Moving with ease and freedom, through Somatic Movement

21st July 2021 Posted by Emilie

Moving with ease and freedom, through Somatic Movement

Somatic Movement is a practice that enables you to learn to release chronic, excessive, unhelpful muscle tension in a lasting way.

Over time, we are all subject to developing tension in our muscles that we can’t ‘let go of’. This muscle tension comes about through repeating everyday postures and movements (sitting at our desk or on the sofa, cleaning our teeth, driving…), through our hobbies, through handedness (think how you use each side of your body differently), or through injury/trauma. After a while of doing something a certain way, our nervous system holds onto this ‘muscle memory’ and forgets how to let it go when it’s not needed.

Over time, we forget what it feels like to contract and release our muscles in certain ways, and when we can’t sense what’s going on in our muscles, we can no longer move (contract/release) our muscles in the ways we might want to.

Over time, this excess muscle tension can lead to pain, stiffness, stress, difficulties with walking and other day-to-day movements, and many more effects that don’t serve us well.

Somatic Movement uses a technique called ‘pandiculation’ (more on that here), in which we (re-)learn to sense and move our bodies in more efficient, effective ways, and to reduce our resting levels of muscle tension.

Because muscle tension is generally held below the level of consciousness, we need to bring this tension to our conscious awareness. The technique of pandiculation means we do exactly this, as we are able to get into the ‘sensory-motor feedback loop’ to make changes.

This means that as we consciously engage in our Somatic Movement practice, we learn to sense and move our bodies in a variety of ways, which enables us to start to actively notice our habitual patterns of muscle tension. Then we can let that tension go when we don’t need it. If you’ve ever found yourself lying down but not able to actually relax your body fully, or if someone tells you to ‘relax your shoulders’ but you just can’t get them to stay dropped down when you try, you’ll know what it’s like to be holding onto excess muscle tension. And you’re not alone in that! Somatic Movement gives us a way to re-learn how to let the muscles go, so that we can relax our bodies when we want to.

It also means that as we carry out the many movements we need or want to do during our days, our muscles can contract efficiently when they are needed, let go when they are not, and move in beautiful coordination with each other. Imagine, if you will, that you carry a lot of tension in your back, and that you want to lean forwards. Leaning forwards involves contracting in the front of the body - but if your back muscles can’t let go as you bend, you end up having to work really hard to lean down - your belly muscles are essentially ‘fighting’ with your back muscles to pull you down.

Now imagine that you need to lean forwards, but your back muscles have practised and re-learnt their part in this movement (to let go!!), and as you lean forwards they know they aren’t needed and can release and lengthen. How much easier do you think this would make bending down?

You can try it if you like - carefully! (Never force or push anything.) Tense up your back, and keeping it tense, try to lean forwards. Go as far as is comfortable, pause, then take a breath into your back muscles and see if you can let them go a bit. Does that enable you to lean forwards a little bit further or easily or more comfortably?

What was that like? Was it even possible to try? It’s ok if not - Somatic Movement is very exploratory, and there is no aim or agenda. If it didn’t feel accessible to you to try that little leaning experiment, that is still useful information that we can bring to our practice. There’s no right or wrong in Somatics!

For me, over time my Somatic Movement practice has freed up simple, everyday movements, like being able to turn more easily to look over my shoulder when I’m driving, or being able to reach up for something on a high shelf without restriction. It has given me SO much more freedom in my walking - I used to have a lot of pain, particularly sciatica, which has massively reduced (in fact it’s very rare now), and everything just flows so much better. It’s brought a lot more joy into my movement too - I’m much more likely to get playful and experimental as I move around now, like I used to when I was younger, and that really helps bring more fun and joy into my life!

The best way to see what Somatic Movement can do for you, is to try it. So if this post has piqued your interest, find out how to get started with Somatic Movement here (scroll to the end of the short article for links to resources and classes, if you don’t want to read any more). I can’t wait to share this practice with you!

Happy moving! Emilie

Emilie Leeks

Emilie is a heart-centred life mentor and space holder, supporting those on a healing path. This is not an easy journey, and often we can find ourselves losing our way. Emilie's work meets you where you're at, with beautiful, accepting support and connection, and weaves that support with practices and explorations in self-compassion, body connection, and a return to a deep trust in ourselves. Note: all blog post content which refers to them, has been read and agreed to by Emilie's children.

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