The word Somatic is an umbrella term that means experiencing from within. It is used to mean a large number of things. Yoga and T’ai chi are somatic, for example.
The word Somatics was coined by Thomas Hanna to mean his particular work in that field. Hanna invented some neuromuscular work based on what he knew about Feldenkrais (for Hanna was a certified Feldenkrais practitioner). But he also spent a lot of time at university studying the neuromuscular system. Because of his understanding of the neuromuscular system, he had a very inventive mind so that he took the work many steps forward. As a body of work, it is well beyond what Feldenkrais taught. As I have said before, Hanna’s work is a well-thought-out and almost spectacular (Hanna even uses the word magical) new work in the health care field. Hanna invented slow, easy movements and protocols that have the potential to dramatically improve the way human beings can function while at the same time eradicating almost 50 percent of all physical human suffering (pain) and disease. But this is only part (a wonderful part) of what he meant to include in the word Somatics. In his four-part article titled “What is Somatics,” Hanna said the goal of somatics is optimal mental and physical health.
One must remember that before Hanna became a “body worker” — a term he did not like — he was first and foremost a philosopher. I have read all of his books and writings and I am positive that had he lived he would have made his work holistic — to include the whole human soma. I know he would have taught his students more about the whole human soma and would have left his students with more information about educating the whole brain and not just the sensory motor cortex. Remember he died the first summer of his teachings. He intended to teach for three summers, which leaves two summers of work unknown to his students. As I have said I have read his books and listened to a wealth of tapes he left to posterity. I believe it is our task to take up where he left off — to continue his unfinished work guided by what he left behind and our own knowledge of philosophy, psychology and religion. (He attended divinity school also).
In one of the tapes I heard him say that the 21ST century would be known as the Somatic Age. Why do this? Not only will it help with human evolution (see his book “Bodies in Revolt”) and because we now have the know-how and the capacity to create among ourselves, as he would put it: more resplendent human beings. I foresee that this will be a great leap for humankind to be able to rewire deliberately our own brains with the aid of our own consciousness. In his book The Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement Hanna says that CONSCIOUSNESS is a powerful force that can transform our very beings. In fact, there is no separation of body/mind consciousness. When we master this we will have taken an evolutionary leap into the future. And, we will prove that spiritual practice and love consciousness is what will lead us forward.
We will be empowered to do this by knowing that we CAN create new neural pathways — not only the sensory motor cortex but also the entire frontal lobe. Many people have been trying to prove this throughout history. William James, a Harvard professor, tried to prove it by writing volumes and volumes of books on the benefits of spiritual life. He wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience back in the 1800s, saying that many of the world’s religions would produce the same outcome in the personality of the practitioner. But, back then you couldn’t PROVE it. Now, we CAN prove it. It is neuroscience. Through positive and spiritual and religious practices we now know that we can affect our health positively. As I said in an article before, the new science of psychoneuroimmunology has recently been birthed. We can actually create new neuropathways in the brain on purpose to make our lives happier.
“We are all somewhat mentally ill,” a Buddhist monk once told James Kingsland, according to a blurb by Victoria Stern I read in the July/August 2016 issue of “Scientific American Mind.” Kingsland, Stern reported, decided to probe Buddhist philosophy and discovered a view of the human mind as deeply flawed. Until we reach enlightenment we continue to suffer. Kingsland wrote a book titled Siddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment. He reveals in this book not only how mindfulness meditation can rewire the human brain and help us achieve a sense of spiritual fulfillment but also how we can easily integrate the practice into our daily lives.
Also, in the last century Mary Baker Eddy created a new system of study called Christian Science where she adapted the New Testament into a medical book. Many other people echo such ideas, including Norman Vincent Peale in his book The Power of Positive Thinking, M. Scott Peck, who took Jungian psychology and wrote a popular book called The Road Less Traveled, and our own award-winning Marc Gafni in many of his writings. There are volumes books written by enlightened philosophers and psychologists that suggest true spiritual practice really does improve one’s life. All of this is what Thomas Hanna meant by holistic somatics. After having studied philosophy, psychology, and religion all my life and now Hanna Somatics, I have come to the conclusion that all these different spiritual ways, techniques, and paths, are describing the same Somatic process (in other words creating new neural pathways in the brain) but calling it by different names in different cultures by different authors. A rose by any other name smells just as sweet.
It is very exciting to me that Hanna writes in The Body of Life that Somatic education involves the systemic change of the ENTIRE HUMAN BEING.
“The personality, the direction, the intentions of the person are modified,” he said. “The human process is modified so that the individual proceeds through time in a different way. The human soma is a neurally organized cybernetic system that is self adjusting, self correcting, and self improving. The human soma is self improving because it has an ancient, built-in bias toward efficiency.
“It is inevitable that the procedures of functional integration and somatics will become accepted as indispensable adjuncts to a newly envisioned system of medicine,” Hanna continued. “I envision that the somatic exercises will become a permanent part of the physical/mental educational programs made available to both school children and adults. If physical education curricula were expanded to include regular experiences of Awareness Through Movement (Feldenkrais), we would discover, one generation at a time, that the major diseases of public health — the functionally caused diseases — were fast disappearing.”
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