What is "Somatics?"

Defining 'somatics'*


In Layman's Terms:

Somatics is a field of mind-body integration practices -- helping us to be more aware of our physical bodies and internal sensation, and how these impact other aspects (mind, emotion, psychosocial, etc.). Somatic practices, unlike other mindfulness practices incorporate movement and are less proscriptive--you don't need to shape your body to an external, "fixed" position or movement set by someone/thing else, so you have more agency and authority over how you move/think/feel. They bring awareness to habits and offer options for alternatives (or relishing in a habit, if it suits your purpose!). They can take the form of free, creative, improvisational movement, often with eyes closed or a soft gaze, and can also be as simple as receiving touch to bring awareness to a particular area. Movement arising can be infinitesimally small inner sensation or large and locomotive, but what's important is that you listen to your body and follow its own innate wisdom and desires.

A Bit More Depth:

Derived from the Greek somatikos, for “of the body,” the word somatic references the living body. The term was first used by Thomas Hanna (1970) to describe mind/body integration as experienced from the first-person perspective, and came to name the field of study related to the soma (body) as experienced through this perspective (Eddy, 2009). Somatic work is founded on the belief that soma is a fluid entity that responds plastically to both internal and external stimuli (Hanna, 1979). Perception of inner, felt-sensation is at the core of all somatic modalities practiced today under the umbrella term somatics (Brodie & Lobel, 2006; Eddy, 2002, 2009). The terms somatic and somatics are used discriminately by both practitioners and theorists, and there is some divergence in their application, though generally the field of somatics is an umbrella term for a range of mind-body integration practices or modalities grounded in that first-person perception of the soma. 


Somatics modalities cross a spectrum of codifed to semi-structured to open-framework practices, including blended and hybrid approaches (Enghauser, 2007; Weber, 2009), and generally share basic principles of kinesiology and movement re-education, as well as goals toward greater well-being, awareness, expressivity, and efficiency in movement (Brodie & Lobel, 2004). Some examples of well-known practices include Body Mind Centering, Laban Bartenieff Fundamentals, Alexander Technique, Rolfing, the Feldenkrais Method, Ideokinesis, and Skinner Releasing Technique as well as open-framework approaches such as Authentic Movement and embodied or experiential anatomy; these are but a few of the many somatic disciplines practiced today. All approaches share underlying ideologies that define them as Somatics, such as a global focus on principles over techniques of movement (re)education (Brodie & Lobel, 2012; Johnson, 1986), and an emphasis on individual agency rather than a ‘set’ of movement patterns. Indeed, there is such an overlap in founding principles that many people incorporate multiple modalities within their Somatic Movement Education (SME) and SMDE practices. 


The professional field of SME began in the late 1960s (Eddy, 2009), centered largely in Australia, Europe, and the United States, and has grown in popularity and credibility with dance educators and those working in psychology and physiology. In recognition of the need for professionalism and integrity among practitioners and educators, a professional association, The International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA), was founded in 1988 by Jim Spira, PhD. Its mission is to grow the field of somatic movement education and therapy. In an effort to identify the shared scope of practice underlying the broad spectrum of Somatics disciplines, ISMETA (2015) names the following pan-modality educational objectives:
• focus on the body both as an objective physical process and as a subjective process of lived consciousness;
• refine perceptual, kinesthetic, proprioceptive, and enteroceptive sensitivity that supports homeostasis and self-regulation;
• recognize habitual patterns of perceptual, postural, and movement interaction with the environment;  • improve movement coordination that supports structural, functional, and expressive integration; 

• experience an embodied sense of vitality and create both meaning for and enjoyment of life. (n.p.)  






*Adapted from Weber, R. (2018) ‘Somatic Movement Dance Education: A Feminist, Cognitive, Phenomenological Perspective on Creativity in Dance,’ in Dance and the Quality of Life, Eds. Bond, K.; Gardner, S. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 327-324.