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Soma for Me, Soma for You

In the context of movement practice, "soma" refers to the body as experienced from within. Somatics is a profession in bodywork and movement studies that focuses on developing skills in internal physical perception and experience. One major benefit to regular experiences in somatics is the power of self-knowledge, a felt sense of the the self as someone who has choices. It promotes body confidence. Somatics is particularly useful to individuals who, usually due to trauma or faulty information about the body, are disconnected from their bodies as a whole, or in certain parts.

I have studied and experienced many forms of somatic movement practices over the years, and the primary experience I have with all of them is a palpable reduction of stress. How wonderful to have a means of getting centered and calm using nothing more than one's own imagination and body! Many practices also include fully-clothed hands-on work by the somatic educator or therapist as a means of giving the client's body an experience of another way of being or moving, so the person can perceive that there might be some choice where before there was only one way to think or do something.

Some familiar types of somatic movement practice include certain styles of yoga and Pilates, the ones that go slowly enough that the mover can sense their moving and breathing while they are moving. Other forms people have heard of are Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Trager, Bartenieff Fundamentals, Body-Mind Centering, and many more.

Why do I mention Somatics here in this blog? Because my background in it suffuses all my work. In the Pilates sessions I do, for example, hands-on work and exercises with balls are techniques I use to help a stressed-out person come to neutral, get connected to the body, so workouts are safer and more effective. Breathing fully in all dimensions is also key.

Somatics reminds us that we are more than just a collection of muscles moving bones to get strong. Our breathing, sense of moving in space, our pleasure in movement and in rising to challenges without getting tied up in knots results in more ease and fun in movement!

Here's an example of how somatics works.

There's an exercise I teach all my clients and students called Knee Sway. Basically, from the lying-on-your-back, knees up, feet flat position, you sway the knees from one side to the other. The first time most people do it, they move their legs together as one unit, and accomplish the movement by tightening the thighs and pushing them first to one side then to the other. The experience of the movement is often forceful and blunt, not especially pleasant.

A somatic movement practioner might encourage the client to experience a more pleasant, differentiated, and flowing movement by first facilitating the experience of moving each leg independently in each hip joint, while noticing how the foot can roll with the movement so the thigh does less work. The knees can learn to be lighter so there's more subtle interplay between the legs and the core muscles in the pelvis. The client can experience what it's like to initiate the movement from different places in the body, such as the tailbone or the knees, and to feel the whole process of moving, not just the endpoints. In this way the exercises becomes more flowing, differentiated, and pleasant, particularly if the movement is supported by easy, integrated breathing. There are countless variations of this exercise, and the internal experience can feel completely different according to what one is paying attention to while moving, even though it might look the same from the outside.

Experiencing somatics is a little like that part of the Wizard of Oz movie when it changes from the black-and-white of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz. A whole new world of experience opens up, and it's quite exciting!

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