Somatic Bodywork

Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement studies which emphasizes internal physical perception and experience (Wikipedia)

The word originates from Greek word „soma“ the living body in its entirety: „thought, spirit and body as one“. Somatics approaches people as a holistic living organism, working with all these aspects of who we are: thinking beings, and conceptual, but also emotional and spiritual.

The oldest somatic practices originate from Asian world. Yoga can be probably named as the oldest and the most practiced somatic discipline. Traditional Chinese movement practices qigong and tai chi are considered ancient somatic practices and deal with our inner perception influenced by the body position of the movement, finding an inner balance and life energy flow. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that includes practicing internal awareness and an emotional state of non-agression.

The first somatic pioneers on the West were dancers… who under the influence of ideas of existentialism and experiential learning started to focus on the dancers internal perception and experience, in contract with traditional „performative techniques“, which emphasize the external observation by an audience.
Together, these movements set the stage for the first generation of “somatic pioneers“.

Early somatic techniques were developed in Germany in the late nineteenth century by Elsa Gindler and Heinrich Jacoby Gimmler. Building on their work, the „somatic pioneers“ Frederick Matthias Alexander, Moshe Feldenkrais, Mabel Elsworth Todd, Gerda Alexander, Ida Rolf, Milton Trager, Irmgard Bartenieff, and Charlotte Selver were active, primarily in Europe, throughout the early twentieth century.

In the 1970s, American philosopher and movement therapist Thomas Hanna introduced the term „somatics“ to describe these related practices collectively.

In recent decades, the field of somatics has grown to include dance forms like contact improvisation and has been widely used in clinical psychology, and general education.

The Strozzi Somatics methodology makes a distinction between soma – the living body in its entirety, and the mechanistic view of the physical body as an assemblage of anatomical parts. Using this first definition the body is regarded as the primary domain of feeling, action, language, and meaning.

From this perspective, coaches observe the ways people hold their bodies and how they respond to stress situations, such as verbal or physical surprises.

The body’s overall organization in this way is referred to as a somatic shape. Each person’s unique somatic shape is formed by responses to past experiences, positive and negative, which are established as deep, mostly unconscious patterns of muscular activity in the body. Over time these patterns produce conditioned tendencies of reaction to people, situations and environments.
Strozzi-Heckler has described the process in which, when an individual is exposed to a stressful stimulus, they revert to this conditioned tendency, limiting their available choices for action. Withdrawal, fear, attempting to dominate, rigidity, and over-accommodation are examples of different conditioned tendency shapes. Because this is a somatic event rather than an exclusively cognitive one, new information or theoretical insight will not shift the response. As an illustration, he describes a team leader who has extensive education in management principles but, especially under stress, comports himself in a way that produces mistrust and resentment from the people he manages, eventually creating significant breakdowns within his team.