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Somatics is a field which employs holistic body-centered approaches to assist people in integrating and transforming self through movement and awareness practices intended to promote psycho-physical well-being. The field contains distinct disciplines, each with its own educational and/or therapeutic emphasis, principles, methods, psychology and techniques.
The term is derived from the word "Somatic" (Greek "somatikos", soma: "living, aware, bodily person") which means, pertaining to the body, experienced and regulated from within. The concept of soma posits that neither body nor mind is separate from the other; both are part of a living process. Many of the approaches in the field of somatics address the body-mind split endemic in Western culture and body-mind integration is a common goal. Freedom from restrictions in body and mind is another goal, so that the individual functions and thrives optimally with self-mastery and healthy responsibility within the environment in which he or she lives. A fundamental principle is that growth, change, and transformation are always possible at any age.
Thomas Hanna applied the term in the 1970s to describe various approaches to body-mind integration being developed by him and others including Moshé Feldenkrais. He also founded Somatics Magazine: Journal of the Mind-Body Arts and Sciences and The Somatics Society for those interested in this new field. His method, Hanna Somatic Education is the procedure for teaching voluntary conscious control of the neuromuscular system to persons suffering muscular disorders of an involuntary, unconscious nature and is a method for reawakening the mind's control of movement, flexibility, and health. Hanna describes the field of somatics as "The art and science of the inter-relational process between awareness, biological function and environment, all three factors being understood as a synergistic whole." It is "the study of the soma, soma being the biological body of functions by which and through which awareness and environment are mediated."
Subsequent use of the term Somatics is used mainly for Hanna's work and its offshoots and is used in lower-case form, somatics, to describe other approaches and the field at large. Somatics involves the detailed study and understanding of anatomy and physiological processes in movement, including the processes of mind. The experiential nature of the work is key. The various approaches often emphasize one or more aspects of human bio-life processes, but the proprioceptive experience of the individual is primary. The act of exploring and experiencing one's inner world through sensory awareness and integration is a means toward understanding and engaging the impulse toward health.
The experience of "conscious embodiment" – a key term and central to somatics work – can be developed through a process of movement exercises, direct touch from a skilled teacher or therapist (a "bodyworker"), and the study of the body itself through the life cycle. Touch and movement exercises are often designed to mirror and influence the natural processes of the body and mind, providing a fluid interconnection between movement, sensation and thought. Habitual or unhealthy patterns of being and experiencing oneself in the body can be released, facilitating trust in one's inherent body wisdom. As perceptual, postural, and movement interaction with one's environment is improved, more advanced motor function and neo-cortex facility are revealed, which supports structural, functional and expressive integration. Those experiences serve as a form of self-education and self-development, with the intention of developing a healthier, more integrated state of being.
Most working methods in somatics identify new capacities for movement potential and offer bio-creative resolutions to functional and developmental issues. Many approaches utilize neuro-muscular repatterning and tissue re-organization, as well as directed intention and touch, to facilitate changes at the deepest levels of experience, even utilizing cellular and embryological information to achieve change in the "mind of the tissue" – another concept central to somatics work. A skillful somatic practitioner can facilitate improvement and change in infants and others whose mental understanding is not accessible through verbal direction. Individuals working alone and exploring their "edge" of kinesthetic knowledge can also achieve significant new understandings through close attention to internal and external experience.