Somatics is an area of movement studies that promotes and enhances mind-body awareness. It uses movement education, therapy, or a combination of both in order to reform “bad” postural habits that inhibit the body’s ability to function at its best.
RMTs know that muscle tension and joint restriction are often a result of poor posture that places stress on the musculoskeletal system. Although they are trained to identify and relieve constricted tissues, RMTs may need to address the issue of posture in order to provide long-term solutions to related pain and stiffness. Knowledge of somatics may help RMTs educate their patients about the connection between posture, movement and overall wellbeing - and suggest simple interventions for improvement.
Read on to learn about three of the most prominent and influential somatic modalities – Rolfing, the Alexander Technique, and the Feldenkrais Method – and how these techniques can be used in conjunction with massage to improve patients’ musculoskeletal function.
Over 50 years ago, Ida Pauline Rolf developed a treatment known as Structural Integration, often referred to as Rolfing. The premise of Rolfing is that over time, gravity will accentuate any imbalances in posture, which can lead to accumulated tension in a patient’s fascial planes.
Fascia is the connective tissue under the skin that connects muscles and internal organs, which when constricted, can lead to poor posture.
Rolfing is typically a ten-session treatment where a practitioner manipulates fascia systematically from head to toe. The practitioner applies gentle but deep pressure in order to relieve tension and realign the body. The end goal is better balance, freedom of movement and improved posture. Myofascial Release, a technique students typically learn in massage college, evolved in part out of the pioneering work of Ida Rolf, who promoted the importance of healthy fascia for optimal musculoskeletal function and overall health.
While treatments such as Swedish massage and deep tissue work can help alleviate the tight muscles and joints that result from poor posture, a somatics modality known as the Alexander Technique can help resolve the problem at its source.
Whereas Rolfing uses the massage-like application of pressure to relieve fascial tension, the Alexander Technique focuses on patient education by fostering a more acute awareness of how the body moves through every-day activities. The patient carries out common gestures like getting up from a chair, walking, or bending over to pick up an object. With the guidance of a trained Alexander Technique professional, the patient evaluates each gesture and identifies “errors”. Finally, patients receive instruction on how to correct their posture - small adjustments that they will practice on their own until new, healthier habits are formed.
A useful adjunct to massage therapist training, familiarity with Alexander Technique can help RMTs customize corrective routines patients can perform in between appointments.
The Feldenkrais Method, like the Alexander Technique, is focused on remediation through heightened awareness. Practitioners emphasize mindfulness by helping patients break down complex movements into smaller components. By slowing movements down and analyzing them in detail, patients and therapists are able to recognize pain-causing inefficiencies that typically go unnoticed during the fast pace of daily life. New, more effective movements are introduced and repeated, so that over time they feel normal to patients. Registered massage therapists who specialize in sports massage might be interested in utilizing elements of the Feldenkrais method to help their patients identify pain-causing postural habits and perform with more ease and grace.
Are you looking to complement your massage therapy training with somatics? If so, consider enrolling in OVCMT’s upcoming workshop, Applied Somatics for the Tilting Bodies, which runs from June 26-28.