What is “Somatics”?

Over the last 50 years or so, the concept of somatics have grown in popularity in the U.S. Stemming from the Greek word soma, meaning “the body”, somatics refers to the field within bodywork and movement studies that stresses the importance of the mind-body connection.

The term was coined by Thomas Hanna, a professor of philosophy and movement theorist, in the 70s. He concluded that a wide range of health issues came from a dissociative happening between the mind and body called Sensory Motor Amnesia in which “the sensory motor neurons of the voluntary cortex have lost some portion of their ability to control all or some of the muscles of the body.” Hanna’s studies of neurophysiology led to the development of voluntary pandiculation exercises and hands-on bodywork as a remedy.

Natural pandiculation is the involuntary response of stretching and yawning after long periods of non-movement, as we see with cats and dogs as they deeply arch their backs and take in breaths after waking up. Voluntary pandiculation, on the other hand, requires participation from the client with the purposeful engagement of a muscle or muscle group during a stretch or specific posture.

Hanna’s work is highly influenced by that of his predecessors, actor F.M. Alexander and physicist Moshé Feldenkrais. Alexander developed the Alexander Technique in the 1890s which emphasizes the undoing of unnecessary tension in movement. The Feldenkrais Method was developed some time during the mid-20th century as a means to improve physical and mental well-being by replacing harmful movement patterns with more efficient ones in order to retrain the nervous system. Hanna used these influences to created what is called Hanna Somatic Education. Other somatic systems include:

  • Structural Integration
  • Body-Mind Centering
  • Somatic Sensing
  • Ortho-Bionomy and
  • Continuum

These are just some of the somatic approaches to alternative healing that have become available to us in the West.

A yogic offspring of Thomas Hanna’s method is Somatic Yoga. This style of yoga marries Hanna Somatics with yoga while emphasizing neural functioning as it relates to movement. The focus is to improve posture not so much by muscle exertion but the combined use of breath, meditation, mind-body integration and guided relaxation. This approach is a continuation of Hanna’s work by his widow, Eleanor Criswell Hanna.

While each method has its own distinct differences, they all seek to improve one’s sense of Self, mobility and overall well-being. Through the integration of the multiple bodies that make up the human being, the wholeness of a person starts to come into clearer view. By enhancing internal awareness of the biological, psychological, neurological and even spiritual (in some cases) components of who we are, we can essentially activate the body’s ability to heal itself.

Better Bodhi provides a 1:1 eclectic somatic coaching offering to clients looking to reshape the relationship with his/her/their own body. Email brittney@betterbodhi.com to schedule a free consultation call to see if it is right for you.


REFERENCES

Hanna, Thomas (1986). “What is Somatics?”Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 November 2014.

Raypole, C. (2020, April 17). Somatics: Definition, exercises, evidence, and more. Healthline. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/somatics#What-does-that-even-mean?

Sokoloff, L. (2007, August 8). Somatics: The Yogas of the West. Yoga Journal. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from Somatics: The Yogas of the West.

Warren, S. (2019, April 29). What is pandiculation? Somatic Movement Center. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://somaticmovementcenter.com/pandiculation-what-is-pandiculation/.