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Choosing Your Words to Best Effect

By John Loupos

Many HSE practitioners are well schooled in their ability to lead others through the many movement patterns developed by Thomas Hanna and which serve to characterize Hanna Somatic education. That many of Tom’s original patterns are still practiced and taught in the manner of his original guidance lends testimony to their efficacy.

Even so, it’s only natural that long established movement patterns take on something of a unique flavor with each new practitioner who learns them and, in turn, passes them along to others. No two people teach their patterns in precisely the same way.

Occasionally, the actual movements differ in small ways. More often, there are distinguishing aspects in the verbal guidance of practitioners/presenters that will vary according to individual oratory skills or verbal propensities.

In this article, I will make a case that the particular words we choose to use when guiding individuals or groups through HSE movement sessions can be as important as the movement patterns themselves. For purposes of example, I’ll reference a personal favorite, the hip-and-shoulder-rolling pattern (featured on the Delicate Backs audio series, lesson 2; the Leg & Hip Joints series, lesson 1; and on the Rounded Shoulders series, lesson 4) as one that most readers of the SomaTimes Magazine will likely already be familiar with. In this pattern, the hips and shoulders are respectively moved and circled according to forward, down, back, and upward directions, while lying on either side.

When guiding individuals or groups, I try to avoid the verbal monotony that can occur with same directions for repeated same movements by varying my intonations, and especially by varying my use of direction/action words. Not only does the use of different action words avoid monotony, but sometimes even just slightly different words can heighten the cortical attention/participation of the listener. “Lift,” “raise,” “pull up,” and “draw higher” are but a limited selection of possibly interchangeable action phrases that all mean basically the same thing. Yet, by the simple virtue of using different words or phrases to elicit a same result, a more active interoceptive experience can be encouraged. Conversely, repeated same directions risk lulling listeners into a subcortical and too complacent state. The human brain is more likely to be kept alert and attentive by new or differing information, however slight the difference.

In the aforementioned pattern, clients are typically guided, while lying on their sides, to move either the shoulders or the hips individually in a circling pattern, before coordinating both the hips and shoulders into a more complex combination of simultaneous rotations. For example, when I first started teaching this pattern (the simultaneous rotations part), I had the habit of guiding as follows… “Move your shoulder up as you move your hip down. Next move your shoulder forward as you move your hip back…” always leading with the shoulder instruction before following with the hip. I suppose I fell into this habit because I usually begin teaching the earlier stages of the pattern with shoulder guidance before proceeding to hip guidance. What I noticed was that some people experienced that sequence of guidance as easy to follow, while others became easily confused or flustered. On a hunch, I decided to adjust the way I guided listeners by switching, to lead with the hips rather than the shoulders… “Move your hip up as you move your shoulder down. Next move your hip forward as you move your shoulder back…,” even perhaps alternating the two lines of guidance at well distanced intervals.

I found that the verbal adjustment didn’t work to noticeable effect for every individual who was prone to confusion. But it did seem to make a meaningful difference for some people, who for reasons I can only speculate about, found it easier to orient their movements when guided hip/shoulder verses shoulder/hip. This reinforced my suspicion that simple adjustments in phraseology can have an effect on the way some people hear and process the directions. Part of our job as Somatic Educators is to adjust our delivery so as to make client compliance as easy and seamless as possible.

Further mining the same pattern, I’ve noted that I’m naturally inclined to ask those I guide to ‘push’ their hip down versus ‘pull’ their hip down, and to ‘pull’ their hip backward versus ‘push’ their hip backward. In the interest of optimal interceptive awareness, I think it bears noting that the words we use often reflect, even if unconsciously, our own inner wisdom about internal processes. The act of ‘pulling’ one’s hip back versus ‘pushing’ one’s hip back makes for a significant, if subtle, difference as regards the muscular recruitment requisite to the action. As with the earlier example, you as a practitioner might choose, on any given occasion, to exploit this same distinction for purposes of differentiation. Sometimes, it can be our attention to these seemingly insignificant details, and how we guide our clients in enacting them to best effect, that can make the difference between improvement and learning on the client’s part, or not.

Finally, questioning ourselves about the words we choose to use is the verbal equivalent of differentiating one body part or movement from another. When we pay attention to bodily differentiation, the result is greater freedom, improved range of motion, and enhanced personal adaptability. Taking care to differentiate in how we choose our words and phrases can allow for its own kind of flexibility and adaptability, both in how we express ourselves (information out) and how others hear us (information in) during verbal communications. I would even go so far as to suggest that careful and deliberate attention to our word choices, when guiding clients through movement patterns, may serve to enhance the connectivity (ours and our clients’) between the parts of the brain that are responsible for motor activity and those parts that are tasked with language skills.

This is an original article by John Loupos, M.S., H.S.E.