By Ilya Vidrin
“Somatics”, as a field of study defined by Thomas Hanna in the 80’s, has a few driving principles, including the significance between an individual’s experience and awareness as being a body (soma) and the objective norm of having body (Hanna 1980). Many teachers make use of metaphor such as “making space”, “rooting down”, and “pulling up” to cue students about ways of lengthening and engaging the body in sensory awareness and conditioning exercises. Breath also plays a big role, as does the whole underlying theme of neuromuscular patterning design to achieve optimal activation of muscles and connective tissue. These metaphors and cues serve to help us get into our “soma” and begin to experience the world by using sensory experience as a guide, to work in tandem with our mental perception. Research has shown, time and again, that this is as much training the brain as it is training the body, given that we, as individuals, comprise of both mental and physical parts (Ratey 2008).
Multiple methods to learn about your body
Despite so many similarities, such as the prevalent use of mat-based exercises, breath-based cues, and the metaphors of lengthening and strengthening, somatic techniques have been on the rise (Gyrokinesis, Pilates, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Five Rhythms, Body-Mind Centering, Ideokinesis, Rolfing, Laban Movement Analysis, not to mention all of the hybrid Yogas, to name but a few!). Experts argue about what “actually” qualifies as a Somatic Movement Practice, but for novice movers, the sheer quantity of techniques to try can be confusing at best, and inducing aversion at worst. So why should we undertake formal training in somatics, either through private or group classes? Perhaps the best answer is that, regardless of where you are in your practice, formal training allows you to address the question of what sensory experience feels like and how to integrate it into daily practice.
Choose teachers & classes that empower you
Initially, when I started teaching, I wanted to give students all the information as quickly as possible, so that they could develop their own daily practice and move in whatever way they found meaningful. I would try to show and explain all of the minute details of sensory experience, such as how to move the arms and legs from the spine, how to utilize different core muscles, or how to breath without draining energy. After every class, I would be excited that students had been shown so much, and then surprised when the following week they remember so little. After a number of years, I’ve realized that unlike many students, instructors have their own daily practice that they are constantly reviewing, evaluating, and amending based on subtle changes. Many students, on the other hand, have less time to hone sensory awareness on their own. Taking classes allows us to practice, ask questions, and ultimately learn the techniques that work best on an individual level, that can be adapted and integrated in whatever space you spend most of your time, be it on the mat, at a desk, or on the road. Ultimately, my advice is to try classes and teachers until you find something and someone that empowers you and makes you feel good, both mentally and physically.