Habitual muscle tension

Habitual muscle tension, or as Thomas Hanna called it, sensory motor amnesia (SMA) affects nearly all of us. The brain accounts for about 2% of our body weight, but about 20% of energy consumption – to conserve energy the brain frequently tunes out information that is static. In other words, we quickly become used to constant muscle tension, just as we do with constant background noise, smells, etc.

This can make it very difficult to become more consciously aware of areas of tension, but increasing awareness is the first step toward regaining control. Below are some suggestions for recognizing habituated tension:

  • movements that are jumpy, jerky or shaky
  • movements that are difficult to slow down
  • movements that are more constricted on one side of the body
  • movements that lead to “spacing out” or feeling sleepy
  • movements that result in pain
  • muscles that feel tight, stiff, sore or less flexible
  • muscles that have to work too hard to create movement (particularly in comparison to others that can move with less effort)
  • muscles that cramp up or spasm

You might be surprised that even when you are trying very hard to notice these indicators your brain can effectively mask this information. If you ask someone else to observe you, for example, they may see jumpy or rapid movements, even though they may seem slow and smooth from your somatic, first-person perspective! The more you practice Somatic Movement, the better you will be able to recognize habitual tension, and then regain voluntary control so that you can release it.

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