Principles of Somatic Movement Education

Somatic Movement Education proposes that we habitually tend to stand in characteristic postures because chronically contracted muscles hold us there

When our muscles are balanced in tonicity — front, back, and sides — we stand in a comfortable, upright posture. When our muscles are more contracted on one side than another, we are pulled in that direction.

Muscles contract in response to signals from the nervous system. When our nervous system continuously sends “contract” messages, habitual patterns of hyper-contraction occur in certain muscles.

This can lead to improper posture and unpleasant symptoms such as painful muscles/joints, headaches, etc.

To explain the origin of our tendency to forget certain movements or balanced ways of using our muscles, Hanna put forth the concept of Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA).
SMA occurs when we learn to hold ourselves tightly in reaction to a pain, injury, or emotional stress.
SMA reflects a loss of the ideal neuromuscular control of our postural state.
SMA often leads to the creation of pain and always leads to the experience of less comfort and ease in our movements.

In his work with clients, Hanna noticed that SMA and its attendant postural distortion manifested within three broad patterns of reflexive contraction. Hanna identified these reflexes as: the green light reflex, the red light reflex, and the trauma reflex.

The Green Light Reflex

The green light reflex refers is an action posture which involves activation of extensor muscles to rise and go forward. It emerges from a postural event that begins at around six months of age when an infant first contracts the extensor muscles of the back. This reflex, originally called the “Landau response”, includes arching the back and extending the neck, arms and legs. It looks much like a sky diver’s posture during a freefall descent. The Landau response enables the infant to crawl, sit, and then to stand in preparation for walking. It is the activating influence for our anti-gravity muscles.

The Red Light Reflex

The red light reflex, more commonly known as the “startle response”, involves a set of postural changes which happen rapidly when there is a sudden change in our environmental stimulation. A loud noise, or an unexpected sound or sight can trigger the response which includes: shutting the eyes, contracting flexor muscles, holding the breath, etc.
It takes a while to release these responses and to return to normal. Repeatedly triggering the startle reflex leads to chronic muscle holding. This contributes to a forward bending posture. The knees are bent and held together, arms are bent, and the head is thrust forward. Eventually the opposed muscles become contracted, leading to a viselike grip on the body and then to pain.

The Trauma Reflex

The trauma reflex is a protective posture which occurs in response to any physical or severe emotional trauma — accident, surgery, long-term stress, etc. This postural reflex presents with coupled sidebendings and rotations among the pelvis/trunk/shoulders/head. These postural compensations, which generally appear as lateral tilting or twisting of the body, may be slight, or very noticeable, but their effects can be devastating.
Unfortunately, some people stay in the extremes of these postural reflexes out of habit. In practice, Somatic Movement Education resolves these problems through a process of reeducating the brain to correctly direct the balance and control of our muscles. During this process, a person learns how to regain control of his/her body’s voluntary muscles. And most wonderfully, a person learns how to successfully and automatically keep the musculoskeletal system in a state of balance. This in turn allows maximum freedom from pain and promotes comfort and ease of movement.