Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to get the most out of your somatics practice

What's my number one tip for making the most of your somatics practice? 

Somatic exercises change your muscular system by changing your central nervous system

Remember that and you will reap the most benefit. As my somatics teacher says, muscles are dumb. They don't do anything on their own. They do what the brain tells them to do. All day your brain tell your muscles what to do involuntarily (like breathing, walking, driving a stick shift--all things you have mastered and no longer consciously think about). On the other hand, your brain can also tell your muscles what to do voluntarily (like learning to write with your left hand while your right arm is in a cast or swing dancing for the first time.) 

Here are some additional key points to remember when doing your somatic exercises:
  • Feel it from the inside out. Somatic exercises should bring awareness to any sensory-motor amnesia (SMA) patterns within your body. If you can feel it, you can change it. Only you feel what your body is telling you. 
  • Go S-L-O-W-L-Y. In my training someone said, "slow is the fastest way to change your brain." If you go quickly, or anticipate the next move you can't feel what's happening in the moment. Thomas Hanna equated it to watching a training movie in slow motion to see the movements of athletes. He said, the slower you go, the more you can notice.
  • Make it effortless. Forget the mentality of "no pain, no gain" workouts that send tons of sensory feedback to your brain from excessive effort and strain. Somatic moves, done slowly let your brain receive just the feedback it needs. A Feldenkrais Practitioner I know has a great cue: move your bones, not your muscles
  • Do not force the movement. Thomas Hanna equated a tight muscle to a knot in a rope. Yank on it and it only makes it tighter. You have to examine the knot (feel the tightness) to undo it (release the tension).
  • But in the same light explore your range of motion that you can move through effortlessly and gently at this moment. Our muscles are meant to move! The current pain you feel is from not moving smoothly and through full range of motion, but holding patterns that result in pain.
  • Somatic exercises do not cause pain. The movements are perfectly normal patterns. Some people may feel a bit sore after the first session or two since muscles that have been habitually tight for years, are lengthening. It's kind of like a massage; It feels good but you might be a bit sore afterwards. Regular practice will help your muscles retain their new length so you feel great and move with ease. If you are doing an exercise that is uncomfortable speak up. There are many vectors one can move a leg, hip, arm. Variations are fine, but there are a few key points that are critical for getting the most benefit.
  • Most somatic exercises are done on the floor. A flat surface with minimal cushion is ideal. A rug or blanket on a yoga mat works well. 
  • Lastly, wear comfortable clothing that's loose and easy to move in.
I hope that helps you with your practice. I'd love to hear from you if you have a mantra of sorts or thoughts on what you do to make the most of your somatic exercises. If you haven't yet taken a class you can see my schedule here.

Peace and health,
Kristin

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

a quick wrap up from my Somatics Exercise Coach course

Phew! I'm back from Maplewood NJ where I attended my Somatics Exercise Coach course with Martha Peterson of Essential Somatics. It was an amazing experience. The students as well as the instructors-- Martha, Laura Gates, and Carrie Day--were inspiring and fun, and I'm so excited to share this knowledge with anyone who's looking to feel better in their body, make that their soma, and rid themselves of chronic pain.

Here are some key points I took away from the course.

We are not bodies, we are somas. "Body" is the third person perspective of a person. You got to the doctor, a massage therapist, even look in the mirror and what one sees is the body from the outside perspective. Yes we all have bodies, but what we feel, our neurological programming, how we move, function, live, from our internal perspective, that is what is called the soma.

"Slow is the fast way to retrain the brain." The somatic exercises are designed to reprogram the connection between the brain and the muscles. The slower you do them the more quickly your brain can reprogram your movement patterns and move more efficiently.

"the brain cannot change what it cannot feel" Some people pretty much go through life thinking the body is just something to carry around their head, without making any connection between the brain and their muscles. The majority of muscle pain is due to habitual patterns that we take on due to stress and/or trauma. But because the patterns are habits, the sub cortex of our brain just naturally defaults to the faulty pattern. Let's say you have a habit of tilting your body to the right, because you sprained your left ankle 12 years ago. Now your left hip aches all the time. By assessing your current alignment you can practice particular somatic exercises that address the imbalances. With somatic exercises one slowly contracts, lengthens and releases the muscles that are causing tightness.  By doing so you unlearn that patterns, develop correct movement patterns so you no longer tilt, and there for no longer have pain.

I think I really love somatics because it's based on science. I'm not dissing chakras, auras and other things that some people might call woo-woo. But somatic exercises work because you consciously make a connection between the muscles and brain on a neurological level. There's science to back up how the brain develops new patterns.

The course I took trained me to teach somatic exercises that a client could do between hands-on treatments. The hands-on treatments are part of the Clinical Somatics Educator protocol. Since I started practicing somatics I've released my chronically contracted left psoas and increased the range of motion in my neck, but I knew there was something else that was still hindering my posture and gait. So I scheduled a hands-on session with Martha after the course.

The best way I can describe what I felt afterwards was this: after a massage, acupuncture, etc I may feel good, but after the clinical somatic session I felt changed. My chronically tight left hip released so my hips could swing the way nature intended. My left foot and ankle rolled through the natural pattern of walking that I hadn't been doing for a very long time. My waist muscles released so that my low back was bettered aligned. When my husband picked me up at the airport he said I was taller. My clients said my back and butt were different. My belly shrank a bit too.

So I've been practicing particular exercises to maintain what I achieved in that session. Thomas Hanna said that a client should be done and out the door after 3 sessions max. Martha says a few clients may need up to 6 or 8. But that's what I love about this method of pain relief. It's not months and months or years and years of expensive adjustments and treatments or worse, drugs. You reprogram your muscles neurologically; from your brain. You practice your homework. You are ultimately in control. You are your own teacher.

It's amazing stuff! It's so simple yet so profound.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fitness Vocabulary: Pandiculation

In 25 Words or Less
Pandiculation - a stretching and stiffening especially of the trunk and extremities (as when fatigued and drowsy or after waking from sleep). Merriam-Webster Online Medical Dictionary

Let Me Explain
Do you ever notice how when your pet gets up from rest, she never just bounds up, but rises and does a couple of  "stretches"? She isn't actually stretching though. She's pandiculating. As she bows down, she lengthens the front of her body while shortening the back, then they move throw a neutral spine to do it again, but in an upward lengthening of the body.

This is what we do with our Somatics exercises in my classes. We move the body through a gentle range of motion to tighten a set of muscles while at the same time lengthening the opposing muscles. Notice I don't say stretch. It's not that stretching is bad, but it doesn't release chronic tightness in our muscles. If you have particular knots and sore spots that no matter what you seem to do, won't release long term, try pandiculating them.

When I guide students through the somatic exercises--or "un-exercises" as I like to call them--I suggest they imagine moving their bones, rather than engaging muscles into extreme contractions (like when lifting weights) and avoid forcing a stretch. Rather we move gently, giving the brain, muscles and nervous system a chance to reboot, so to speak, by turning off habitual tension that causes pain. Instead we move with more fluid, natural movement.

It's a hard concept to sell. The idea that less is more, when it comes to correcting alignment and easing pain, but it really works! Come try a class or contact me for a private session

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Neighborhood Walks start September 10th


I'm such a PDX girl. I love drizzly rainy days, long walks in the falling leaves, and just plain sweating less! So while these hot-for-Portland summer evenings make me more inclined to do somatics, yoga, and pilates, fall is right around the corner and the days are cooling off! Which means we need to get our neighborhood walks back on the calendar!

First scheduled walk will be 

Wednesday September 10th at 7:00pm. 

You could just show up, but better yet RSVP on my Friends of Take It Outside Fitness Meet Up page. It's a good idea to join the group so you'll get updates and announcements.

I host these walks to:
• get out an enjoy the fresh air and low tech benefits of being outside
• encourage folks to find walking/workout buddies within the group
• learn about what's going in our community and share it with others
• give people an opportunity to talk with a certified Health Coach and Personal Trainer (that's yours truly :-)
Here are answers to FAQs
  • Everyone can join, whether you live in the area or not. 
  • Walks are generally 1-hour, but you can break off early if need be. 
  • Dress for the weather and have appropriate shoes. 
  • Small kiddos don't enjoy these walks much because of the speed and duration. 
  • If we have a large enough group it might split into 2. One for faster walkers and the other for slower peeps. So the more turn out the better!
  • Where we go varies from week to week. We've walked up Mt Tabor, visited the Old Dahlia House, gone to the library, and just tooled around the 'hood.
OK! See you then!

Kristin

Participation in any of the Friends of Take It Outside Fitness events are purely voluntary and you are responsible for your own health, safety and welfare at all times. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pilates is back on the schedule

I'm adding Pilates back to the schedule, and honestly I'm not sure why I ever dropped it. Well, honestly I guess I was getting a bit bored. So to spice things up I'm incorporating more variety into the classes, using the TRXs, bands, mini balls, more challenging Pilates moves...All done with focus and intention, designed to take your traditional Pilates mat class to another level or simulate some of the moves done on the reformer, but using the alternative equipment.

Come Join me in a Pilates Plus Class!

Mondays at 5:45pm

Wednesdays at 8:30am

Thursdays at 6:45am

all at the studio


If you haven't noticed already, I'm leaning more towards the corrective, restorative, somatic exercises these days. Personally I need it for my own body, and even though a lot of people think harder-core workouts are where it's at, too many of them have compensation patterns from past injuries, repetitive motions, trauma, and just the day-to-day stress that gets trapped in our brains and muscles without even knowing it.

See for yourself. Take a little personal inventory right now. How are you breathing? Shallow, maybe even hardly at all? Are you're sitting symmetrically on your sitz bones? Is one shoulder higher than the other? Or one foot, leg and hip turned out more than the other? Those little imbalances may not seem too significant, but think of it like a foundation of a house. If you are out a alignment in your foundation, then adding outside forces like weights and strength exercises can strengthen your imbalances, not fix them.

So pilates, along with my Somatics classes and Reformer training are great for laying a solid, well-functioning foundation, so we can do all that other fun stuff in life--run, ski, weight train, swim, cycle, etc-- with ease, power, and grace.

Come join us! Your first class is free and you can reserve your spot right here.

See you soon!
Kristin



Monday, June 9, 2014

Let my Somatics Teacher explain what Somatics is

I haven't really perfected my "elevator pitch" yet for when folks ask me what somatics is, but here's a video by Martha Peterson, who I'm studying under for my Somatics Exercise Coach certification. She explains it oh-so-well!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fitness Vocabulary: Sensory Motor Amnesia

In 25 Words or Less
Sensory Motor Amnesia--a term coined by Thomas Hanna, in which muscles have become habitually contracted (tight), as a reflex to stress, trauma, etc, and neurologically one's brain must be retrained to relax said muscles.
________________________________________

Let's Go Deeper
Hanna equated SMA to the the same process of learning any skill. Your muscles respond to an accident, trauma, injury or just plain old day-to-day-hunching-over-your-desk stress by contracting. Over time your muscles repeatedly contract in response to the stress or pain, so that eventually it's an unconscious habit.

Maybe you're unaware that your shoulders are constantly elevated towards your ears or that you're still hiking your hip due to a sprained ankle that "healed" five years ago. All you know is that now you have aches and pains, maybe even in other parts of your body, that no amount of stretching, massaging, chiropractic adjusting will fix long term.

Your brain and body have developed sensory motor amnesia. But in the same light that your muscles have created a faulty pattern, you can tune into your body's imbalances, practice Somatics exercises, and retrain your brain to relax your muscles, so you reverse your pain and regain a more supple body.

It's so simple yet so profound. If you'd like to experience it for yourself let me know. I offer somatic exercise classes and private sessions. I love it and I bet you will too!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fitness Vocabulary: Somatics

In 25 Words or Less
Somatics--from a physical perspective-- is a series of exercises to help one reeducate how to move the body with ease and release chronic tension.

Somatic refers to the awareness of what one feels within their own body.
________________________________________

Let's Go Deeper
There are several movement programs that focus on somatics--exercises to help turn off chronic tension and release muscle contractions. Popular methods include Feldenkrais Method and Alexander Technique. But most often when someone refers to a Somatics they are referring to Thomas Hanna's exercises, part of his Hanna Somatic Education.

The difference between Mind-Body and Somatic Education
You've probably heard the term Mind-Body exercises, usually in relation to programs such as tai chi, pilates, meditation, or yoga.

According to Cleveland Clinic website, "The mind-body connection means that you can learn to use your thoughts to positively influence some of your body’s physical responses, thereby decreasing stress. If you recall a time when you were happy, grateful or calm, your body and mind tend to relax."

In other words, you use your thoughts (brain) to control/generate a bodily response.

Somatics on the other hand is kind of the opposite. It relates to your perception of how your body feels from the inside out. A simple example would be to lie down on the floor, lengthen your legs, arms down at your sides, close your eyes, and sense where your body contacts the floor. You'd be amazed at how not symmetrical you probably are. One leg can be turned out more, a hip can be hiked, your shoulder blades might not evenly contact the floor, your back can be overly arched up off the floor, and more. Your brain is receiving and register feedback from your body. Those imbalances are usually caused by muscle imbalances. By moving the body through somatic exercises, you learn how to correct the imbalances. It takes time, slow movement, and awareness. But it is so worth it!

I could go on but I'll stop with this... 
If you've ever work with a Hanna Somatics, Feldenkrais or Alexander Technique practitioner, you may notice that there are some similarities between them all. Hanna studied under Moshe Feldenkrais, then developed his own method after studying neurology at the University of Miami Medical School. There's debate about whether Feldenkrais stole ideas from F.M. Alexander. But that's another story.

Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique are both more well known in the Portland Oregon area than Hanna Somatics. Practitioners of all three can either manually guide a client through the motions, teach the client to do the exercises independently, and also as a group class. Personally I like the proactive approach so the student can really identify/feel what his/her own body is doing.

Join me!
My Restorative Fitness classes blend moves from Thomas Hanna's teachings plus other somatic continuing education courses I've taken. Most teacher training programs require instructors to complete so many practice hours before certification, so please join me sometime in a class or email me to set up your own private session. I'm very excited to share this method!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fitness Vocabulary: sagittal plane/anatomical planes

I've been thinking about a Vocabulary category for blog posts for a very long time. I use certain terms and words in my training, and sometimes things need a little clarity....

Like with my latest freebie: Kristin's Walk/Jog/Run Training Program. I had a few notes in there that might make you scratch your head. So I guess I'll start there...

Here's a great diagram showing
the anatomical directional terms and body planes.

Like a compass identifying the directions on a map, anatomical planes help divide the body into sections to help identify location of certain structures and how they relate to others.

The Sagittal Plane is a vertical plane which passes from front (anterior) to the back (posterior) of the body dividing it into right and left halves.

So what's the big deal about the sagittal plane? 

Well this is the plane we humans mostly move in. And hopefully fairly symetrically, i.e. not leaning to the left or right on the coronal plane, like someone with scoloisis or leg length difference might. 

But this is not the end-all-be-all way to move. Our bodies can move in lots of different anatomical directions and in combinations of them. Just like the saying goes: Use it lose it! So that's why activities that bend us side to side or twist on the transverse plane are important and help us avoid injury.

So there you have it. Your first fitness vocabulary word. Don't you feel smarter?! 

 There will be a pop quiz later. Nah, I'm just kidding.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Crafting to help me heal

I'm currently dealing with plantar fasciitis. It sucks with a capital S! But just like every other ache and pain I've dealt with, this too will pass. In the interim I miss my walk/jogs with Panda. I love to get out in the morning and let my mind percolate thoughts to share here, so that's not happening as often. At least that's my excuse for being MIA here on the blog. :-)

To stimulate my brain and keep me off the concrete, I have been crafting more, so I thought I'd share some of my latest endeavors...

Wedding Seed Packets

My sister and Bryan got hitched on the beach in Hawaii in March, then friends and family celebrated in San Francisco Mother's Day weekend. Corey and I also eloped, so apparently none of us are into making a big deal over weddings and receptions. But I did offer to make some sort of party favor! I ordered wildflower seed packs from Etsy. Then I designed a rubber stamp and found a gal here in town to make the actual stamp.

Memorial Quilt from Plaid Shirts

As some of you know, my dad died in December, and I wanted to make quilts using his shirts for me, my sister and mom. Well, I've never actually made a quilt, I just specialize in checking out quilting books from the library. Precision is not my forte*, so I thought I'd start with the Log Cabin block. For some reason I thought that one might be a bit forgiving if it didn't line up perfectly. I had my doubts along the way, but as I learned more and more about all the steps to making an actual quilt, I really enjoyed the process, even if it's not all that precise.

I had planned to make the first one for my sister, but as this one progressed, and it was Mother's Day weekend after all, I had to give it to my mom. (Just for the record, not all those fabrics are from Daddy's wardrobe. The man loved his plaid, but a quilt of all plaids would have been a visual nightmare, so I pulled from my scrap basket too.)



Grow Your Own!

Lastly, being spring and all, I buckled down and started my veggie garden. Well, I don't really have a garden, since my yard gets a lot of shade through the day. Instead, in primo spots I planted seeds and starts (4 different squash varieties, 2 types of cukes, a jalapeƱo pepper plant, peas, snap peas, Ichiban eggplant, and beets, radishes, 2 heirloom tomatoes --thanks to Carolyn!--and lots of lettuces.)

You wanna know what part of our lot is actually the sunniest? The driveway! So I dragged some dumpster finds home and used old soda crates and a drawer to expand into the sunshine.

Upcycling soda crates as a mini veggie garden.

I walked by this drawer at a neighbor's curb all winter long. 

Yum! Maybe I need to do some thinning. Ya think?

Anyhoo, that's the latest for now.  I'll share some more later, but back to work. 

Enjoy the sunshine, everyone and thanks for reading!

peace,
Kristin


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