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The most common question people have about Hanna Somatic Education® (HSE®) is, “How does this method compare with other approaches to managing chronic pain?” This is very important to understand, and we’re going right to the experts for answers–the Novato Institute’s training team.

“HSE® has a Feldenkrais lineage and there are some things in common, but Thomas found himself evolving in a somewhat different direction,” says Eleanor Criswell-Hanna the director of the Novato Institute.

“In Feldenkrais clinical work, the practitioner moves the person, whereas with HSE®, the person is moving, and more importantly, the person is doing voluntary movement,” she continues.

HSE® uses different areas of the brain than most pain relief methods, especially the voluntary motor cortex. Hands on work (where the practitioner moves the person) does not involve motor cortex at all. The cortex is key in that muscle relaxation is fostered by the motor cortex, so the tension/coordination changes are incorporated into the person’s neurophysiology and have a more lasting effect.

The primary benefit for the person is in becoming his or her own somatic educator, not having to rely on someone else.

“When something comes up, they know what to do about it. Oh, I can do my Somatics,” says Eleanor.

“Tom wanted to help people quickly, expediency was his driving factor and an active state with voluntary movement involving contraction followed by a slow, controlled release became the obvious method to success,” says Phil Shenk, certified trainer.

“Later on, Tom found research that was conducted by a scientist studying the pandicular response in farm animals that confirmed what he had been finding during his clinical sessions with people,” Phil continues.

Another area that causes a great deal of confusion to newcomers is the practice of contracting muscle groups through movement, rather than static stretching.

“We don’t subscribe to the view of stretching that’s rampant in our culture because we know it triggers the stretch reflex, a natural reflex that results in heightened tension levels,” says Phil.

“We help the person understand that as they free contracted muscles and coordinate movement more easily, their whole physiology functions better. People report having more energy, feeling more clear-headed, even more emotionally able to cope with stress. Many even regain a whole side of their life, for instance, being able to take trips again, play with grandkids, and get regular exercise,” adds Susan Koenig, certified trainer.

“People in pain have great difficulty exercising and there is plenty of research that says that exercise is way above crossword puzzles for brain health,” Koenig continues.

Somatics has an elegant simplicity to it, a system approach that is body-wide in effect. Most people find the movements very pleasurable and relaxing. And, the best part is that while you are learning and improving your overall motor intelligence, your pain is easing and becoming part of your past.