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Somatic reflexes

The somatic movement classes I teach are based on the principles and teachings of Thomas Hanna. In his work he identified three movement reflexes which are inherent in every moving body. These reflexes are: the red light reflex, the green light reflex and the trauma reflex. When we start to practice somatic movements it becomes apparent how the whole body works as one unit. When we work through movements involving the centre of the body, these are the reflexes that we are addressing.

Your body won't be stuck in one pattern or another but will rather hold different parts of these patterns at the same time. Knowing how to move into and release each of these patterns will help you reset any stuck patterns you are holding and you explore and find what you need to let go of for your individual body. Through this exploration you re-ignite the connection between your brain and your body, bringing back your awareness of how to contract and release your muscles voluntarily.

Red light reflex

The red light reflex is the body's response to fear. The instinct is to draw inwards to protect the organs and the self. The front body contracts. This pattern can also be a response to thoughts and feelings of shame and wanting to be small and hide yourself.

We also find this response creeping into our bodies unconsciously from repetitive patterns that are all so common in modern life. Think of the shape you make when you've been sitting for long periods looking at a screen. When your focus is primarily forward the body is pulled into a rounded shape.

Collapsed chest, rolled shoulders, tucked pelvis, jutting chin

Green light reflex

The green light reflex is the body's response to action. The front body is open and the back body contracts pulling the shoulders and pelvis backwards. This pattern is a response to alertness, doing and go-go-go energy. Thoughts and feelings that can be associated with this response are hurrying, busyness and perpetual action.

Flared ribs, tilted pelvis, tight lower back

Trauma reflex

The trauma reflex is uneven activation of the side muscles. This pattern comes about through some sort of trauma which the body draws in to protect. This could be an operation or injury for example. The body compensates for not being able to use the whole to it's full capacity and during the recovery process uses one side more than the other. Over time these patterns become habituated and the side of the body not being utilised as much can develop a disconnection between the brain and muscles so that voluntary use of these muscles becomes impaired.

Despite it's name, it doesn't just have to be a specific traumatic injury that can result in the trauma reflex. Habitual uneven patterns of use in either side of the body will cause an uneven adaptive movement pattern. We all favour one side over the other in everything we do, so keeping balanced is a matter of recovering awareness of our whole self and how we move in all parts.

Hip hiking, shoulder dropping, pelvis twisting

For the purpose of you being able to see the reflexes, these examples are very much exaggerations. However, you can see what long term pressure your body is put under when pulled out of balance in any one of these. When muscles are holding tight and not able to relax the whole system is affected from head to toe, everything is connected. Becoming aware of your patterns and consciously being able to move into and out of them on a voluntary basis is the aim of somatic movement and awareness classes.


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