The Science of Somatics

Soma is an ancient Greek word, once used to describe the whole person.

Somatic psychotherapies are modalities which utilize the body’s role in diagnostics, as well as the healing process itself. Somatics combines the realms of the body and the mind, which were never to be divided in the first place.

Diagnostically speaking, working somatically means paying attention to the body. Heart rate, muscle tension, and the nature of one’s breath are major indicators of what’s happening in a person’s emotional landscape. When you start tracking these things, you are organically placed on the path to vibrancy, because the body speaks in simple, clear terms. Somatic work takes you beyond the “why” into the “how.” Knowledge and insight seldom exact major changes. You can absolutely know why you’re doing something, yet not understand how to stop or change.

Everyone has had the experience of hearing a sentence spoken with an emotional tone that negates the words themselves. Take the classic childhood interaction of being made to apologize. “Sorrrrrrryyyyy.” Are you really? If you’re the receiver of this kind of apology, you know you’re being ripped off. In the therapy room, we follow these inconsistencies. The body always has something to say. Somatic therapists are adept at helping you listen to the body and follow its messages, because it’s easier said than done. That is a major tagline of somatics! We’re trained in the doing, not only the saying.

Professor Don Hanlon Johnson, eloquently writes, “language emerges from the body, if we only wait and allow it to happen, with ever-fresh solutions to seemingly intractable problems.”

What’s happening in the body tells us both about the specific nature of a problem, as well as how to move through it. If, when taking deep breaths, you find it difficult to let your breath all the way out, this tells us something about your body’s ability to relax. An inability to take in enough air can point to tension that is restricting space. Typically, my client and I both have a sense of why this would be happening from our explorations about their past experiences. But again, now what? For the person struggling to exhale completely, we practice incrementally increasing their ability to relax. This is almost guaranteed to trigger emotions, because of its tie to past experiences. For that reason, somatic work is gentle and incremental. Like learning to play an instrument, you are invited to try something that is at the edge of your range of ability. Each time you practice, your range expands. Sometimes we find that certain contexts, people, or beliefs inhibit that expansion, and we deal with those as we encounter them. Therapy is about learning what it takes for you to feel like yourself, and to express who you are to others.

It’s not magic. It’s basic biology. If you don’t take in enough air, your body signals your brain that it’s in danger. If you don’t break this cycle, you are kept in a perpetual state of low-grade (or not so low-grade) anxiety. The more difficult experiences you’ve had, the more convinced your body becomes of perpetual danger, and the harder it is to recognize safety. Somatic work is very effective for exacting needed changes.

Read my article on the science of the orgasmic cycle for an example of working somatically in the sexual realm.

The body is really good at doing what it needs to do to thrive. When it acts up, it’s for a reason. Listen. Somatic therapists are here to help you make sense of what you feel, and to teach you how to meet your body’s request.

If you’d like to do a little reading on the research, check out the journals listed below. And for even more somatics resources, visit www.usabp.org.

The International Body Psychotherapy Journal
Somatic Psychotherapy Today
Hakomi Forum Professional Journal
Journal of Authentic Movement and Somatic Inquiry

 

Gender is not Dichotomous: Part Two

Here is a mind-blower: blue for boys and pink for girls is a brand new concept, relatively speaking. In my musings about contrived gender concepts, it occurred to me recently that the pink/blue notion has an origin. Someone made that up!

It turns out that the origins are not terribly clear, but there is a lot of amazing information about at least some of the influences. First off, think back to photos you may have seen of babies in the early 20th century. They are usually wearing the standard white gown. Some of those babies are boys. Those gowns were fairly standard through most of the 1940′s, which means that even people as young as the Baby Boomers were not stamped with blue or pink upon birth.

To boot, it seems that the notion used to be that pink was for boys and blue was for girls. The thought was that pink is a shade of red, which is typically thought of as a strong and fiery color suitable (or perhaps desired more than suitable) for males. Blue is typically thought of as a softer color suitable (desired) for females. Saint Mary is most often depicted in light blue, which undoubtedly had influence.

The earliest known examples of pink-clad girls and blue-clad boys are found in the 1940′s, seemingly as a result of marketing strategies by companies to push individualized merchandise. This seems probable to me, as indeed if one has a female child followed by a male, everything would need to be repurchased. Though the question remains: why pink and blue?

There are a number of experiments (sourced below) that have been run to determine whether or not an innate preference exists, but I am dissatisfied with most of the results. One experiment suggests that humans in general may prefer shades of red. Another suggest that there are physical differences in the eyes that may be the result of our hunter/gatherer days. The fact remains that blue/pink as a rule was only very recently created and I think it is worth considering the ways in which it can be damaging. At best, it is just unnecessary.

For further reading, I recommend the work of Jo Paoletti from the University of Maryland.

Sources:
Alexander, Gerianne M. and Hines, Melissa. “Sex Differences in Response to Children’s Toys in Nonhuman Primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus).” Evolution and Human Behavior 23 (2002), pp. 467–479
Eysenck, H. J. (1941). A critical and exprimental study of color preferences. American Journal of Psychology
Guilford, J. P. & Smith, P. C. (1959). A system of color-preferences.
Hulbert and Ling (2007). Biological components of sex differences in colour preference.
Maglaty, Jeanne. (2011) When did girls start wearing pink? Retrived from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html?c=y&page=2
McInnis, J. H. & Shearer, J. K. (1964). Relationship between color choices and selected preferences for the individual.
Paoletti, Jo B., “The Gendering of Infants’ and Toddlers’ Clothes in America,” The Material Culture of Gender – The Gender of Material Culture, Katharine Martinez and Kenneth L. Ames, eds. (1997)
Paoletti, Jo B. “Clothing and Gender in America: Children’s Fashions, 1890-1920.” Signs, v. 13, no. 1, Women and the Political Process in the United States (Autumn, 1987), pp. 136-143
“The Baby Show.” New York Times, June 6, 1855, p. 1

Movement Therapy: Meeting Your Body Again

There are infinite possibilities for movement, yet we engage only a very small portion of them. The body is a pure source of language and our  movements are expressions of that language, like words. When you move, you are saying something. And what you are saying is directly related to your emotions, because they are intertwined. Movement is direct expression, making movement therapy a path to intimate knowledge of your emotions.

Your unique body moves in ways particular to you, but over months and years of experience, you begin to move habitually rather than naturally. It is easy to begin moving in only straightforward, functional ways: to get somewhere, reach something, support your back through a class, etc. But there exists a myriad of other movements that also serve a purpose, because they say something about your internal world. The more you tend toward moving functionally, the less of a voice your body has.

Therapy is about regaining that voice. With a safe environment in which to move, you can stumble upon your authentic movements. And by being mindful of these movements, you can begin to explore your internal landscape. Often you will find repetitions and themes in your movement, which lead to new or rediscovered understandings of what is happening in you.

For some rich, introductory reading about movement therapy, check out Helen Payne’s book, Dance Movement Therapy.