieved “a better integration of the reflexive and voluntary elements in one’s response patterns.”
Elsa Gindler took another approach to somatic education in Berlin, by conducting classes in “Gymnastik, where she invited her students of focus upon the sensations within their bodies as they went through various movements.” She had her students focus their attention on such things as,
“how is one breathing during the movements? How does the weight of the body during movement shift over the heel, this hips, and so forth?” She had her students “turn conscious attention inward to the proprioceptive background of an objective movement, and the quality of the objective movement begins to improve. Greater self-control is gained by means of greater sensory awareness.”
There are other notables such as Charlotte Selver, Carola Speads, Ilse Mittendorf, and Gerda Alexander (no relation to F. M. Alexander), whose work spread in Europe and the US and whose early work in somatic education “taught others how to gain greater voluntary control of their physiological process by sensory-motor learning.”
Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli, was greatly influenced by Gerta Alexander and M. F. Alexander, while living in London. He was an electrical engineer and research scientist in high energy physics, and introduced judo to France during the 1930s. He advanced somatic education through his movement system which he called, “Awareness through Movement,” which combined the “means-whereby of F. M. Alexander and Gerda Alexander’s practice of intense sensory scrutiny while lyingon the floor” which improved both posture and movement. His genius is was to create a hands-on form of somatic education he called “Functional Integration.” In Functional Integration he “(1) used his hands to provide sensory information (the “means-whereby”) to make the learner aware of unconscious movement patterns in his body; (2) from his knowledge of judo he applied the principle of going with another person’s resistance and never going against it. There is no stretching or pulling against resistance. This second procedure was a brilliant and fortuitous discovery of how habitual or spastic muscular contractions can be encouraged to relax.” Thomas Hanna named this second method of Feldenkais’s work, “kinetic mirroring,” in which you bring the muscle origin and insertion toward each other. The result is that the muscle begins torelax. “As Feldenkrais describes it, “if you do the work of a muscle, it ceases to do its own work”; that is it relaxes.”
Hanna Somatic Education: Thomas Hanna felt that even though Moshe Feldenkrais opened a very important door to sensory-motor learning, it lacked: “(1) a comprehensive diagnostic theory for understanding the origin of the typical neuromuscular postural distortions; (2) a general somatic theory of sensory-motor process; and (3) a method of somatic education that not only gave the learner the sensory feedback of “kinetic mirroring” and “means-whereby” instruction, but also went the full route of engaging the learner’s motor actions so as to use the full capacity of the sensory-motor feedback loop.”
What is Somatic Education
In HSE we talk about SM amnesia and sm learning. these 2 concepts are intimately interwoven.
The word “somatic” comes from “soma.” TH described the word soma, to mean the living body as experienced from within.
S-M learning occurs within us as an internalized process. We may be guided by a teacher or a practitioner’s words or even hands, but that teacher or practitioner is not doing something “to us.” We, as individuals are initiating and controlling the process.
S-M learning to gain greater vol. control of your musculoskeletal system (bone, joints, muscles, fascia) and also your general physiology.
For ex, a teacher may be verbally guide a movement process, first asking me to move my shoulder toward my opposite hip. To do this I contract some muscles, voluntarily. Then the teacher verbally directs me thru her words to slowly release out of contraction while paying attention to the process. This is the pandicular process and releases tense, tight, contracted muscles. Or, a practitioner in a private session might place his hand on my shoulder and ask me to move my shoulder toward my opposite hip. After I have initiated this voluntary movement, the practitioner may add some weight to my shoulder, to increase the sensory feedback which may allow me to sense more accurately the movement I am doing. Then the practitioner would direct me verbally to slowly release out of contraction while the pr continues to hold the weight on my shoulder. As I am now directed to slowly release, I need to control the rate of release, giving my motor cortex time to reset the resting tonus of the muscles I’m using. That reseting is the key. That is what allows my muscles to release excess tension and allow my muscles to assume a more natural resting muscle fiber length.
In HSE, S-M learning teaches you how to use your own brain and body/soma to take back voluntary control of yourself. You are your own practitioner. You learn tools for self care.
Our main technique called, “pandiculation,” consists of two easy processes. First, you contract the muscle group(s) involved. This sends sensory information from the muscles and joints to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord the sensory information ultimately reaches the motor cortex of the brain. Second, you very slowly and with control and awareness, come out of the contraction. This is the most important part of the process. If you are moving out of the contraction slowly and paying attention to your internal sensations, your motor cortex is re-organizing your muscle response such that you are reseting and reducing your muscles’ resting tonus. That means the muscles let go of their excess muscular tension. Between each pandiculation you rest briefly for a second or two. Then you repeat the process as needed, usually 3 to 5 times.
Hanna Somatic pandiculations and movements are pleasurable. They are done slowly with comfortable effort. In most fitness and exercise classes you are encouraged to “go for it 100%.” In Hanna Somatics you are usually directed to reduce your level of effort and exertion which actually increases your ability to sense your internal process and achieve greater results in pain reduction, joint stiffness, and a sense of well being.
Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)
SMA “is a condition in which the sensory-motor neurons of the voluntary cortex have lost some position or their ability to control all or some of the muscles of the body.”
What are the causes of SMA?
Chronic muscular contraction.
Disuse of the body due to being bedridden, being immobilized for a time - such as being in a cast for a period of time, or being wheel-chair-bound.
Habitual misuse of the musculo-fascial-skeletal system over time, such as, working in a stooped, forward posture; operating machinery or performing repetitive movements that impose an asymmetrical, imbalanced use of postures and movements; and various injuries and surgeries that impose movement restrictions even after tissue has healed, create scaring that numbs or facially binds soft tissues, or causes bone and/or joint misalignment.
What ever the source, chronically contracted muscles will distort the postures and movements of the person and as a result the following may result:
* Over worked muscles may become sore and painful.
* Certain muscles become weak due to constant exertion, and people may complain of general fatigue. Some of my clients say that get up, have breakfast, and then already feel fatigue.
* The overall synergy of the body movement and coordination is impaired, and people are more likely to have falls, generally be more clumsy, and may emotionally express more fear of such daily activities as walking, going up and down stairs, and making travel plans.
* When some muscles around a joint are chronically contracted, the joint cannot function in an organized way. The joint is no longer positioned for efficient use and movement may cause friction within the joint leading to arthritis and other conditions.
* Posture becomes imbalanced and distorted. Weight distribution problems add to muscle and joint disfunction. For example, if a person strongly leans to one side, usually the hip, knee, and ankle/foot joints on that side will carry a disproportionate amount of weight, further distressing function and pain levels.
When the problem is SMA, its main symptoms of SMA, pain, postural distortion, stiff joints, and movement difficulties, are rarely understand by medical doctors and are usually in-effectively treated with drugs, stretching, or local mechanical interventions. “Such local intervention has no lasting effect upon the symptoms, inasmuch as it treats a functional problem of the brain as if it were a structural problem of the peripheral body.”
SMA “can be remedied by only one means: a reduction of the voluntary sensory-motor cortex. The cortex must be reminded sensorily of what it has forgotten so that, once again, it has full motor control of the muscular areas affected.” “SMA can only be overcome by education, not treatment. An internal process must occur whereby new sensory information is introduced into the sensory-motor feedback loop, allowing the motor neurons of the voluptuary cortex once again to control the musculature fully and to achieve voluntary relaxation.”