Somatic movement is a relatively new practice, and has become extremely popular around the world. It grew out of Feldenkrais, and developed alongside new research into neuromuscular reprogramming.
Somatic movement is based on the principle of neuroplasticity – the understanding that the brain is continually remodelling itself in response to new information and experience. Thus, movement limitations creating tension and pain are not permanent.
The term Somatic comes from ‘soma’ which means to understand the body as an intelligent, sensitive, living organism. The body is not a mechanical, insensate machine that we need to manipulate and control in order to get results.
Our body/brain organism has millions of years of evolution behind it. It knows how to move well. With somatic movement we find out why it is not able to do this. We find out what is getting in the way. The job of somatic exercise is to help the brain do its job properly.
The brain controls the way we move, so if we want to change the way we move we need to work with the brain. Neuromuscular reprogramming is the name given to this approach.
The problem for us is that when the brain learns a new movement pattern – eg how to ride a bike, how to sign one’s name, how to protect an injured arm, how to not be noticed, how to cope – it may be a healthy pattern or not. After a few weeks of repetition the brain sends the pattern code to older parts of the brain, for repetitive, unconscious, reflex activation.
The pattern becomes an unconscious habit. This frees the upper parts of the brain for new learning. What is now a restrictive and maybe painful movement was, at the time it was learned, the best response possible to the circumstances. It may not serve us well now. It may be crippling us. How do we change?
Slow movement done with awareness allows the brain to wake up again – to what is actually going on. It can then automatically reorganise our movement to become smooth and easy.
Somatic exercises are disarmingly simple, extremely effective and very enjoyable. There is no requirement to be flexible or fit. The only requirement is to be curious and attentive. Everyone can benefit from the exercises.
I have found them immensely valuable, even after a lifetime of yoga. I couldn’t believe how they freed up my body. Results happen very quickly and can bring a greater freedom to whatever activities we enjoy, eg: gardening, walking, cycling, surfing, yoga, dancing, swimming.
– Dyana Wells