Somatic is a Greek word which means living body. Somatic therapy is a type of movement therapy that utilizes mind and body training as an alternative treatment for managing pain, improving balance and increasing the ease with which range of motion is performed.
History and Development of Somatic Therapy
This therapy was developed by Thomas Hanna in 1976 hypothesizing that the sensory-motor system of the body responds to the traumas and stresses that occur throughout our daily lives with very specific muscular reflexes that are involuntary and become habitual contractions. These involuntary contractions can cause soreness and stiffness. Over time your body suffers from a type of amnesia known as SMA (sensory-motor amnesia) which is a loss of the meaning of how your muscles feel and how you can control them.
Hanna believed that there were three reflexes that led to SMA. The startle response which he termed the red light reflex is a response of withdrawal that occurs in the abdominal muscles as demonstrated when the body curves over on itself in reaction to distress. The second of these reflexes is the landau arousal response, termed the green light reflex. This reflex applies to the action response of the back muscles where the body is constantly thrust forward to respond to our daily responsibilities. The last of these three reflexes is the trauma reflex which we experience when an injury to our body has occurred.
These reflexes are learned reflexes and Hanna’s theory was that what is learned can be unlearned. He developed and taught exercise program to facilitate the release of these chronic learned tension holding patterns.
Benefits of Somatic Therapy
It is believed that re-education of the muscular system with somatic therapy can relieve and sometimes offer a cure for many conditions. Some of these are arthritis, back pain, adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), joint dislocations, balance problems, frequent urination, dizziness, foot pain, pulled hamstrings, joint pain, headaches, sacroiliac pain, sciatica, scoliosis, obesity, tightness of the shoulder or pain in the shoulders, spinal stenosis, TMJ (temporomandibular joint syndrome, whiplash injuries and even uneven length in your legs. The conditions that this therapy is useful in treating are not limited to this list.
Goals of Somatic Therapy
Teaching you the ability to control problems associated with your muscles is the general goal of Somatic Therapy. The exercises are slow in motion and performed in sitting or prone positions. During the movements you are instructed and reminded to be aware of how your muscles feel. At various stages throughout the program deep breathing techniques are applied. Keep in mind to always move in a slow and gentle fashion never forcing the movement. Never forget to keep your attention focused on the feelings and internal sensation that the movement creates. The benefits are cumulative as your flexibility and the ease of your movements improve.