Somatics Changed My Life

Last year was an interesting year for me. I was introduced to the world of somatic experiencing by a very good friend and it has changed everything for me. There is a range of somatic methods and applications and at the core of them is the concept that we are a full being and our mind and body are not separate entities. In order to heal trauma or to grow in new ways we need to work with the physical as well as the mental parts of ourselves, and our bodies have rich knowledge that we often ignore. We need to embody what has happened, learn to self-regulate, and build new patterns using all of who we are, not just our minds. As Strozzi Institute explains on their website,

“Somatics is a theory of change that places the body at the center of our evolutionary intelligence, adaptation, and learning. Somatics sees the body as inseparable from the whole self, and as a vehicle through which to accelerate growth.”

I started to work with a somatic experiencing practitioner (Lu Hawkins) for therapy early in the year and then later took some courses with Strozzi Institute for embodied learning/leadership over the summer and fall. My work with Lu has been focused inward and has brought me to a whole new level of acceptance of myself, with a lot of self-love and trust. As I made progress with her, I started to look for other applications of this work. That’s when I found Strozzi, where they blend a number of lineages (including somatics, psychology, and aikido) and focus on not just the personal, but also groups, organizations, and society. I felt like the picture just kept getting bigger and bigger for me.

Early in the year I was also learning a lot about exercise and health, in what I thought of as a totally separate interest about working out and dealing with pain. I certainly didn’t consider it related to my therapy work. I took a course called Empowered Performance by Katie St. Clair. I learned a lot that was different from your typical personal trainer education. It dove into looking at why our body is moving and compensating in certain ways and how to account for that in training. I had signed up simply because it sounded different and interesting, but I had no idea what is was really about.

Over the year as I learned more about somatics and explored movement and things like pain and sleep, I’ve been slowly knitting together my own mishmash of somatic understanding and a new personal philosophy about how I am in, and move through, the world. The common thread that kept speaking to me in all of my explorations is that we are a whole, holistic being and we move through life as best we can, using everything within us. In that process we have to mold ourselves for survival. We are incredible organisms that are incredibly malleable. We adapt, we compensate. And along the way we can find ourselves in a shape or a pattern that doesn’t actually let us thrive anymore. Those adaptations and compensations were necessary at some point, but they no longer serve us. Most people will try to “remove” these “problems” by, frankly, not being very nice to themselves. Somatics would have us understand our whole shape—physical, mental, emotional—and recognize the value of how we have survived and perhaps even thrived in the past. Then we can build a new shape/pattern/movement that serves us better for where we are now and where we want to be, and move forward into that new space. I initially learned about this in therapy for dealing with emotional trauma, but I can see that this applies to everything in life. Aside from personal or social traumas that may be clear to us, it can also apply to how you move your body when running, or the way you draw a picture or write a novel, or show up for work.

So I guess at this point my general philosophy is being present with my full self, listening to and trusting all of me, and then gently, graciously building new patterns that serve me on the road I wish to walk. It may sound trite or woo-woo or simplistic to some, but really diving into the meaning of this, and working at it, instead of just thinking about it academically has profoundly changed me.

If you want to learn more about somatics, here are some books to read about trauma and the body. (Note that trauma means a lot of different things to a lot of people. Most of us have experienced something traumatic in our lives that still effects us. Whether others would find it traumatic or not is irrelevant. And further, I would say that the last two years have inflicted all kinds of personal and communal trauma on everyone.)

A good book for looking at somatics from a larger, social perspective is “The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice“. And to explore somatic work with racism “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” is a good place to start.

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