Move with Awareness

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old;
we grow old because we stop playing.’
George Bernard Shaw
‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old;  we grow old because we stop playing.’
George Bernard Shaw

What is Somatics?

Somatic Movements aim to improve our physical and psychological well being through developing an internal awareness of how our body moves and feels.  This movement practice was started by the late Thomas Hanna in the mid 1970’s but since his death in 1990 it continues to evolve thanks to the work of numerous dedicated Somatic practitioners. 

These days we lead very busy lives and are exposed to many stressful experiences daily. When exposed to stress on a daily basis our muscles respond by tightening and contracting in a particular pattern. This is a reflex response which is controlled by the brain and central nervous system and is involuntary and unconscious. 

Thomas Hanna discovered that our bodies respond to stress in 3 specific reflex patterns that affect our movement and posture. These are natural primitive and instinctual reflex patterns which he called the Red Light, Green Light and Trauma Reflex.

These reflexes may be triggered daily in a response to stress and over time the muscles become habituated. In other words, the brain forgets how to to release them. This can ultimately lead to postural problems, muscular pain and effects how our body moves and feels. It can also affect other bodily systems such as our breathing and digestion. Ultimately we were designed to move and if we have less movement it will affect our overall health. 

The Three Somatic Reflexes

The Green Light Reflex

The Green Light Reflex

This reflex, also known as the Landau Reflex, is triggered in order for us to take action and get things done. It first occurs when a baby is around 5 months old. It is an essential reflex that enables a baby to lift their head and eventually stand and walk. It is a reflex that moves us forward in life. However, in the current world we live in it is triggered in response to stress from demands placed on us on a daily basis. Simple things like hearing your name called, the phone ringing or rushing to get to an appointment are enough to trigger this reflex. Notice the next time you’re running late and rushing to get somewhere how your body responds. 

When this reflex is triggered the back muscles tighten causing an arch in the lower back, the shoulders pull back, the neck is tucked in and the pelvis tilts forward. It’s like a soldier standing to attention. If this reflex response to stress is triggered frequently enough this posture can become habituated and ultimately lead to problems such as Sciatica, Lower Back Pain, Neck and Shoulder Pain, Knee Pain, Plantar Faciitis, SIJ Pain and  Piriformis Syndrome.


The Red Light Reflex

The Red Light Reflex

This is also called the Startle Reflex or the Withdraw Reflex. It is a primitive reflex pattern common to all vertebrate animals in response to stress from any real or perceived threat. In humans it is also triggered due to emotional responses such as anxiety and depression and more commonly now through repetitive activities such as sitting for long periods in front of a computer or long periods of driving.

When an animal senses fear it crouches down, stops breathing, rounds its back and curls inward to protect itself. Humans do the same thing when this reflex is triggered. The shoulders round forward, the abdominal muscles and the hip flexors tighten, the pelvis tucks under and the head moves forward (like a turtle head). Over time this can become habituated and can lead to problems such as shallow breathing, hip and knee pain, neck pain, jaw pain such as TMJ Disorder and digestion problems. The inability to breathe efficiently can lead to fatigue, irritability, depression, anxiety and sleep Problems.

Many people also assume that this is the inevitable posture of ageing but thankfully it is not. It is a learned habituated posture that can be reversed through somatic movement.

The Trauma Reflex

The Trauma Reflex

This reflex can be triggered for many reasons. It can occur involuntarily and instantaneously in response to accidents or injuries or as an avoidance manoeuvre in which we twist and rotate away in order to escape further injury. This reflex can also be triggered due to surgery on one side, repetitive activities including sports such as golf, holding a child on one side, carrying a heavy bag on your shoulder regularly or regular twisting. Anything really that affects one side.

Whatever the reason, when a trauma reflex becomes habituated the pressure on one side of the body will increase which can lead to side bending and rotations in the pelvis, trunk, shoulder girdle and head. Although this can be very slight the effects can be significant due to the imbalanced gait and can lead to hip pain, knee pain, SIJ problems, sciatica, rib pain and joint pain. 

Try this Somatic Movement Video to Help Ease Chronic Pain

Frequently asked questions

Somatics, a term coined by the late Thomas Hanna, is a movement practice  that helps to relieve tension in the muscles which has accumulated over time. (Sensory Motor Amnesia – SMA). Muscles become chronically contracted over time in a response to stress we experience on a daily basis. Our brain controls our muscles and triggers them to contract to stress but often forgets how to relax the muscle after. When this happens frequently it can lead to stiffness and ultimately pain. Because we have become less and less aware of how we feel internally as we are focusing more on external stimuli we don’t notice this happening as it’s so gradual. Then one day we realise we can’t do what we used to be able to do or worse still are in constant pain. Somatic movements help to re establish the connection between the brain and muscles to help them release and relax when we want them to. We develop a deeper awareness of how our bodies feel from the inside and have more conscious control of our muscles. This reduces the pain and improves our movement.

Initially you will need to attend either some 1 to 1 sessions or register for my 5 week Intro to Somatics Course which I run frequently throughout the year. After doing either of these you can sign up for my regular weekly classes to help keep you Somatics practice and learning fresh.

Most people notice an improvement in their pain condition at the end of their first session or within the first week but it depends on the following:


  • How long you have been in pain for and subsequently had tension in the muscles or SMA (Sensory Motor Amnesia) for.
  • Your Somatics practice – How often do you do somatic movements?. It is important to think of somatics as a new habit to develop like brushing your teeth. The more consistent you are, the more effective the movements will be at addressing your SMA and relieving the muscle tension. If you can practice daily for at least 10 minutes you are more likely to see quicker improvements than if you only practice occasionally. 

The first session is for 90 minutes and follow up sessions are 75 minutes.

Loose, warm comfortable clothing should be worn as you will be moving around. You may need a yoga mat but can practice on a rug or carpet. It is helpful to have cushions to support body parts during some of the movements. No other equipment is required.

Somatic Movements are suitable for anyone of any age. They are slow and gentle.

Yes. You can do Somatic Movements lying on a bed initially until you can lie on the floor. Alternatively it is possible to learn Somatics Movements in a chair and standing. I would be happy to discuss different options with you.

Not sure what you need? Let’s have a chat…