For many of you who have attended my yoga classes, you’ll likely recall a portion of the class is devoted to gentle movement patterns linking breathing in and out. The pattern would go as follows: engage a body part (like shrugging the shoulders) on the inhale, and then relax or do the opposite motion (lower the shoulders) on the exhale. These movement patterns, are always done slowly and with mindful attention to the body’s sensations. This is pattern of movement is known as somatics, and is very helpful to reducing chronic muscle tension, pain, and retraining the nervous system out of habitual holding patterns.
Somatics describes any practice that uses the mind-body connection to help you survey your internal self and listen to signals your body sends about areas of pain, discomfort, or imbalance. Somatics can be applied to many different movement practices such as yoga, tai chi, dancing, Pilates, etc. As these practices become more mindful through the somatic process, they allow you to access more information about the ways you hold on to your experiences in your body.
Thomas Hanna, an educator in the field, coined the term in 1970 to describe a number of techniques that share one important similarity: they help people increase body awareness through a combination of movement and relaxation, and specifically a process known as pandiculation. Pandiculation in it’s original definition means the act of stretching oneself, especially on waking (picture the yawn and stretch). Pandiculation is our innate response to the sensations of lack of movement and to tension building up in our muscles.
A somatic exercises is essentially a voluntary pandiculation exercise. The muscles are contracted and released in such a way that feedback loop in our nervous system, which regulates the level of tension in our muscles, is naturally reset. This resetting reduces muscular tension and restores conscious, voluntary control over our muscles. This prevents the buildup of tension and pain in our muscles is critical to maintaining healthy posture and movement.
Somatics are a great resource for nervous system regulation. Breaking the cycle of chronic and unconscious tensing patterns in the body it so important for both physical and emotional health restoration, and this is why body somatic exercises are offered in my classes and individual work.