Uniquely, we each think, speak, move in a different way. We all experience the world differently, according to our own uniquely shaped perceptions, gained through our experience and history.
Until I discovered Somatics I thought that our different physical shapes and movements were pretty much down to genetics, diet & exercise. Instead I have come to learn that in fact whilst all of that is true, the way in which I hold myself upright, the way I move, the way I sit and walk, for example is also because of the way in which my experiences and choices have literally shaped me.
This can be a bit of a mind grab until we come to reflect that every cell in our body is subject to natural expansion and contraction, a movement natural to every living creature on the planet. Here’s another mind grab. Those cells (and therefore the fascia, muscles, ligaments and even the internal organs) can get ‘locked’ into a contraction (or very occasionally, an expansion) as a result of the impact of our habits and experience on our cells. As the cells get locked, the range of movement, the energy running through them and their very vitality is reduced. Reflect on someone you know who perhaps has a furrowed brow, apparently permanently locked into place, or someone whose chest is concave, pulled away from the world, or another person who stands with their hips jutting forwards and shoulders held back, maybe an out jutting jaw. Compare these images with a person who stands with their spine fully straight and upright. How is this so? All of this physical shaping has been learned and repeatedly practiced such that it becomes the person’s ‘natural’ form. It becomes the shape that they have embodied.
Shape is not just physical however. In somatic terms we regard a person’s embodied shape as that which includes the physical. the emotional, the sensational, the spiritual and the cognitive, the intellectual. These ‘domains’ make up the whole system - the complete Soma of the living being. When we work somatically we bring conscious awareness to all of these domains.
Much of our shaping is unconscious, we may not even recognise that we constantly furrow our brow and how this impacts the whole of the nervous system and our felt sense. A furrowed brow will create tightening that extends the length of the spinal column, the super highway of the nervous system. Tightening in the nervous system reduces our capacity to feel not just what we label emotions but our felt sense - our sensations. We might still be able to name our emotions, (as in, I have a sense that I am angry, or sad, or happy) but often we cannot fully describe the accompanying sensations that we are feeling - perhaps, tight, tingling, hot, cold, light, fizzing - or where in our bodies we are feeling sensation.
So what? Why does it matter? It matters a great deal. If we dig back through our evolutionary history we will come to see that our very survival was based on our ability to sense and to feel, in the first instance. Before we developed the cognitive capacity for language and fully rational thought, we made decisions based on our felt sense and instinctive gut feel. Studies today show that we continue to rely on those basic instincts far more than we realise, and especially when we are under pressure, or perceive a threat (real or imagined). They stem from what is otherwise known as the limbic and reptilian parts of the brain. The problem is that we are often not aware that we respond from these places, sometimes inappropriately.
We live in a world in which most of us, most of the time are experiencing some form of stress, anxiety and general bombardment. There is much evidence to show that our current 24/7 world keeps us in a state of hyper-arousal, a neurobiological state which is actually more reminiscent of trying to keep ourselves safe whilst living on the wild plains of Africa as hunter-gatherers, both prey and predator. The impact of this way of living on our health and well-being is heavily documented and widely understood and it is not good for us. Neither is such a state good for our development and growth, especially when our systems are constantly ‘on’, ‘ready to run’ and ‘locked-down’. We cannot grow whilst locked down into protective mode.
Somatics holds that body is a domain of learning. We can’t learn much without it, especially for relational and behavioural learning. One of its key aims is to reveal how we are under the life and work pressures that we face, and what, with practice we may develop and grow within ourselves to create a more responsive, less reactive set of choices for ourselves and others. Ultimately we can create a life and way of living that becomes more expansive, more rewarding and fulfilling.
Somatic coaching engages us with a series of gentle body based movements that begin to shine a light on what is going on beneath the surface for us. These practices often offer new insights about how we are, and always with the intention of asking ….does this work for me, and if not, how can I engage differently to produce a different outcome.
Somatic Bodywork may also feature as part of the coaching process. Although it’s not essential, it offers an incredibly effective and powerful opportunity to create a shift, and depending upon the person and what is being coached for, it can move the process on quite quickly.
So what is bodywork? Most people will be familiar with the impact and benefits of massage of some form. Some people understand osteopathy, chiropractic work, Alexander Technique to name but a few different body based modalities. All offer some kind of ‘re-set’ and potentially, some form of healing. Somatic bodywork, which has a unique lineage of it’s own extending back at least 50 years, and is based in many natural healing practices, facilitates a letting go of the bodily contractions in order that something new may emerge.
The client is gently invited to learn to relax deeply, to feel themselves and their body more deeply, to experience the life of sensations, where there is movement, where there is stillness, where there is holding and so on, experiencing ‘what is’. With breath, sound and touch, bodywork will help to release the long-term patterns in the musculature, tension, and sometimes stories that come with it. Old memories can surface, new awareness and insight too. Unfinished business may arise, presenting itself potentially for an opportunity to be completed. Bodies become more relaxed, with less holding and tension. The process of ‘normal’ contraction and expansion can return. Bodywork is always fully clothed, is paced to suit the client, offers a deep and gentle holding space for the client to experience, to acknowledge, to let go of and invite in.
Somatic Bodywork is a uniquely personal experience. Often some new knowing or awareness seems to ‘pop’ up from the body. Clients will often report not knowing ‘where that came from’ but realising that they have been given a new insight, perhaps even a new truth for them. My experience of somatic bodywork both as a participant and a practitioner has convinced me that the body holds a deep wisdom that will arise and guide us if we give it the time, the space and invitation to do so. We need to listen, and to allow what needs to come, come. In this way, we create a new way of being in the world, we let go of the furrowed brow, the concave chest, the outstretched jaw. We walk taller, with more confidence, more choice and a knowing of how to just ‘be’.
If you are curious to learn more about how somatic bodywork may help you as part of a somatic coaching programme, please get in touch below. I look forward to talking with you.