Somatics and Thomas Hanna’s Exercises for Overcoming Illness

Thomas Hanna, the author of the term “somatics” and creator of gymnastics for restoring balance between soul and body, was an American philosopher, doctor, and director of the Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training. Hanna passed away in 1990, but his methodology remains popular and helps people restore their health.

Thomas Hanna and His View on Psychosomatics

Hanna’s somatics helps to find the true cause of chronic muscle pain, teaches the brain to control and better understand movements, and offers neuromuscular retraining. All muscle contractions are linked to a person’s thoughts. It’s crucial to understand which thoughts and which body areas they reflect, and to learn to feel every cell of one’s body.

Chronic muscle pains and contractions are familiar to everyone. For some, this is due to an injury that forced them into a constrained position. Or conversely, the person was forced to ignore the injury and maintain previous activity levels. Sometimes people think that ignoring an injury and its symptoms will make them go away on their own, but this is not the case.

In modern times, sports and a healthy lifestyle have become fashionable. So many books have been written, so many home exercise machines created, so many fitness centers opened. But why are there still people suffering from muscle pain? Moreover, athletes often suffer from injuries and musculoskeletal diseases.

It’s because most people engage in sports unconsciously. Few do it really for preserving youth and health. More often, people want to be the best, boost self-esteem, change their appearance, or simply follow fashion. Most people force themselves to do sports. Therefore, there is no result. The body, brain, and muscles are inseparably linked. In short, it’s not so much about somatics as it is about psychosomatics.

Important! Muscle pain is the result of improper adaptation to stress. The neuromuscular retraining method allows correcting this.


In 1976, Thomas Hanna introduced the term “somatics.” He named the discipline that teaches movement awareness. An alternative name is somatic education or motor retraining.

Thomas Hanna wasn’t the founder of the discipline, but he developed his own set of exercises. The method is based on the phenomenon identified: in response to stress, corresponding reflexes and sensorimotor amnesia occur in the body. It’s possible to identify specific patterns (behavioral stereotypes) of a particular person in moments of stress and learn to control these body and mind reactions.

Interesting! In 1988, Thomas published the book “Somatics.” There, the author detailed his theory and health correction methodology, also debunking the myth of inevitable body aging. The doctor believes that pain, stiffness, immobility, and muscle weakness are not related to age but to thinking, perception, self-image, and body functions.

Placebo Effect

Partly, Thomas’s somatic theory is related to the placebo effect. The placebo effect is nothing but the body’s self-regulation activity. Placebos were first used in medicine: patients were given a chemically neutral product and told it was, for example, a painkiller. People believed and expected the medicine to help. Actually, it did, but it was not the pill that helped, but the person’s inner confidence that their condition would stabilize soon. Thomas’s theory is based on the same principle: gain peace and confidence, and the pain will recede on its own.

If a person expects their body to “fall apart” with age, it will happen. But if a person is confident that their health will strengthen with each passing year, that will be the result. Be proud of your age, perceive it as experience and knowledge. With each year, you become stronger and more confident. You accumulate more energy and opportunities to cope with stress, difficult situations, and diseases.

Description of the Book “Reviving Mind Control Over Movement, Flexibility, and Health”

The book discusses back diseases and spinal pains. But the proposed treatment method is suitable for eliminating all somatic ailments. The book should be seen as recommendations, not as direct medical instructions or consultations. Before using the advice from the book, it is recommended to personally consult a specialist.

The book consists of three chapters. Instead of an introduction, the myth of aging is analyzed. Then follow three chapters with several paragraphs.

Chapter one “Stories of Sensorimotor Amnesia”:

  • Barney (42 years old): The Leaning Tower;
  • James (32 years old): The “Nightmare” Back Story;
  • Louise (56 years old): Frozen Shoulder Syndrome;
  • Harley (60 years old): The Retractable Landing Gear;
  • Alexander (81 years old): Old Men;

Chapter two “How Sensorimotor Amnesia Manifests”:

  • Atrophy: the role of gradual capitulation;
  • Muscle stress reflexes;
  • “Red light” reflex;
  • “Green light” reflex;
  • Result of neuromuscular stresses: senile posture and “black mark”;
  • Trauma: the role of damage;
  • Expectation: the role of mental setup;

Chapter three “Program of Somatic Exercises”:

  • How to get the most benefit from somatic exercises;
  • Somatic exercises;

Important! If pain intensifies during or after exercises, it’s likely that not only sensorimotor amnesia is involved, but also medical pathologies. Be sure to consult a therapist.

Description of the Book “The Art of Not Aging”

The book details the psychosomatic causes of age-related diseases and methods for their relief. The author clearly explains that hypertension, joint pain, back and leg pain, chronic fatigue are not inevitable signs of aging. Moreover, these issues are not age-related but depend on a person’s psychological state.

Additionally, the book describes the characteristics of positive and negative stress. It also examines real-life events leading to various health problems through the stories of the author’s clients, discussing the events in their lives that led to their current conditions.

In “The Art of Not Aging,” Thomas describes his system of physical and psychological exercises. These accessible activities are explained in detail and resemble Moshe Feldenkrais’ yoga practices. They can correct posture, eliminate back pain, lower back pain, leg pain, and shoulder pain. The exercises are simple, no more complicated than a morning workout. Practicing these exercises daily can permanently eliminate diseases, improve well-being and flexibility at any age, whether 40, 50, 60, or 80 years old.

Important! Thomas Hanna’s exercises can be categorized under body-oriented psychotherapy, a field of psychology used to treat psychosomatic illnesses.

How to Maximize the Benefits from Somatic Exercises

The course consists of eight lessons (each with several exercises):

  • Managing the back extensor muscles;
  • Managing the abdominal flexor muscles;
  • Managing the lower back muscles;
  • Managing muscles by twisting the torso;
  • Managing leg muscles in the hip joints;
  • Managing neck and shoulder muscles;
  • Improving breathing;
  • Improving gait.

The full description of the exercises can be found in the author’s book. To get the most benefit from the exercises, follow these guidelines:

  1. Understand the theory of sensorimotor amnesia, i.e., how and why it arises in your brain, and how it’s connected to the body.
  2. Focus on your sensations during movements.
  3. The goal of the exercises is to relax tense muscles. Therefore, practice in a calm environment, with comfortable shoes, on a gymnastics mat, or other padding.
  4. Perform each exercise slowly. Success in a new exercise depends on how well you mastered the previous action. Feel each session; over time, they will become your daily behavior patterns.
  5. Don’t strain during the exercises. You should do everything gently and easily. It should not require effort.
  6. If a muscle feels tense and doesn’t follow your commands, allow it to contract as it wants. Only then can you relax it and positively affect it with exercises. If you play a “who will overcome whom” game with muscles, it will cause even more spasm.
  7. Remember, the exercises described in the book are natural and easy. If you feel pain, tension, or fatigue, it indicates additional harmful factors or that you are not in tune with your body. Slow down, move cautiously and slowly.
  8. Don’t expect quick results. Maintain a positive attitude, be persistent and patient.

In addition to the book’s exercises, start each morning with “cat stretches.” Doing this exercise for 20 minutes will awaken the body, eliminate all contractions, and normalize muscle function. You can do the exercise twice a day: morning and evening.

Hanna’s Somatics: Case Studies

Sensorimotor amnesia is caused by three reflexes: red light, green light, and trauma (stress response patterns). These discoveries complement Hans Selye and Moshe Feldenkrais’ stress theory. Let’s look at them in more detail.

Red Light Reflex

Bending forward as a reaction to danger and fear. Appearance: head forward, shoulders to ears, elbows bent, knees bent, abdominal muscles tense, pelvis tilted. This resembles the image of a hunched old man with a shuffling gait. But this is not due to age but to worries, fears, long hours at the computer, feeling of danger.

Green Light Reflex

Considered a positive stress reaction: leg and back muscles activate, propelling you forward, aiding in activity. Appearance: shoulder blades drawn together, lower back arched, chin tucked, feet slightly turned outward, buttocks tense. This resembles a military posture.

Staying in such a pose is as dangerous as the previous reflex. The body takes this position in a hurry, with a sea of responsibilities. Constantly maintaining this position leads to problems: intervertebral hernias, neck pain, upper and middle back pain, piriformis syndrome.

Trauma Reflex

Muscle contraction in response to an old injury. For example, if you once slipped and severely bruised yourself or broke something, your body will always try to straighten the back muscles and maintain posture, and leg muscles will always be in high tone. Another manifestation of this reflex: one side experiences trauma, the other compensates. This leads to different arm strengths, leg lengths, pain on one side of the hip joint, one shoulder dropping, etc.

Case Studies from Practice

Cases from the practice of specialists are published on the Somatic Systems Institute website. Let’s examine some of them in more detail:

  1. Stephen Aronstein. Diagnosis: fibromyalgia (chronic nervous system and joint disease). At 19, Stephen’s condition was worse than that of a 70-year-old grandfather. He suffered from constant pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders. He discovered Hanna’s method when he was exhausted and bedridden. He couldn’t study or work and lived under the care of relatives. In three years, the patient fully recovered.
  2. Karen Hewitt. Diagnosis: knee deformation. Karen injured her knee in a car accident (to save a cyclist, Karen had to brake sharply). The pain intensified, and the knee’s mobility was limited. Surgery was performed, but it only worsened her condition. Eventually, after 13 years, she had to choose between crutches and a wheelchair. At that moment, she heard about Hanna’s practice. In the first minutes of the session, he identified the problem: a spasm in the muscles of the right side of the body, about 10-12 years old. Thomas immediately devised a set of exercises. The session lasted 50 minutes. Karen left the office on her own, without crutches. After a few sessions, all pain and symptoms disappeared.
  3. Catherine Kerber. Diagnosis: scoliosis, back pain. Catherine was born with scoliosis, her left leg was 0.5 cm shorter than the right. But her first severe back spasm occurred at 24. Then began the rounds of doctors, therapy courses, and physiotherapy. But all this gave only temporary results. At 39, Catherine learned about somatics. The specialist explained that curvature couldn’t be congenital. Likely, there was some trauma in the first five years of the child’s life. And the difference in leg lengths, pain, and other symptoms were caused by curvature, muscle tension. The somatist relaxed the muscles, the vertebrae went back into place, all symptoms disappeared. Catherine later completed a full course of somatic therapy and used gymnastics.

Thomas Hanna’s book “Reviving Mind Control Over Movement, Flexibility, and Health” also gives five examples of real sensorimotor amnesia. The author analyzes the diseases of his clients and the life precursors that led to them.

Important! Pain, contractions, deformities are energy stagnation. Age is just a number. Old age and diseases live in the head. It all depends on the person’s world perception.

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