While the term somatic has a history in relation to the way the mind influences our experience of disease (psychosomatic has been in the lexicon for a long time) it was Thomas Hanna who first began to use the word to denote practices that were emerging in the twentieth century that utilise the felt sense of the body as a form of somatic therapy. Among these practices were:
You may have heard of some of these. Hanna himself was a student of Feldenkreis but began to sense that he could find a way to speed up the process of somatic therapy and to make the student more independent of the therapist. Thus he developed his own style of somatic therapy sometimes called Hanna somatics, sometimes Somatics in the style of Thomas Hanna, or simply Somatics. Yoga Spirit Studios was the first studio in Australia to introduce regular somatics classes in this style.
Somatic movements relieve stiffness and pain. It is simple and effective. The movements are gentle and easy. Whatever you can do is the perfect way to do it. And it works. Sometimes the most under-whelming movement has a profound effect. It mainly works on muscles.
You might object, but my pain is due to my arthritis, or some other underlying condition. The amazing thing is though that when we do somatics and relieve the muscular tension that is present, and in so doing address some chronic holding patterns that have developed in our bodies, much of the experience of stiffness and pain is addressed, even though the underlying condition is still the same. You will have to try it to see if it works for you though.
Somatics is a very gentle therapeutic practice. It is usually practiced lying on the floor on a yoga mat, and it is much more accessible than yoga for people with physical limitations (we love yoga A LOT but this is true).
Somatics exercises are also sometimes done sitting and standing. The picture on this page is of a class doing a somatic movement we call steeple twist.
There is one very big rule in doing somatics:
You do the movements just as far as your range of comfort will allow, and that is perfect.
The second thing, and I would call it a guideline rather than a rule, is to move slowly, and slow down the breath to match the movement.
The third thing is to pay close attention to what it feels like, in your body, to do the movement.
Of course the teacher will be constantly prompting you on these pointers.
Your somatics session will begin and end with a soma scan. Soma is a word which in the Greek means living body (as opposed to a corpse), but in somatics we take it to mean the felt sense of the body. And it is the root word of the word somatics.
During a soma scan we lie flat (providing it is comfortable to do so, the alternative is to bend the knees and keep feet on the floor which will relieve back pain that may be expereinced if lying flat - remember, no pain). When we stand up and move around we will likely not be holding our bodies in a flat plain like this, so when we lie flat we notice all sorts of things that are going on. The teacher may guide you through the body to notice various things about the felts sense of the body.
Often mini soma scans are done after finishing a particualr movement. This gives great information about the effect it is having.
Somatics mainly works on muscles though a principle called pandiculation.
Yes, it is a big word, but you do it naturally and you see animals do it all the time.
You know what it is when I say "a big stretch and yawn". But pay close attention to what is happening when you do that. If stretch means lengthen, like you would lengthen a bit of a elastic by pulling both ends away from each other, then there is not a lot of stretching going on. What you are really doing is "pandiculation".
In pandiculation you introduce tension into a muscle and then let it go. It is very effective and animals are hard-wired to do it. Your dog does it, your cat does it. Lengthening a muscle is easier to do after a pandiculation, it just happens, without stretching.
So when a muscle has become chronically tense, the way to un-tense it is to gently tension it a bit more (contract into it), and then gently ask it to lengthen.
We live a life. We have accidents, we encounter stresses. The body lays down a record with every new event. We call the ways we tend to haold our bodies "reflexes" and there are three recognisable patterns we share.
Green light reflex typically develops when we are feeling overwhelmed by a busy life and feeling anxious, constantly switchined, too many balls in the air, go, go, go! The green light reflex manifests in chronically tight miscles in the back of the body. Lower back pain is frequently due to chronically tense muscles in the lower back region.
The red light pattern is when the muscles of the front of the body are in a chronic holding pattern. It is a feature of mental conditions when we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, and we would really rather curl up and disappear. It can also contribute to lower back pain as the weight of the body is forward and straining the back, like carrying a heavy load.
Trauma reflex turns up in asymetrical holding patterns in the body. It's bound to happen! You lug a child around on your hip for a few years and it establishes a pattern in the body. You carry a heavy satchel to and from school, or carry your back pack on one shoulder instead of on the back like it was designed to do, distributing the load. You fell down the stairs, off a bicycle, down a hole ... in an instant your body may brace and the muscles may not return back the way they were. Or you had an injury that meant you had to favour a part of the body for awhile, and you never have quite been the same since. That's a trauma reflex.
All three can be and probably are there together.
Yep, muscles have memories.
The reflexes discussed above have set some of your muscles into a pattern of forgetting. It is really a lack of connection to the motor control centres of the brain. In somatics this is give a special name.
You don't really have to worry about this name, nor its acronym. Suffice to say, that we need to be really mindful when doing somatic movements to pay attention to what is going on in the body, and in this way we start to re-educate the muscle-brain connection, teaching the muscle how to let go.
Join a class to practise and learn somatic movements.
Or contact us to book private appointments to begin your work on an individualised basis.
You can find out more over here.
(Author, Tina Shettigara)