Sensory Motor Amnesia: What Have We Forgotten?

ON October 29, 2014

by Sadie Chanlett-Avery

Soap operas invoke “amnesia” as a clichéd plot twist that leaves the character vulnerable to old adversaries. Hours of sitting in front of screens generates a less dramatic but possibly more insidious forgetting: sensory motor amnesia.

Thomas Hanna coined this term for the neuromuscular atrophy that results from a lack of movement. Increasing stiffness limits our ability to consciously contract and relax our muscles. Hanna questioned the inevitably of aging and suggested that SMA causes our decline.

When teaching, I witness the consequences of SMA daily. With yoga newbies, I use slow and explicit cues. Beyond competency, out of shape folks need extra time to process instructions. One client actually repeated my directions out loud to figure out the movements.

With conscious training, we reclaim motor control and enliven dull tissues. After most classes, a student approaches me a realization, “Wow, I didn’t know my hips are so tight.”

I contend that SMA is more than a muscular or neurological condition. As we stop moving we lose the joy of dancing, the satisfaction of physical labor, and the rejuvenation of exercise. We no longer hear the whispers of the body. Many of us are paralyzed and stuck in pain. We lose a sense of self.

Even late into life we can dismantle the limited patterns that confine our physical expression. It’s as easy as going barefoot, playing with kids, trying a new sport, or practicing a martial art.

We start by moving and paying attention. Establishing a movement practice may not be as gripping as the soaps. Yet reconnecting our mind to our movements could alter our fate.

SadieProfileBSadie Chanlett-Avery, holistic fitness trainer, yoga instructor, and writer, was named a 2013 Athleta Sponsored Athlete. As the In-house Yogi at Clif Bar & Co. she directs the yoga and perinatal programs, trains with kettlebells, and serves on the Wellness Team. Sadie received her teacher certification from Ana Forrest and has immersed for months in the jungles of Costa Rica with Master Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Glenn Black. Her M.A. in Holistic Health Education and multiple fitness certifications lends antomical depth to her innovative and playful classes.

She appreciates the diverse expression of the human genome with the belief that people of all ages and sizes can benefit from exercise and heal with yoga. Teaching for over ten years, she applies ancient yogic principles to individual needs and modern lifestyles.

Sadie blogs at

Blog posts by Sadie: The Dark Side of Detoxing

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