One of the hardest things to admit is that the activities that you intellectually love, may actually be causing you pain.
As Somatic Educators, one of our main roles is to help clients bring awareness to the habits that cause suffering. To understand this more fully, we will start by explaining the learning process in the brain.
The Learning Process
When we learn anything, we break the process down step by step. We start slow, and put the attention of our cortical brain to what we are doing. We sense and feel. We refine and adapt, to get what we are learning right and familiar and proficient.
This is the process of habituation of movement or any skill in life.
Learning to Drive
Take for instance learning to drive a car. When we got our learner’s license and started driving, we had to sequentially and intentionally think about every step in the learning process.
We got in the car, closed the door. Next we were taught to adjust our mirrors to the right height. Then we put on our seatbelt. Next we put the key into the ignition, put our foot to the brake, then put the car into gear.
We checked to see if the roadway was clear, then we took our foot off the brake and put in on the gas pedal. We pressed the foot down.
But, … if we pressed the pedal too hard, the car would jolt. And so we had to learn how to press with a gentle acceleration of pressure.
If we wanted to change lanes or turn, we consciously thought about the turn signal going up, to turn right and down to turn left. And before we changed lanes, we had to check to see if it was clear.
We had to gauge how far away we were from other cars and how fast we were going, and determine how much time we needed to stop.
We consciously thought, step by step about each aspect of driving. Our brain was learning the whole time.
All of these actions required us to actively use the cortex of our brain, the place where we learn new information, one step at a time.
And then, through conscious repetition, we got better and better at blending the steps together – we performed them smoother and faster and we had to think about them less. Through practice the steps became more automatic and habitual.
And now, 4-6-10 years later, driving is a very habituated movement for all of us.
This is the important point…
The skill of driving has become so completely involuntary and automatic. It is the subcortex of the brain that now manages this complex series of steps to get us from point A to B, without us having to think so hard and deliberate about it.
This a great example of habitation and the learning process from cortex to subcortex, voluntary to involuntary.
And this learning process happens with everything that we learn.
The Truth is that the brain cannot distinguish between good input and bad Input and sometimes the activities you love may actually be causing you pain.
Let’s look at some examples.
The more we sit in a poor posture and slouch forward, the more our brain learns to keep our muscles in this pattern and the harder it becomes over time to sit up straight. This leads to pulling, wear and tear, less than optimal breathing and blood flow, compression of the digestive system and over time other common health ailments.
The self-defeating thoughts that we have about not being good enough, not knowing our place in the world, feeling self conscious, can also get stuck in our somas, presenting as shoulders rounded forward, stuck breathing and anxiety. This can translate over time and affect the pelvis and pelvic floor, knees and feet. It can also mean that we droop into the earth versus rebounding naturally away from it.
And how about our favourite activities. How we train certain muscles to perform when we do the same physical exercise day in and day out, week after week. I am referring to the same flow class sequence, your one-sided golf swing or training for a half marathon.
Give some thought to how these repetitive activities you love may actually be causing you pain.
Consider running. Running is an activity that requires propulsion from the back line muscles. Within a millisecond of getting ready to go and run, your back muscles engage. Someone who is an avid runner might report that they have lower back pain or tight hips.
Consider how the brain learns to recruit the muscles of running and how this engagement for miles and miles, means that over time, the brain has to think about the action less and less, and how those muscles get stuck this way even when we are no longer doing the activity.
Isn’t it common for runners to report being tight in their lower back, glutes and hamstrings? Can you see the activity of running may actually be causing you pain?
The last example is how habituation results from doing less. As we get older we move less. We sit more, watch more TV and we move in more repetitive motions or patterns, often because we are afraid of moving more and injuring ourselves. This habituated movement through repetition is what gets us into trouble creating pain and tension patterns in our bodies.
Also if we keep moving in pain, this reinforces and teaches our brain to elicit a pain response every time we move.
As SomaYoga Therapists and Somatic Movement Educators we help our clients become aware of they ways they have habituated in movement, mindset, and actions and how to use a tool belt of techniques to re-educate and release these patterns creating freedom, joy and well-being.
Can you see how the activities you love may actually be causing you pain?
Thanks for reading…
And feel free to share with a friend.