Somatics: A different approach to fitness and health.
I want to talk a little bit about Somatics. Soma-what? Somatics. I know most people have never heard the word. And that’s why I’m here today. In a nutshell, Somatics is about the “lived experience.” A method for taking our health and wellness into our own hands by honoring what we feel from the inside out.
When I was first introduced the term “Somatics,” I only had a vague understanding of the meaning behind the word. I’m sure the first place I heard it was during my undergraduate experience where I was required to take a class called (wait for it) Somatics. (Go figure). But even then, my main perception of the class was tied directly to what we did in the class. I knew that one of the objectives of the class was to make me a better dancer/mover, and that we would spend a great deal of time going “back to basics” to reconnect to our body. It was definitely one of my favorite classes, but I still don’t think I fully understood the meaning of Somatics.
From that point on, I spent a great deal of time and effort learning about various methods within the field of Somatics. It’s a powerful thing. Using a Somatics approach to fitness and health can change your life.
What is Somatics?
The word “Soma” is a Greek word that means “living body.” The idea behind Somatics is one that supports an active awareness of the internal sensations within your own body. Thomas Hanna, who is credited for coining the term “Somatics,” speaks to this idea beautifully. He says:
This living, self-sensing, internalized perception of oneself is radically different from the externalized perception of what we call a ‘body,’ which could just as well be a human, a statue, a dummy, or a cadaver—from an objective viewpoint, all of these are ‘bodies.’ (…) The uniqueness of human beings is in being, simultaneously, subjects and objects. Humans are self-sensing and self-moving subjects while, at the same time, they are observable and manipulable objects.
In today’s world there is a lot stress put on what we see from the outside, and very little thought given to what we feel going on inside. When something seems “not right” we head over to a doctor or other outside observer to tell us what is going on inside our own body. And while doctors definitely have their place and value—we have given so much weight to their words that we have lost our own ability to sense, understand, and communicate the one thing that nobody else can know: Our unique bodily sensations.
We each can benefit from reclaiming what we know to be true from the inside out. In a world where there are ongoing health care problems, the more we can take charge of our own health and trust our ability to be wise about our own bodies, the better.
Benefits of a Somatics Approach:
- The more you can sense and communicate about your body, the better equipped you are to talk to outside professionals so that you can get the care you need and avoid unnecessary interventions.
- When you “tune inward” you are exercising your mind/body connection. You are less likely to do unintentional harm to your body (like over-eating, not eating, under sleeping, or ignoring important pain signals).
- As mentioned in this article, research has shown that doing slow, deliberate movement that involves body awareness and presence (Somatics) has many health benefits that help the immune system.
- Most Somatic approaches provide a whole-body perspective that will enhance all aspects of your health, coordination, and overall well being.
In my own experience, I have found taking time to listen to my body is a great way to reduce stress and find clarity and calmness. I have gained confidence, strength, and a sense of responsibility over my health.
Practicing a Somatics approach to health:
Here are few ways to strengthen your own bodily awareness and incorporate a Somatics approach to health:
1. Take a few minutes each day to “go inward.” Close your eyes. Feel your heart beat. Sense the weight of your bones. Notice where you are tense, where you feel free, and where you feel nothing. Notice if there is anything that feels “not right” and see if you can give it a name.
2. Begin trusting your body and its most basic needs. We live in a society where the pressures of our lives and jobs sometimes keep us from obeying our body’s most basic signals. When you feel hungry, eat. When you feel full, stop eating. When you need to go the bathroom, go. If you feel thirsty, drink. There are countless signals our body gives us on a daily basis and if we don’t start acknowledging the most basic ones, chances are we won’t hear the critical ones.
3. Take time to Breathe. There are numerous benefits of breath, and if there is one thing all Somatic approaches have in common, it is a foundation of breath. Breath is what connects us to our basic needs. It gives us life and rhythm. It connects our conscious with our subconscious. This step alone can make a world of difference.
4. Spend a week without mirrors. Not only is this a fun experiment, but it forces us to feel what is going on rather than just seeing our outside image. I did this a couple of years ago and it was quite eye opening.
5. Take a class, workshop, or find a personalize practitioner. A good modern dance class or a good yoga class are two choices that are usually easy to find no matter where you are. Some less common but incredibly worthwhile approaches include Body Mind Centering, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, and Bartenieff Funamentals (my method of choice). You can also check out ISMETA.org to find a Somatic Movement Therapist or Educator near you.
I’m also really excited to announce my upcoming ebook: Pain Free: 60 exercises for pain-free living. This book features information and descriptions on Somatic-based exercises that can help you find an empowered sense of self inside your own body. Stay tuned for more info!