“Somatics is a field which studies the soma: namely, the body as perceived from within by first person perception. When a human being is observed from the outside..from a third person viewpoint, the phenomenon of a human body is perceived. But when this same human being is observed from the first person viewpoint of their own proprioceptive senses, a categorically different phenomenon is observed: the human soma” [Thomas Hanna]

Somatics is the belief that our body and our mind aren’t separate, and that everything we experience within our bodymind has value.

When I am working with clients, whether touch is involved or not, I am primarily interested in what they are feeling, in the widest sense.

But what does that mean? In our very psychologically orientated culture, if I were to ask you “What are you feeling?”, you would be likely to take this to mean “What are you feeling emotionally?” And you would probably have the supporting belief that there are, at any time, one or more emotions inside of you, persisting for a time which you can accurately identify and name.

So our exchange might go:

“What are you feeling?”
“I’m feeling happy?”

Rather than:

“What are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling a whooshing buzziness in my chest”

Before I left the psychotherapy world, I certainly felt that supporting belief: if we pay attention, we can identify what’s going on emotionally for us, and we can name that, and that’s the most important thing; everything else is just noise.

I don’t believe that anymore. And not just in the sense that people often misidentify their emotions, saying they’re sad when they’re angry, or vice versa, but that it devalues or ignores everything else which is going on, which has real consequences, particularly with our sexuality, because it tends to trap us in unwelcome and restricted positions.

For example, people might be aware of an overwhelming emotion: anxiety, for example, yet have no idea what to do with the emotion, other than try to work out intellectually what might be causing it, and hence what might be needed to make it go away. That tends not to work, so the temptation is to seek medication to deal with this “illness” of anxiety.

In her wonderful book ‘Call of the Wild’, the great Kimberly Ann Johnson [whom I worked with in 2015], describes the range of our possible experience with the acronym T I M E S

thinking

imagery/imagination

movement

emotion

sensation

Classically, people will tend to get stuck in one or more of these channels, so the way to resolve the stuckness isn’t primarily to resolve the content [although that’s the temptation], it’s to broaden the scope. And to change our focus: from interpretation to curiosity and exploration.

Take anxiety as an example.

The anxious person will tend to be stuck in their Emotion and Thinking channels, and will want to think their way out of their anxiety. Except, that doesn’t generally work. What does works is to pay attention to a neglected channel, Movement for example.

If I were to have an anxious client, I could get them to engage with the Movement channel. I could do this in a number of ways. I could have the client make movements, or I could have them focus on the breath, and how to change that. When anxious, our breath tends to become very shallow. We can go in two ways. The more common one is to focus on breathing from the belly, and to try and have a long outbreath, which tends to calm us down. The less common one is to assume that ‘anxiety’ is unachieved excitement: the excitement is trapped as ‘anxiety’ because we’ve restricted our breathing and gone into an anxiety/thought vortex. We can resolve that by dynamic diaphragmatic breathing, which then actualises the excitement.

Either way, this activation of the Movement channel in turn brings the Sensation channel into play; we’re suddenly aware of feeling a lot more in our body, and this itself is liberative, not least because we understand that our experience isn’t a fixed range of ‘things’, it’s a whole set of processes, all flowing into each other.

When psychotherapy was invented, it was revolutionary and liberating to have people give attention to their emotions. And for some people, it still is. But for a lot of us, emotional repression is no longer the issue, the repression has moved elsewhere, to the vast expanse of our experience which can’t be labelled as ‘thought’ or ’emotion’. Somatics isn’t anti-thought or anti-emotion, it just takes everything as valid, and worthy of investigation.

 

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