“How’s what you do different from other places I’ve gone for my pain?”
I’m asked this question a lot. Here’s a comparison of somatic yoga therapy and other treatment styles – physical therapy, yoga, meditation, personal training and chiropractic.
Somatic Yoga Therapy
The core principle of somatic yoga therapy is that you’ll learn to be in charge of your body. Most other pain treatments are external – someone else is manipulating your body’s movements. Because you’re not fully engaged in the process, it’s common to become dependent on the skill of whatever practitioner you’re working with. I often hear “I’ve been seeing my chiropractor for years” or “I went to PT and it ‘worked’ but I pretty soon had to go back for something else.”
Quick oversimplification of how pain works: The brain controls the muscles. Repetitive pain-causing habits (including “toughing it out” when something hurts) put the neuromuscular system in a communication loop that furthers the pain. The longer we stay in the pain, the longer we’re reinforcing that loop.
The internal focus of somatic yoga therapy teaches you to work directly with your neuromuscular system – rewiring your circuits, in a way. Somatic movement is a gentle way to create long-lasting changes in your pain levels and movement. You learn to feel what’s happening in your body and you learn to reeducate your system to function better and more efficiently so you can get back to the activities you love.
A Physical Therapist and I have the same type of approach in that we’re working with your muscles. The difference is that many Physical Therapists are trained to manipulate your muscles and I’m trained to teach you to control your own muscles. Many manipulative techniques, like PT, actually make long-term change harder in the long run because your body hasn’t learned to move itself in healthier ways. PT often focuses on strengthening weak muscles. A muscle is weak when it’s stuck in contraction and putting all of its energy into holding on tight. Somatic yoga therapy helps release that muscle so that it automatically becomes stronger and more able to move in healthier patterns.
I was trained as a classical yoga teacher before I studied somatics and yoga therapy. My yoga teacher training gave me my first understanding of anatomy and function. And, it gave me an understanding that traditional forms of yoga don’t feel good for everyone. They work on stretching and strengthening muscles – both are important. But, somatics tells me that tight muscles can’t be stretched into lasting length and tight muscles can’t be strong. Practicing somatics to lengthen the muscles can help you feel more comfortable and satisfied in a yoga class so that you can realize all of its benefits (flexibility, strength, mindfulness, and more.) The group classes I teach include a blend of traditional yoga and somatic yoga therapy.
I sometimes use meditation as part of one-on-one somatic yoga therapy sessions. Meditation is about quieting the mind but there’s not always focus on the body. Guided meditations sometimes include a body scan which can help create a mind/body connection in terms of awareness of the physical body. That’s important! Somatics takes it to a different level. Not only will you learn to sense and feel what’s happening, but you’ll also build and tune your nervous system. That means you’ll learn to be more adaptable to what’s happening around you so that you can respond to things more calmly. Those of you “I’ve tried to meditate and I can’t” people – Somatics can help you get better at that.
I worked as a hybrid personal trainer/pain therapist for a while. I found some overlap but also identified differences in approach. Personal training is about strength for better body mechanics, whether you’re an athlete or not. But – you can’t strengthen muscles that aren’t functioning well. Muscles need to be able to both tighten and lengthen before they can stretch and strengthen in more athletic ways. I’ve worked with numerous athletes who have told me that Somatics helps them perform better in their personal training and athletic goals because their muscles stop compensating for long-term tightness and dysfunction.
Generally speaking, chiropractors adjust skeletal alignment. I’ve heard people say that the adjustments help them feel better and that they’ve gone in to get adjusted weekly for years. I’m a big fan of people getting out of pain and it sounds like chiropractic helps with that. But – unless you have a bone disease, pain issues aren’t skeletal. The skeleton can’t do anything without the muscles and the muscles can’t do anything without the brain. Somatics goes directly to the brain-muscle connection. From what I’ve seen, Somatics is a more efficient, quicker, way to relieve pain. Remember – the muscles control the bones. Misaligned bones are caused by tight muscles. Trying to adjust bone alignment without treating the muscles holding the bones in place is like trying to straighten a very tight spring. It will always bounce back and, in many cases, become tighter.
You’re more than just your physical body
You’re a Soma. Soma is a Greek word for “the living body.” In your somatic yoga therapy practice, you’ll work with all of your parts – mind, body, feelings, intellect. You’ll learn to focus on yourself. It’s not my job to “fix” you – it’s my job to teach you how to teach your body to function with more movement and less pain. You can enjoy the activities you love – oftentimes, even those that you haven’t enjoyed for a long time.
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