Sharpening the saw is habit seven in Stephen Covey’s highly acclaimed book the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. This habit focuses on self-renewal. Self-renewal has four dimensions: physical (exercise and stress management), spiritual (values clarification & meditation), mental (reading, planning, and visualizing), and emotional (service, empathy, and synergy).

Over the past 25 years working as a trainer, presenter, author, university kinesiology instructor, and international presenter, the one thing I have noticed is that trainers spend so much time helping their clients at the expense of their own needs. I have heard of trainers teaching an excessive number of high intensity classes in a day and overall in a week. Many of the personal trainers I consult with have chronic pain conditions, excessive muscle tightness, and muscle imbalances many of which are volume-based and recovery-deficient induced.

What we can do to help fitness processionals (and our own over worked selves) out? Enter in Hanna Somatics education created by Thomas Hanna Ph.D. Somatic Education is the use of sensory-motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of one’s physiological process. It is “somatic” so the learning occurs within the individual as an internalized process (Peterson, 2015). It considers the person as a “soma”. Soma refers to totality – the whole person. It is everything about life – how we interpret and respond. This unity is built into our nervous system when you consider that there are nerves that bring sensory information in and motor nerves that carry out a response to self regulate.

Why is this important? Dr. Hanna identified a condition known as sensory-motor amnesia. Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) refers to a condition in which muscles become habitually tight in response to injuries (e.g., soft-tissue injuries), physical shocks (e.g., falls or blows), repetitive use (e.g., overtraining) or on-going stress. Those afflicted with SMA lose their ability to release and relax muscles and move freely. SMA occurs in reflexive, full body patterns of contractions that alter voluntary coordination and balance, tighten joints and cause muscular pain.

In SMA, the feedback loop between the brain and muscles goes into what can be described as “cruise control” or “auto-pilot,” and makes it difficult to control these muscles freely. Typically, all the muscles along that specific kinetic chain tighten in compensation. There are 3 main reflexes: green light, red light, and trauma reflex. The green light involves your posterior muscles, the red light involves your anterior muscles, and the trauma reflex your lateral muscles. These reflexes occur in response to stress (emotional and physical) and injury.


SMA has occurred when:

  1. The muscles are so tight that they won’t relax. and/or
  2. Massage/chiropractor/physical therapy/heat and cold/ won’t help for the long term.

The brain is the target organ to alleviate this! The movements used in somatic education sessions help the user to learn how to regain control of their muscles. It also provides me-time which in Dr. Chatterjee’s new book, “How to Make Disease Disappear” is identified as an essential pillar to achieving wellness and reducing the risk of disease (Chatterjee, 2018).

The somatic education movements are gentle and allow the person doing them a chance to check in with their body to see which muscles the brain has lost control of. The movements themselves are called pandiculations. A pandiculation is different from a stretch. It involves a three-step process:

  1. Tighten a specific muscle or muscle groups tighter than it already is.
  2. Slowly lengthen and release that muscle(s) to their full comfortable length.
  3. Completely relax the muscle(s). This is when the brain learns!

An interesting fact is, animals pandiculate when they get up from rest roughly 42 times per day. We need to be learning from Fluffy and Buffy!

A simple practice of 10-15 minutes or more of somatic movements can be a game-changer to add to your physical activity regimen. It will improve your training and your recovery from training. You will also learn more about yourself in all four dimensions because there is not one thought or emotion that your body hasn’t felt.

Feel free to come out to the Sharpen the Saw workshop at the BCFit®’18 Conference and learn about Hanna Somatics and its role in self-care for the trainer or group fitness instructor.

Peterson, M. (2015) – Move without Pain.
Chatterjee, R. (2018) – How to Make Diseases Disappear.

BRIAN JUSTIN, MKin, CEP, CSCS, CES, PES, CSE-4, CAFS Exercise Physiologist and Movement Specialist. Brian is a full-time tenured Kinesiology Instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford and Chilliwack BC. He earned his Masters and Bachelor degrees from the University of British Columbia. Brian’s areas of concentration are exercise physiology, strength and conditioning, injury management, and exercise testing and prescription. Brian is passionate about spreading the word on the benefits of physical activity for health, performance, and injury prevention.