Defining Somatic Education

by Lawrence Gold
Certified Hanna Somatic Educator
Former Associate Instructor with The Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training

Certified Practitioner, Dr. Ida P. Rolf Method of Structural Integration


As the word, "somatic", gains prominence in the health field, it becomes increasingly important that we use the word properly to distinguish "somatic education" clearly from its predecessors, "bodywork" and "physical therapy".

That distinction shows up when we consider the somatic viewpoint. A soma is what each of us is, to ourselves. The somatic viewpoint is the first-person, "I" viewpoint. It is a viewpoint that is uniquely ours, experienced in our "hereness". All others are "bodies", but to ourselves, we are "soma". In a sense, "Soma" is our name!


Somatic education awakens and empowers ones ability to sense and to correct oneself -- not only automatically, but if need be, deliberately.


The term, "bodywork", reflects an earlier paradigm in which the human body was viewed as a "marvelous machine" that occasionally malfunctioned and needed fixing. The individual's role in the healing process was considered minimal; the mind and the body were regarded as separate.


Physical therapy emerged from this view, as did osteopathy, chiropractic, and trigger-point and reflexology techniques. The operating viewpoint of this viewpoint may be stated, "Humanity masters Nature" or "Medicine conquers disease."


Later developments in bodywork, such as Rolfing, Cranio-sacral therapy, and others, moved into the "grey area" where body and mind are regarded as "body-mind", and yet the individual's ability to correct his/her own bodily processes seems limited. The individual is still to be "done to", manipulated, mostly passively. The operating viewpoint of this grey area may be stated, "Body affects Mind."


The term, "education" implies learning and empowerment, the voluntary gathering of ones faculties. The term more neatly fits with the word "somatic" than does the term, "therapy".


With somatic education, the individual takes an increasingly masterful degree of responsibility for his or her own process. That is what makes somatic education so effective. This development of responsibility is a kind of awakening. It is not only passive, but equally active. It is not only physiological, but psycho-physiological. Aware intention is the means of self-mastery of Soma by Soma. The operating viewpoint of somatic education may be stated, "I am as I decide to be."

Thomas Hanna, who may arguably be considered the father of the field of somatics, put it this way:


It is fundamental to somatics that soma is seen as a synergised process which is exactly as active in all its behavior as it is sensorially receptive . . . Acceptable models of human behavior must integrate into themselves a 50/50 sensory-motor view, describing the full scale of adaptive motor activities that constitute the behavior1.


That is why "somatic education" is more than "bodywork".


It is possible, however, to convert the traditional forms of bodywork into forms of somatic education by incorporating learning processes that incorporate the client's active participation. That possibility awaits a practitioner's ability to recognize and invite the client's self-sensing, self-mastering ability in active participation in the session. It involves bodily awareness (in the objective, third person sense), emotions, mind, feeling, and will. To convert bodywork into somatic education is a creative act in which all the highest attributes of the masterful bodyworker come into play: empathy, communication, creativity, skill, and patience -- and one more essential thing that makes somatic education more than bodywork: a shift of a way of operating from doing it to or for the client to showing the client how they are empowered to do it for themselves.




1Hanna, Thomas L., Ph.D., Somatology: An Introduction to Somatic Philosophy and Psychology, unpublished manuscript