Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fitness Vocabulary: Somatics

In 25 Words or Less
Somatics--from a physical perspective-- is a series of exercises to help one reeducate how to move the body with ease and release chronic tension.

Somatic refers to the awareness of what one feels within their own body.

Let's Go Deeper
There are several movement programs that focus on somatics--exercises to help turn off chronic tension and release muscle contractions. Popular methods include Feldenkrais Method and Alexander Technique. But most often when someone refers to a Somatics they are referring to Thomas Hanna's exercises, part of his Hanna Somatic Education.

The difference between Mind-Body and Somatic Education
You've probably heard the term Mind-Body exercises, usually in relation to programs such as tai chi, pilates, meditation, or yoga.

According to Cleveland Clinic website, "The mind-body connection means that you can learn to use your thoughts to positively influence some of your body’s physical responses, thereby decreasing stress. If you recall a time when you were happy, grateful or calm, your body and mind tend to relax."

In other words, you use your thoughts (brain) to control/generate a bodily response.

Somatics on the other hand is kind of the opposite. It relates to your perception of how your body feels from the inside out. A simple example would be to lie down on the floor, lengthen your legs, arms down at your sides, close your eyes, and sense where your body contacts the floor. You'd be amazed at how not symmetrical you probably are. One leg can be turned out more, a hip can be hiked, your shoulder blades might not evenly contact the floor, your back can be overly arched up off the floor, and more. Your brain is receiving and register feedback from your body. Those imbalances are usually caused by muscle imbalances. By moving the body through somatic exercises, you learn how to correct the imbalances. It takes time, slow movement, and awareness. But it is so worth it!

I could go on but I'll stop with this... 
If you've ever work with a Hanna Somatics, Feldenkrais or Alexander Technique practitioner, you may notice that there are some similarities between them all. Hanna studied under Moshe Feldenkrais, then developed his own method after studying neurology at the University of Miami Medical School. There's debate about whether Feldenkrais stole ideas from F.M. Alexander. But that's another story.

Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique are both more well known in the Portland Oregon area than Hanna Somatics. Practitioners of all three can either manually guide a client through the motions, teach the client to do the exercises independently, and also as a group class. Personally I like the proactive approach so the student can really identify/feel what his/her own body is doing.

Join me!
My Restorative Fitness classes blend moves from Thomas Hanna's teachings plus other somatic continuing education courses I've taken. Most teacher training programs require instructors to complete so many practice hours before certification, so please join me sometime in a class or email me to set up your own private session. I'm very excited to share this method!

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