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We are born with the innate ability to LEARN how to control our muscles through movement.  We don’t lose that innate ability, we just forget. This loss of function commonly goes unnoticed - until it causes pain.  Then it is usually treated as a structural problem requiring surgery or long-term treatment, or diagnosed as a condition that will require long-term pain medication.

The term “somatic” refers to the ongoing, internal, automatic processes that keep our whole body functioning.

Hanna Somatics deals with the internal process that controls voluntary and involuntary muscle function and muscle malfunction.   Hanna Somatics restores freedom of movement and eliminates chronic muscular pain caused when unconscious, involuntary muscle contractions won’t release.  Most people find Hanna Somatics to be radically different than anything they have ever experienced.   This self-empowering method of relieving pain is revolutionary in terms of its’ counter-intuitive approach and the depth of malfunction that it restores.

Dr. Thomas Hanna is the founder of Hanna Somatics and the Navato Institute for Somatic Research and Training.  In 1975, Dr. Hanna sponsored and directed the first Feldenkrais training course in the United States.   Hanna Somatic Education was developed as the result of Dr. Hanna’s work with chronic- pain patients for twelve years.  During that time, he identified three major unconscious, involuntary reflex patterns that contract in response to our environment: stress (green light reflex), anxiety (red light reflex), and injury(trauma reflex) all as a result of habitually contracted muscles.  When any of these patterns contracts long enough or fast enough, it causes a malfunction in the central nervous system that can virtually eliminate memory of how certain muscle groups feel or how to control them.  The brain controls the muscles, and only the brain can relax them.

Dr. Hanna named this loss of function Sensory Motor Amnesia, and he developed three hands-on protocols that target the specific reflex patterns and restore feeling and control to the muscle(s).  The method used to correct SMA is called pandiculation.   Pandiculation is an active collaboration between the practitioner and the client to  voluntarily engage the malfunctioning muscle to provide sensory feedback to the brain. As the client learns to feel the muscle through movement, the involuntary, unconscious contraction will relax.

Dr. Hanna called the three major involuntary, unconscious reflex patterns the Green Light Reflex, the Red Light Reflex, and the Trauma Reflex:

GREEN LIGHT REFLEX (STRESS) – This involuntary reflex pattern contracts all the muscles of the back of the body.  It is triggered hundreds of times a day, and when the stress is long-term, the muscles stop relaxing.   Signs of this habituated pattern include low back pain, neck stiffness, tight shoulder muscles, and tight hamstrings. The back pain caused by this habituated pattern is commonly diagnosed and treated as degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis of the spine.  Hanna Somatics views lower back pain and tight shoulder muscles as a functional problem requiring relearning. 

RED LIGHT REFLEX (ANXIETY) – This involuntary reflex pattern contracts all the muscles of the front of the body.  It is triggered by negative feelings such as fear, worry, apprehension, and sadness.   Emotional traumas, even those experienced in childhood, can have a lifetime impact on posture and breathing. Signs of this habituated pattern include rounded shoulders, the head extended forward over the body, sore neck and shoulder muscles, a dowagers hump, a contracted abdominal muscle, shallow breathing, depression, digestion problems, constipation, and erectile dysfunction, all as a result of habitually contracted muscles.   Shallow breathing is the most serious and least noticed symptom of this habituated pattern.   Dr. Hanna theorized that shallow breathing is a cause of heart disease. 

TRAUMA REFLEX (INJURY, SURGERY) – This pattern contracts the muscles of one side of the body in response to injury.  It is a protective response.  Someone with this habituated reflex pattern has usually broken a leg or sprained an ankle at some point in their life, and they shifted their weight to the opposite leg. But even a simple fall that goes unnoticed can cause the muscles of one side to contract.  Childhood injuries commonly show up as pain in adulthood.  When one side of the waist becomes chronically contracted, it pulls the pelvis and rib cage together on that side - which also squeezes the vertebrae on that side - causing a curve in the spine that is diagnosed as scoliosis. Over time, the body will compensate for the imbalance by tilting the head to the opposite side, causing an "S curve" scoliosis.  Common complaints caused by the habituated Trauma Reflex are neck pain, shoulder pain, and hip pain. Signs of this habituated pattern include scoliosis, one shoulder lower, one leg shorter, and a slight or pronounced limp, all as a result of habitually contracted muscles.

Three ways to experience Hanna Somatic Education from Noreen:

Private Session(s) – Target your unique chronic muscular pain  with hands-on work. Restore function to spine and joints that you hadn’t even realized you had lost.  Learn how to reinforce the private sessions to maintain your own comfort.

Workshop Series –  A  gradual, progressive approach to reducing the effects of stress, anxiety and injury as you are guided through slow, gentle movements.  Relax muscles and relieve pain.  No stretching.   No force.  No postures to hold.   Learn how to maintain the comfort you’ve achieved in the workshop.

Where Comfort Hides – Follow the step-by-step, clearly illustrated instructions that target the muscular patterns of stress, anxiety, and injury.  Improve on your own at your own pace.  

Somatics by Noreen Owens

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    Photography by Tim Gaudreau Studios photographed on location at Tim Gaudreau Studios and Zev Yoga, Portsmouth, NH