What Is Hanna Somatics and Holistic Somatics?
What is Hanna Somatics and Holistic Somatics?
Hanna Somatics is a movement practice devised by Thomas Hanna, who studied with Moshe Feldenkrais, who in turn, studied with F. M. Alexander of the Alexander Technique. Thomas Hanna introduced the idea of neuromuscular re-education and sensory-motor amnesia into these previous two somatic movement practices. He both simplified and deepened these somatic practices so that students could gain more sensory awareness and motor control over areas of the body that become lazy, or “go to sleep” due to a sedentary lifestyle, injuries or due to unexamined unconscious habitual movement and posture.
What is the Somatic Nervous System?
The Somatic Nervous System (SoNS) is comprised of the motor (or efferent) nerve and the sensory (or afferent) nerve that connects the brain to the myofascial (a web of fascia that surrounds and segments the muscles). Fascia is embedded with sensory nerves that relay information to the brain about how the muscle feels (pressure, temperature position etc). Motor nerves send signals from the brain to tell the muscle fibres to contract or relax.
Hanna Somatics is a system for helping us gain better awareness and control of the muscles (and therefore our movement) through the SoNS. It is a really safe and accessible way of working with injuries, tension, postural problems and pain. In Hanna Somatics, we are never required to move through pain, the movement should always be comfortable and relaxing. If we are not able to do the movement without an increase in pain, the movement should be imagined instead.
What is Hanna Somatics and Sensory Motor Amnesia (S-MA)
Hanna discovered that we have areas of our body that suffer from what he called sensory-motor amnesia or S-MA for short. This amnesia is due to the lack of signalling through the SoNS. This means we either can’t sense a muscle very well, even though we might be able to move it. Or we can’t move a muscle very well, even though we might be able to sense. More often than not we have difficulty in both sensing and moving certain muscles. This happens due to the principle “use it or lose it”. The body likes to conserve energy, so if we don’t use a certain muscle or part of a muscle for a while, the body will down-regulate the communication between that muscle and the brain. The problem is there is no built-in “up-regulation” that kicks in after a certain time. We have to use specific techniques to re-ignite the communication between brain and muscle fibre once more.
How S-MA Leads to Pain
When we habitually don’t use particular muscles or parts of muscles, other muscles get overused in compensation. This means that we develop habits and patterns of movement that create more strain in the over-used muscles. This can lead to aches, pains, stiffness, headaches and tension. If left, these patterns can create wear and tear in the bones, known as osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” arthritis. Stuck patterns of movement can also put more pressure on particular intervertebral discs or other joints, causing pain and increased susceptibility to injury.
Unwinding Habitual Movement Patterns
Thankfully, Hanna devised certain techniques to explore and discover areas of S-MA and to enable us to remove them through awareness and slow mindful movement. The practices are very accessible (mostly practiced lying down on the floor) and offer a gentle way of creating strength and resilience in the body. These practices are also very relaxing and soothing. Practising Hanna Somatics is a great way for people with aches and pains to safely work to alleviate tension, strain and to reprogram unhelpful movement patterns. By identifying areas of sensory-motor amnesia, we can work to bring the areas back to life again, thus enabling a more balanced movement and posture in every day life.
Holistic Somatics and Restorative Yoga
Holistic Somatics is a class based on Hanna Somatics practices with some restorative yoga practices and breath practices to help soothe and calm the nervous system further. These are ideal classes to choose if you are stiff, in pain, working with an injury or simply prefer to practice in a gentle, restful way.
Thomas Hanna Explains Hanna Somatics
This is a great video of Hanna working with a client and explaining the importance of working slowly so that the sensory-motor nervous system is fully engaged. He also explains how gentle and pain-free Hanna Somatic practice is. Please remember you should never feel any increase in pain whilst doing yoga and somatic movements.
AiM in Combination with Hanna Somatics
AiM and Hanna Somatics works very well together as their principles are similar and aligned. What Thomas Hanna calls Sensory Motor Amnesia (S-MA) Gary Ward calls “the dead zone”! Gary also recognises that certain areas of the body need to be “woken up” in order to get a better co-ordination of muscles and joints working together harmoniously. We need to create this balance around centre in all three planes of movement, in order to walk well, breathe well and live well. What AiM adds to the piece is the framework of how the skeleton moves in gait (called the flow motion model) and the standing work that is needed to integrate movements in joints of the feet, with movements in the spine and the other other joints in the body.