Now it is time to make some positive points about somatics as I understand it and have experienced it. The hinge, the golden key, the lynch pin of it all is the intersection between the application of internal perception and our representations of the experience. In the video Seth mainly talks about the external “thing” view, which takes him to the perception of dogs, and then he hits upon one of the prime features of Somatics at around the 13 minute mark, the point at which “interoception” appears in bold letters across the screen. Interoception is the process by which the brain “sees” the body, active most often when something is wrong. You get a tummy ache and this changes conscious awareness. What Hanna Somatics, and the field of somatics generally rely on, as well as yoga and other premodern forms of health and wellness, is interoception, this observance of and mindful engagement with this function of the nervous system.
In the modality of Hanna Somatics I practice, there are two primary nervous system functions that are used and these are interoception and proprioception. Interoception can be translated to internal perception. Proprioception is the way the brain knows where the body is in space. These are mostly unconscious but can be conscious. If you turn your mind’s focus to these unconscious functions you start to experience them rather than simply use them. We consciously move but we do not calculate our movements with our attention. We sense, we feel both in the sensory way and the emotional way, and from there thoughts, decisions, actions, and so on are possible because of this. Thoughts are the cream on top of a vast sensing network. Focusing conscious awareness on this vast sensing network allows you to change it. This is all familiar to anyone who meditates. So why somatics?
There are two ways to look at “somatics”. The first is specific to Hanna Somatics and the other is as an umbrella term which could be described as a perspective, or the internal view, which Hanna talked about in a philosophical and in a history of ideas way. This gets to what I mean by “zeitgeist”, literally “timeghost” but understood in English as “spirit of the times”. This particular zeitgeist is the cultural resistance or rebellion of sorts in the West to the mind/body problem over decades and even centuries that is the focus of these little essays. But it reaches into the present, too, is alive and well, and enjoys a juicy opportunity to mount a challenge to cultural conditioning informed by the Ghost in the Machine (GITM).
Our conditioning operates unconsciously, too. From childhood we determine how to behave, what to think, what to value, what to be afraid of, be disgusted by or desire. Cultural conditioning is not all powerful, it overlays our natural, evolutionary inheritance, so it can be changed. In yoga you’d call these strands or grooves of cultural conditioning and biological memory as samskaras and vasanas respectively. It helps me to think of these roughly as shallow and deep grooves, or like the difference between a lake and an ocean. Here in the West we have had the nature/nurture fight in psychology, but I find these terms so problematic I tend not to refer to them and will probably have a post on why sometime. For the present I will call GITM a deep cultural samskara for the sake of reference and to place it on a scale of time and depth. Centuries long and so much of our ongoing thoughts and expectations are molded by it in some way. GITM is subsumed, or taken under, so the ego can chase after things and role with the punches of life. This is why we have samskaras and vasanas.
The critical point about GITM is that it pushes down and away and undervalues the emotion and sensation as valid or even real forms of information for our thoughts. Instead we tend to think it’s accidental or incidental. This is a cultural choice that has been collectively made and enforced in our history. It’s given us huge rewards, like modern science, but everything comes at a cost. This is how I want to present this critique. It’s not evil. It’s incomplete. And wrongheaded and has left us with many serious problems and large scale dilemmas. Our personal health and the health of the living Earth is at the core of it. Somatics provides a partial and sensible response to these problems and dilemmas by initiating the power of changing our minds and reorienting ourselves to the world. Combining it with yoga brings to it an ancient sensibility and practice that by itself is a complete way to live.
I know that last statement may seem rather too big for it’s britches. My experience is that this shift in conscious awareness is to the experience of the body not as an extension of the mind but as the origin of it. What I practice and teach is movement with a still mind. I feel this post has gone on long enough. Next time I will talk about the different types or applications of somatics and the role of experience in the practice.
Have a fabulous day!