The word Somatics comes from the Greek root soma which means "the living body in its wholeness." Although it can be cumbersome, it is the best word we have in English to understand human beings as an integrated mind/body/spirit, or a psycho-biology. People are not mind over matter (if only I think differently I will be different), nor matter over mind or spirit (a change in chemistry or medication will wholly change my experience), rather we are all of these things combined-we are thinking and conceptual, we are emotional, we are biological, we are spiritual, and we are relational. Somatics approaches people as this integrated whole, working with these interdependent aspects of who we are.
Somatics also introduces us to an understanding of the self as a compilation of practices. These practices are embodied or have been trained into our psycho-biology over time. They are our habits or competencies-- some useful and others not. Somatics asks, "What are you practicing?" Given we are always practicing something, we look, "Is what you are practicing aligned with what you most care about?" Embodied practices are mostly unconscious to us--we have been doing them so long that we no longer have to think about them. Some practices we learned purposefully, like riding a bike or driving a car, and others we modeled from our environment (family or cultural). Still others were driven to out of survival and safety. Many embodied practices or automatic reactions are derived from stress responses to loss, hurt, trauma, safety, etc. from very personal to social experiences. Embodied practices are both individual and collective or social.
Perhaps what is most unique about Somatics is that it integrates the body as an essential place of change, learning and transformation. You can think of it as muscles having memory and the tissues having intelligence. We have learned a more objectifying or dissociated view of the body as a pile of bones and tendons we think of as a science project. Somatics looks at the body as a place of evolutionary intelligence and learning. Somatics sees the "self," or who we are, as inseparable from the body. Of course, the mind and body are never really separate (a mind cannot live without a body and visa versa) but we certainly try to operate as if they are. When we reconnect the vast intelligence of the body with the mind and spirit, powerful change and healing are available.
Generative Somatics is an integrative approach using Somatic Awareness, Somatic Bodywork and Somatic Practices to create lasting change.
Somatic Awareness involves learning to listen to and live inside of sensation. Through somatic awareness sensations such as temperature, pressure and movement become sources of information and a deep way of connecting with ourselves, our needs, values and commitments. You can think of sensations as the foundational language of life. Off of sensations emotions are felt and understood, and then the stories and interpretations we have of life, etc. Dissociation, minimization and numbing are normal responses to trauma, difficult life experiences and loss. Being connected to sensation brings one back into contact with oneself, or helps you to re-associate. Being present and able to "tolerate" sensations and emotions, produces more choice and less reaction. So often what we are fundamentally reacting to is not being able to feel or tolerate what is happening in our own sensations, emotions and experience. Somatic awareness and embodiment (living inside your own skin and body) grows more choice in our responses and actions. Somatic awareness often re-introduces us to what we most care about…what's in "our hearts"' or the "gut feeling." While we are a fairly dis-embodied culture, the wisdom of listening to sensation lingers on our language.
Somatic Bodywork allows us to work directly with the places in the psycho-biology that have held traumatic experiences or are hyper-vigilant or numb. Somatic bodywork uses touch, conversation, imagination and emotional processes to support the shift from contraction and dissociation to openness and embodiment. Practically, this means processing the experiences stored in the psycho-biology through the emotions and body. Massage can temporarily relax a muscle or contraction, but the "shaping" or "armoring" in a body will not shift unless the concern that contraction is taking care of (safety, love, protection, shame) is worked through. Somatic bodywork is a way to enter the healing process through the body-- and holistically change by working with the body, mind and spirit. From a neuroscience perspective the body is the easiest doorway into working with those reactions, emotions and memories that are primarily run by the reptilian brain, and the limbic and stress centers in the brain.
TheSomatic Practices help you build new skills and competencies that are relevant to what you care about. Particularly after trauma fundamental skills such as-- boundaries that take care of yourself and others, mutual contact and intimacy, moving toward what is important to you and being present amidst conflict-- are not learned. Other survival skills become embodied like hyper vigilance and distrust. Trauma can leave people with a deep sense of powerlessness, isolation, and shame that you can't "talk" someone out of.
New skills are developed somatically so that they become more than good ideas; they become natural actions and habits. We want to not only know about boundaries, but be able to take the action of having boundaries in the course of our days, work lives and relationships. Somatic practices allow us to learn through an integrated approach, allowing new ideas to become actions and behaviors.
Somatic practices, combined with somatic awareness and somatic bodywork allow for holistic, sustainable transformation.
Trauma is a somatic contraction and "shaping" that becomes non-responsive to current time experience. This shaping impacts identity, relationship, physiology, emotions, behavior, thinking/interpretation, place and belonging. Trauma breaks safety and betrays relatedness, on the levels of mind, body, and spirit and alters one's connection to community. Trauma is an individual and social experience.
Generative Somatics approaches trauma as both an individual and collective experience. Individuals can experience specific incidences of trauma that deeply impact them and the people they are in relationship with for years. We are also living amidst family and community practices, public and private institutions and broader social norms that support and perpetuate violence and domination. In this work we look toward both the individual experiences of trauma and the social context in which we are living to understand, heal, and transform. Generative Somatics is used in one on one and group work as well as in social change and community building endeavors.
Working with trauma through the psycho-biology is a powerful way to move from managing traumatic symptoms to transforming trauma and your life. Transforming trauma includes being able to change the deep reactions that linger long after a traumatic experience-- the fight, flight, freeze and dissociation responses which emerge automatically to protect us. While they are initially life saving responses they tend to create havoc over time. Through Generative Somatics you are able to learn presence and boundaries, re-establish connection with yourself, others and community, connect to what makes you life meaningful and garner your resilience and courage to live that.
We are in an institutionalizing phase in the field of Somatics. Within the last 10 years numerous universities and programs have begun to offer graduate degrees in Somatic Psychology. However, the majority of foundational Somatic training institutes are still independent of the university setting. There are a variety of quality Somatic approaches. As many of these Somatic approaches are being integrated into the institution of Psychology an "Attention Based" Somatics is being prioritized. This is a somatic approach that attends to the sensations in the body, through conversation and cognition. Through tracking these sensations, it uses the body as a base of knowledge and change. Because of the historical bias in the institution of Psychology away from the body and touch, essential aspects of an integrative Somatic approach --including somatic practices and somatic bodywork --are being missed. In this, the full potency of Somatics is being missed. There is a debate within Somatic Psychology circles about the ethics of not using touch when it is such a powerful tool for healing and transformation.