It was Thomas Hanna who first coined the term Somatics in 1976 for making sense of the complex field of new approaches to theories in medicine and education which view the individual “…as a dynamic whole in whom mental and physical functions intertwine”. In this view the somatic perspective takes two different observational stances towards the same living phenomena, namely the body of the human being.
These two observational stances are described as the body experienced as a first person entity, as I or me, and the body as experienced as a third person entity, as she or it. Hanna states:
“All humans experience human bodies as “out there” and not themselves…and they also experience the body as “here within” namely themselves.”
What are Somatic Education goals?
Hanna asserts that somatic practitioners who undertake somatic education seek to improve an individual’s total somatic functioning on all levels by educating the individual through the body toward an enhancement of “health, growth and happiness”.
Therefore the educational goal of the somatic educator is to change a person’s life for the better on all levels through bodily means. This improvement comes about by helping them to become more proficient in their bodily processes.
The theory of somatic education is that by becoming aware of specific body processes a person can achieve a greater degree of control over them. A general theme of somatic education is that knowledge and control of bodily processes that were previously beyond an individual’s level of awareness are added to the experience of that individual. Through the encouragement of conscious awareness of what was previously unconscious the first step toward change is made. Hanna asserts that in this manner somatic education can increase the individual’s potential for successful living. Hanna went on to develop his own technique appropriately termed Hanna Somatic Education.
Hannah asserts that there are several main assumptions in the field of somatics, namely:
1) Holism - The bodily structure and the living function of the human being are polar aspects of the same living being.
2) Paradox - All bodies tend toward balance and homeostasis and imbalance and change simultaneously.
3) Somatic Rhythm - All bodily processes take place in rhythmical cyclical patterns.
4) Somatic Ecology - The body tends towards both autonomy and independence of its environment plus dependence upon and appetite for its environment; social and physical functioning structures of opening and closing create variable gaps of interchange with the environment.
5) All Somas Grow - The somatic process equates to a continual learning process; analytical and synthetic functions are somatic techniques of adaptive behaviour.
6) Somas Mobilize - The body co-ordinates all parts, forming a Holistically single action or reaction towards the environment.
Traditional and Evolving Views of the Body
The somatic view indicates a paradigm shift away from traditional mechanistic, objectivist, third person theories of medicine and education and towards new theories of bimodal perception.
In the fields of traditional Western medicine and education the human body has been approached as an object, and has been studied as something which is somehow external and separate from the self by the social scientist.
This view makes redundant our sense of the aware, intelligent body which we perceive and learn about, as well as perceive through in order to learn about the world around us.
As a consequence of this paradigm shift the Western view of the body is gradually changing.
The perspective of what can be termed as the individual’s “lived body” has only recently made its way into the western medical community. To engage with the “lived body” requires the creation of an interface through which to communicate.
This is an important development for somatic educational techniques as they are well positioned to play a central role in creating a psycho-physical framework of interpretation for the “lived body”.
Make a step change in your life.
Through the encouragement of conscious awareness of what was previously unconscious the first step toward change is made. Make a step change in your life.
This Article written by Sally Mantle owner of The Body Aware Studio Glastonbury. She runs daily online Somatics Pilates online classes via Zoom. Join one of her classes online.
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Hartley, Linda. Wisdom of the Body Moving: An Introduction to Body-Mind Centring. California: North Atlantic Books, 1989, 1995, pp 18-21.
Somatic Psychology: Body, Mind and Meaning. London: Whurr Publishers, 2004.
Hanna, Thomas Ph.D. The Somatic Healers and the Somatic Educators. Somatics Magazine: Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences. VIII, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1991, pp 22 - 27
© Sally Mantle 2020