Can we calm the world by calming ourselves?

Stress is a public health crisis. Our bodies are designed to handle stress in small doses. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racial injustice entered the equation, Americans were dealing with chronic stress related to pressures of family, work, finances, environment, climate, digital media, and more.  When stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on our bodies. 

As a Clinical Somatic Educator I see more and more new clients presenting with higher levels of pain, exhaustion, anxiety, inability to focus and an overall low sense of personal agency.

Somatic Education helps people better understand how their brains, nervous systems and bodies react to stress. All humans and animals have a fight/flight/fawn/or freeze response to fearful events with full-body muscle contractions called reflexes. Reflexes keep you safe, like when you reflexively pull your hand away from a hot burner or, eons ago, ran from a sabertooth tiger. Once safe, your nervous system shifts from the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for fight-or-flee reactions, to a state of rest and recover under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system.

In today’s 24/7 go-go-go culture, we are stressed repeatedly, without time to pause and truly return to a calmer state. The saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together” describes neuroplasticity. The constant motor and thought patterns with which we respond to stressful events, means we are neurologically wiring our bodies and minds to stay stressed, resulting in a myriad of mental, physical and emotional health issues.

No matter what the stressor is, whether it is pain in our bodies or pain in our communities, the first line of action generally starts with resist, push, challenge, fight, freeze. Evolutionarily, we were wired to see everything as a threat and be ready to react quickly to protect ourselves. 

In the Somatics world we never push, fight against tension, or inflict pain to relieve pain. That only creates--you guessed it--more tension!

Several somatic modalities are coming to the forefront in these times to help people learn to sense their reactions to the pressures we face worldwide within their body. Every thought, action, reaction and emotion has a corresponding physical response in the body. There is no “mind-body connection”. Rather they are two sides of the same coin. To try to create a calmer life, the body and mind need to be addressed together. 

Clinical (or Hanna) Somatics is the only somatic modality that incorporates pandiculations, gentle movements to retrain the brain and nervous system to release muscle tension. Pandiculations are not forceful like a stretch or strengthening movement. Because they put the individual in charge of creating and learning a new neuromuscular pattern, it is empowering and gives people a clear sense of agency, instead of relying on others to “fix” them.

Somatics is highly effective because we are working with the brain and nervous system, the parts of us which drive our movement and thought patterns, to shift our bodies and minds to a state of peace and ease, rest and restoration. From this state we are more rational, aware, and able to solve complex problems. 

Somatics is a paradigm shift away from our current approach to “fix” the problems we all face. Could it be that to have a more just world we need to experience the peace we can all create within, first?

Kristin Jackson, CCSE, works with clients in Portland and online.


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