Muscle memory: Annapolis man practices somatics, aimed at helping muscle amnesia


FEBRUARY 9, 2014

"Ryan Moschell might put himself out of business.

He knows it, and has accepted it. But that's a long way off.
In the meantime, he's busy teaching people how to cure sensory motor amnesia. Put more basically, muscle amnesia.
Who knew biceps, triceps and other tissues were so darned forgetful?
Moschell, a longtime Annapolis massage therapist, is a somatic educator.

He shows people how to manipulate specific muscles to alleviate pain and tension. The movements are done very deliberately - like a slow-motion, self-guided personal training session. "I have them learn how to feel what's going on in their bodies so they can do it on their own," he said.

The routine is meant to make the brain relearn muscle motions.

"(But) it's not a muscle event, it's a brain event," said Moschell, 40.

He's been teaching somatics for about four years. He's been a massage therapist for 15.

One of the big differences is that with massage, he works on a client. With somatics, he shows people how to do the work themselves.

Thus, if he's successful, he'll ultimately lose clients.
"I still have my days I'm worried I'm doing the wrong thing, but people keep showing up."

Maybe because somatics isn't as simple as it looks - and isn't that well-known, yet. "It's not a miracle cure," he said. "It's an involved process."

Somatics is based on the teachings of the late philosopher Thomas Hanna. Moschell studied at the institute he founded in California.

Moschell charges the same rate as massage therapy - $100 an hour or $150 for 90 minutes. He recommends 90 minutes for the first of typically four or five somatics sessions. After that, he's found that people return occasionally for a maintenance session.

Paula McDaniel of Annapolis is a believer.

She met Moschell at a yoga retreat last year. He gave a two-hour workshop on somatics, and she decided to give it a try.

"Ever since that first session... I've been sold on the total package."

McDaniel's aches and pains went away, and her golf drives got longer.

"It's hard for me to put into words, but once I got it, it was like a light went on."

Shouldering a burden

Before somatics, Moschell considered changing careers.

He had a shoulder injury that wouldn't heal, no matter the treatment. Then, he learned about somatics through a client who had chronic back pain.

He had his doubts, but decided to train to become a somatic educator. In the process, his shoulder got better. "The timing was right, and I took a leap," he said. "It just clicked."
McDaniel, 64, started somatics because she "didn't want to end up in a wheelchair or using a cane."
Mary Ann Buckley was already halfway there when she came to Moschell.

The 67-year-old Grasonville resident used to walk with a cane and couldn't stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. Buckley also discovered Moschell and somatics at the yoga retreat.

"At first, I was very skeptical, but I thought, you know what, I'll give it a try," Buckley said.

Nothing happened after the first session, but by the end of the second meeting a week later she started to feel better.

Today, she's a changed woman. The cane is gone and she dances four days a week. If the pain in her back returns, she just does a few of the "exercises" Moschell showed her, and it's gone.

"I just can't explain it, but it worked. A lot of it is Ryan. His demeanor and positive attitude is contagious."

Pete Emondo, 72, of Edgewater, had a similar story. Somatics got rid of his sciatica. "I used to hate to go places if I couldn't park close. The walking was so painful. Now, I don't worry about it."

Moschell doesn't know of anyone else practicing somatics in the area. A Google search revealed several in Maryland, but none in Anne Arundel County. Other local massage therapists, when contacted about somatics, had positive things to say.

Debi McKibben of Annapolis admitted somatics "is kinda out there," but knows people it's helped. "I'd give it a try."

Heather Langley, who teaches massage therapy at Anne Arundel Community College, also gave somatics a thumbs-up.

"It's a complimentary modality for a massage therapist, a physical therapist, anyone that's involved in movement therapy," said Langley, an assistant professor.

Many practitioners use somatics as part of a wellness program, but just don't call it that, or focus solely on it, she said.

About half of Moschell's clients previously went to him for massage therapy. The rest come by word-of-mouth.

"I try not to push people too hard. They come to it when they're ready."