A Short Tour of Somatics
Somatics is rooted in the work of Wilhelm Reich, MD, a student of Sigmund Freud. Reich observed that patients with illnesses or psychological disorders improved more readily with sensory integration working with the mind, body, and emotions together rather than dividing the self for treatment. When patients addressed their emotional problems with talk therapy only, their improvements didn't last. By working with what Reich called character armoring patterns of bodily holding the tension could release, allowing more energy to flow throughout the system, resulting in fuller self-expression and better health.
The impressive list of somatics pioneers and innovators includes: F. M. Alexander, Ida Rolf, Alexander Lowen, Moshe Feldenkrais, Randolph Stone, Charlotte Selver, Marion Rosen, Elsa Gindler, Ilse Middendorf, John and Eva Pierrakos, Thomas Hanna, Ilana Rubenfeld, Anna Halprin, Stanley Keleman, Judith Aston, Stuart Heller, Emily Conrad Da'Oud, Ron Kurtz, Jack Painter, Jack Rosenberg, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks, Stan Grof, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Christine Caldwell, Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, Staci Haines, and Richard Strozzi-Heckler.
Body as Self
"A person's psychological history is alive and present in everything he does and the style in which he does it. It's in how people use their bodies, how they move, where the tension is, what the posture is like, and the structure. So, you can look at the body for psychological information."
Ron Kurtz, founder of Hakomi body-centered psychotherapy
Somatics, derived from the Greek word soma, or living body in its wholeness, defines the body as an expression of one's entire being. More than just a collection of anatomical parts, the body is a dynamic vessel that holds our life experience and shapes our thinking, language, emotions, moods, actions, energy level, health, and relationships. Our body is coherent with how we have literally "shaped" ourselves managed to fit in, to be loved, to be safe in our surroundings. For example, if a child is told whatever she says is stupid, she may constrict her neck, throat, and jaw in order to quell her natural voice. Later in life, when in a leadership position, words get stuck in her throat, and it's painful when she tries to speak. Or her jaw begins hurting, and the dentist says she's been grinding her teeth in her sleep.
Embodied learning can take place over time or in one eventful experience good or bad. It affects us down to the level of our cells and how they function. As an educational and transformational approach to living, somatics provides many ways to return our awareness to the places in our body and life that we've ignored or hidden. Each day, each moment, the world provides challenges that can be joyful or painful, that may ground us or throw us off balance. Our bodies contain more than the physical components necessary for survival. The living body is a resource we can tap into to create a whole new range of possibilities for health, creativity, communication, and connection personally, in communities, and globally.
Living Practice: Somatic Coaching and Bodywork
Much of my learning since 1996 has been in the discourse of Somatic Coaching and Somatic Bodywork pioneered by Richard Strozzi-Heckler, PhD. Richard's contribution to the field brings somatics into the world in which we live one of action. Combining sensibilities and practices from somatics, martial arts, meditation, healing arts, and linguistics, and rooted in biology, consciousness, and heart, he has forged a coaching model that ignites personal and world change. Richard's anthology Being Human at Work (North Atlantic, 2003) shows how somatic coaching is being used to evoke potential in individuals and groups in many fields, including business, organizations, education, coaching, health, counseling, and government.
Somatics and Health
Somatics can have longer-lasting effects than other therapies because it builds the client's mind-body awareness. In clinical settings, a somatic approach has benefited health conditions, including: chronic headaches, migraines and pain; stress, tension and anxiety; trauma resulting from physical, sexual or emotional abuse; eczema, and loss of balance and coordination.
Many books, journal articles, and dissertations have been written about somatics, but due to the nature of its multidisciplinary and multifaceted processes, it provides research challenges. Somatics-based controlled studies have examined eczema, anxiety, eating disorders, multiple sclerosis, functional reach and balance in older women, respiratory function, and parasympathetic tone. Preliminary studies include migraine, chronic back pain, and management of disability in Parkinson's disease.