What “somatic” means
The following information presented by Mary Ann Voorhies was taken from “Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health” and “The Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement,” both by Thomas Hanna … with a dash of Moshe Feldenkrais philosophy sprinkled in.
There are two ways in which a human being can be viewed: from the outside in, or from the inside out. Looked at from the outside, by a physiologist or a physician, human beings are different from the beings they appear to be when they view themselves from the inside out.
When one looks at another human being, one sees a “body.” But when a human being looks at himself or herself he or she is aware of feelings and movements and intentions … a quite different, fuller being. To view a body from the outside is a third-person view. But when the human views himself or herself from the inside, it is a first-person view.
Any viewpoint of the human being that fails to include both the first-person somatic view and the third-person, physiological view is deceptive. This is prima facie, a false view of human beings. In as much as “scientific medicine” has built itself on the foundation of an objective, third-person view of the human as a body, it is a deceptive and incomplete approach to human health.
This is the underlying theme of this book (“Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health”): that the somatic viewpoint must be added to the objective bodily viewpoint if we are to understand what exactly happens to human beings as they age. By adding the somatic viewpoint to our human sciences we become capable of overcoming major health problems … that plague all of humankind.
There is promising research that presumes something not too long ago deemed impossible: that the immune system is not isolated in its functions, but has a working relation with the central nervous system. In addition, emotions, attitudes, and other conscious states trigger certain neurotransmitters, which in turn affect the immune system — hence, the young science is named psychoneuroimmunology … The is essentially the somatic viewpoint: that the attitudes and beliefs we have about our bodies and our health vitally affect the ongoing state of our health …. The prophecy becomes self fulfilling ….
What the neurophysiological research of the past several decades tells us is that the kind of thoughts we think determines the quality and effectiveness of our lives. Because thinking is an action of the entire body that mobilizes the entire sensory motor system, the nature of our thinking activity automatically determines the nature of our bodily activity. If we turn the same anxious thoughts over and over in our minds day after day, then it is certain that we are tensing and activating certain contractions in our bodies day after day.
When we think the same thoughts of revenge over and over again, we are activating the muscles and glands of our bodies over and over again. When we repeat the same thought of disappointment over and over, we are repeatedly stamping its motor power into the tissues of our body until they sag in forlornness. When we repeatedly think thoughts or memories of hurt, despair, anger, or fear, we are physically injuring ourselves; we are engaging in self destruction.
You can be sure that the weight of neurophysiological evidence is massively on the side of those who advise us to think positive thoughts rather than negative thoughts if at all possible … We may be able to do nothing about our culture and stressful jobs, but we can do much about ourselves and the way we process our experience.
Our total beings can be transformed by our daily experience and by what we focus our consciousness on. So far this discussion has dealt with only the negative and distorting transformations that can occur to us. But the good news is our sensory motor systems are just as capable of positive and life-giving transformations. Quite apart from society and culture we can redeem ourselves and take control of our sensory motor growth, just as easily as we can abandon ourselves and lose control. We simply need to know how, so that we can chart our way through the maze. It is a question of learning — learning those somatic patters that are easier and more efficient, and unlearning the patterns that are painful and inefficient.
Somatic education involves the systemic change of the entire human being. The personality, the direction, the intentions of the person are modified. The human process is modified so that the individual proceeds through time in a different way. In the same way we understand that the human soma is a neurally organized cybernetic system that is self adjusting, self correcting, and self improving — if that system is given new information with which to interact, and if that system is allowed to become sensorally aware that there are other options than the ways in which it habitually acts, then real change can occur.