What is somatic movement?

Somatic movement, also sometimes called somatic education, is the lineage of gentle movement practices that began with Moshe Feldenkrais’s Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons. I think of somatic movement as neuromuscular repatterning. Through gentle movements done with full awareness, we can break down old habits of posture and movement and open up the possibility of sitting, standing, moving in new and more efficient ways. Through the practice of somatic movement, our brain and body are more connected and integrated. This can result in a reduction in chronic pain, improved digestion and sleep, increased energy to mention a few benefits. Additionally, when we change the way we move, our mental and emotional state of being can be affected and improved. It is possible that emotional and mental stress is held within the muscles and tissues of our body and when released from the body, the mind and heart states shift as well.

Somatic movement in the lineage of Feldenkrais and Hanna has been used successfully to aid with Parkinson’s, brain injury and with children who are developmentally delayed. But the method also can be used to aid performers and athletes as well as with the seemingly inevitable effects of aging. Generally, we all can benefit from the practice as it helps to reduce tension and create more ease in movement and posture.

Norman Doidge dedicated two chapters in his book “The Brain’s Way of Healing” to the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. This is the second of Doidge’s books on neuroplasticity, the first being “The Brain that Changes Itself”. In chapter five of “The Brain’s Way of Healing”, he tells the story of Feldenkrais himself as well as describing some of his revolutionary work with healing serious brain problems previously thought of as “hopeless cases” by the medical community. In chapter six, Doidge profiles David Webber who used the Feldenkrais method to cure himself of blindness after medications and operations failed to restore his sight.

My own approach to somatic movement is influenced by Moshe Feldenkrais as well as his long-time student, Thomas Hanna. Although, I have done very little formal training in either the Feldenkrais Method or Hanna Somatics, I have practiced with Thomas Hanna’s audio recordings since 2012 as well as having completed a nine-day training in Hanna Somatics that same year. I also have worked with Ada Riley, a guild certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, in workshops settings for the last four years. Since 2015, I have studied yoga with Tias Little, a teacher who teaches his own particular take on somatic movement. I have completed a full three-module course in Tias’s SATYA (Sensory Awareness Training for Yoga Attunement).

Somatic movement is generally included in my restorative yoga practices as well as at the start or end of some of my more active yoga classes. The movements are done on the floor, often lying on the back but sometimes side-lying or belly down. Interspersed between movements are periods of rest, 30-60 second “savasanas” in which the body, mind and nervous system integrate before moving on. Because there is an emphasis on complete awareness, these rest times ensure that the movements don’t become rote or automatic as they might if we were doing repetitions at the gym. Is the quality of attention rather than the number or size of the movements that matters. In most cases, fewer repetitions that are smaller and more subtle are recommended.

For more information about somatic movement, consider visiting one of the following resources below. Or, come to my upcoming retreat with Ada Riley in July and experience the benefits directly.

“The Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education is a practice, a process, and a system for self-improvement. It is a form of “somatic education,” which means it uses movement and real-time awareness of your own body sensations to guide you toward the positive changes you seek. The Feldenkrais Method is not a treatment, adjustment, or exercise program. Instead, it is based on decades of research in physics, neuroscience, biomechanics, learning theory, and human development to give you the means to help yourself.” - From Feldenkrais.com

“Hanna Somatic Education® (also known as Hanna Somatics) is a rapidly effective form of neuromuscular (mind-body training) movement re-education that goes directly to the root cause of most chronic muscular pain: the brain and the way in which it senses and organizes the muscles and movement. By learning to regain both awareness, sensation, and motor control of muscles – an educational process that can only be achieved through movement – the brain can remember how to relax and move the muscles properly. This process of sensory motor training creates improved muscle function and enhanced sensory awareness.” - From HannaSomatics.com

“In a totally unique way, the SATYA practice opens doorways into the interior, providing new pathways of perception and feeling. It guides students away from “doing” movement and toward sensing, receiving and “being” movement. As an adjunct to yoga practice, somatic awareness leads to embodied wisdom….The SATYA movements cultivate inner listening and heighten proprioceptive awareness. This awareness is the body’s innate intelligence. By increasing our capacity for sensory awareness, we become more sentient, wakeful beings in the world. The exercises are non-weight bearing and involve sliding, gliding and circular movements to reduce myo-fascial holding in the body.

The SATYA training, along with yoga postures, involves neural-muscular re-education. Like in vinyasa training, breath is combined with movement in order to deepen the respiratory rhythm. All movements support profound physical rest of the body and prepare for savasana and yoga nidra (the yogic sleep).” - From Tias Little’s PrajnaYoga.net

Joanna Dunn