What is Somatics

The Body Experienced From Within

The simple somatics definition: “the body experienced from within”.

This term was coined by Thomas Hanna, the author of Somatics.

In our somatic circles, we speak of how our body feels and what those sense perceptions & personal feelings, feel like as a somatic experience.

“We tend to complain about our painful, stiff, aching feelings.  Then there's the more pleasurable, sensuous, nice feelings we can tap into.”


What Somatics is About

Somatics is about how you feel from the inside out.  It’s more about your feelings from your own unique perspective.

It can be emotional.  And it can be the following.  Where it can be distinct or blurred or non-existent in that moment.

How you feel or describe your feelings or sense perceptions can be negative such as pain, stiffness or any number of discomforts.

It can be positive such as feeling good.

Or it can also be neutral or a lack of feelings in certain areas.

Of course, you can feel or process any number of feelings or sense perceptions simultaneously as well.

Though when it comes to pain, that or those feelings seem to predominate any good we can also feel.

The Murky World of Proprioception & Interoception

Proprioception is another word we use to describe our feelings as it relates to the position of our body and its movement.

Interoception is the awareness of feelings or sense perceptions.  This can be physical or emotional.  Or both.  That way we may able to further describe what we feel at deeper levels.

Say you are standing and decide to lean a little forwards where you might be able to feel the weight shift to the balls of your feet.  Or not.

You can also shift your weight back so that your toes lift slight off of the surface and you might feel the weight shift to your heels (and you may have noticed that your arms might have come forwards as a counterbalance so you don’t tip over backwards).

Things can get a bit muddled in this arena of proprioception and interoception since we don’t always know how to describe a particular sensation say when it is “twinging", for instance, while we move our knee.

We know it hurts and we really don’t want to necessarily go there in order to give it a deeper description other than it is “twinging" since it’s unpleasant at some level.

Or how we describe the actual feeling of hungry.  We generally know what that means.  But have you ever tried to describe the physical sensations?  Then ask another their take on it.  Where we may even come across words such as 'hangry'.

'Nebulous Feelings

Then there are other feelings which arise.  When you attempt to put your finger on it in order to describe it.

We might not have the exact or definable words even though we are attempting to describe it as best as we can.

It can be such a fleeting, odd or subtle sensation that we don’t have enough time or words to figure out how to describe it since it can kinda seem sort of nebulous at times.

Say you put your hand on hot stove. It would be difficult to describe the moment to moment feeling as your skin is getting seared.

Fortunately, the nervous system gives us a clue to react quickly to get out of there.

So while we all get what a negative experience pain or discomfort can fee like.

Our ability to sense at both proprioceptive and interoceptive levels is a basis to understand our feelings from within.  Or Somatics for short.

Pain Types

There are many pain types where we use words such as ache, fatigue, hurt, miserable, nagging, sore, sensitive, throb, tender, tingling, etc.

So how you define it and feel it, is unique to your somatic experience since negative feelings and sense perceptions can vary at different levels.

Since you know what it feels like to you - most of us are generally looking for a way to let it go, drop it or get out of it as soon as possible, unless of course, it has become chronic.

And surely, no one wants to remain in that state.  Well, maybe a few ; ).

In chronic, longer term states we begin to learn how to describe it as best as we can when we put our finger on it or when we try to name “it”.

How We Talk About “It”

These are phrases I often hear:

"It hurts"
"It never goes away"
"It wakes me up at night"

"I feel it"
"It seems like a big waste of energy"
"It's annoying"

Or we use terms such as:

“I feel old about it”,
“It’s limiting what I can do”

or even

“It feels like a gremlin in my leg”.

We might even describe “it” in terms of our fears, worries or apprehensions such as:

“It will always come back”
“Can not get out of it”

“It will move somewhere else”
“It’ll end up being chronic”…

Our doubts of overcoming it may have us think and process our feelings in a variety of ways where we might think or say:

“It’ll get worse as I get older”,
“Feel depressed not wanting to do anything”,
“Doubt my capacity of actually overcoming it” and so on.

 The Other Side of “It”

We can also talk about the more positive experiences and feelings too.

“I feel good”, “more in balance”,
“grounded”, “connected”,

“lighter”, “less stressed”,
“more relaxed”, "much better".

And sometimes we are surprised when “it” changes and we feel “it” -

• feels easier to move,

 you feel a little or a lot better,

• more relaxed and at ease,

or more energized by the feelings coursing through you.

“It” and the Other

How we describe our experiences of when we can feel pain and pleasure simultaneously is another somatic area we can delve in as well.

Don’t know about you, usually the negative feelings of pain gets in the way, however, there can be different levels or stages of processing both pain and pleasure.

How do You Define Your Painful Somatic Experience

How you describe pain or negative feelings on a personal level can defy the more standard terminology or diagnosis you might receive.

Let’s say you know you have been experiencing some type of discomfort in the back.

So you might say “my back…

Some of this can be muscular, nerve or neuromuscular, and it can appear or go along with scans which show some level of degeneration.

You might have been told that your spine is too far forwards, backwards or twisted in some compensating manner.

Outside of Somatics

Then you might get a diagnosis of scoliosis, kyphosis, spondlyosis, etc. leading to even more specific terms which sound kinda scary at times.

In my case, when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia that gave me a starting point to look into it further.  From the inside, I already knew what I had been feeling for well over a decade before it actually got diagnosed (and subsequently confirmed).

These types of professional terms are used to describe what is supposedly causing the pain.

This lets certain health care professionals view things from their perspective as to how to treat it.

Then you may get a list or options to treat your bodily discomforts.

Inside of Somatics

Since your negative experiences are real and can get in the way of the more positive feelings of comfort, relaxation or knowing you’re in balance or in control from the inside out.

After awhile of negative experiences, you might even forget what it’s like to feel good like you used to. 

You might even experience a type of amnesia towards those good feelings.

The positive feelings of your somatic experience can vary.

How Do You Define a Good Somatic Experience

See, if I told you:

What does that actually mean to you?  Is your good or my good the same types of feelings?

Is it loud and clear good or subtlety good?

If change does happen what is the sense or feelings of positive change?

You are the expert in knowing if things aren’t quite right.

When they do change for the better - even if it’s a smidgen - that’s a positive shift that you’ll know first hand from the inside out.

Semantics of Somatics

We might have been told we are degenerating or are in degenerative states.

My mind goes to.  Since when?  And how long has that actually been happening?

We realize we can see it in a picture.  So what is that (degeneration) exactly supposed to feel like? 

Are there different levels of pain, feelings or sense perceptions that we can be aware of in advance or at different stages?

Since there now is the promise of some degeneration being halted (or even reversed) or improved. What is that going to feel like as we progress?

Any number of feelings or sensations can vary or get all mixed up together which proposes a semantics in somatics (the body experienced from within).

What is your fine?

What does “fine” actually feel like to you? 

How would describe the feelings of being in good health and feeling well?

What does - agile, balanced, flexible, graceful, pleasant - feel like to you?

What does feeling healthy, in the flow, supple, mobile and flexible actually feel like?

How would you describe these types of feelings?  Would we all agree or have some unique differences or perspectives?

As you can see or feel there can be some semantics involved around the area of your somatic experience.

Since there can different levels of a diagnosis.  What about the anti-diagnosis/healthy side?

After all, if there are so many types of conditions and diagnosis - wouldn’t there be various types of healthy conditions or reverse diagnosis too?

What’s Your Level from 1 - 10

Can we go outside of the box of how do you feel from 1 - 10? 

I know in my painful years of fibromyalgia when I was asked what is your pain level from 1 - 10.  I might have answered 12 or 15 on any given day.

Naturally, a healthy person might think, well this person doesn’t get it since 10 is the max.

True from that perspective

The chronic pain perspective - is very real and true - naturally alters things internally so people are attempting to emphasize the fact that things are even over our own limit and 10+ is one answer or 12 or 15 could make sense - if you were in our shoes.

See, a painful insight may be such that we’re thinking that the question is odd since I am here to find out what can be done to change the negative feelings rather than rate them on some arbitrary scale which is intended for purposes of reporting.

So my hunch is that is only somewhat useful since the question is already arbitrary in the first place rather than exploring the types of feelings and sense perceptions to be used as our guide.

Professional Somatics

There are a number of therapies which fall under the umbrella of Somatics.

We might think of Massage and Physical Therapy, since we tend to want negative feelings to move to more positive ones and these health professionals can provide some relief.

Practices such as Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and many forms of bodywork such as Rolfing, Myofascial Release, Soma Therapy, etc. are practices which help us process our feelings and sense perceptions.

Subtle practices such Cranial Sacral, Reiki, etc. are also forms of a Somatics practice.

Even the marital arts such as Aikido, Chi Kung (Qigong), Tai Chi, etc. are different forms of Somatics.

Dance therapies and all sorts of movement therapies such the Alexander Technique, Continuum, Feldenkrais and Hanna Somatic Education may have either movement or both hands-on and movement components.

Psychotherapy, Counseling, Somatic Experiencing and now even Life Coaching where you feel or check into your feelings are areas where we process our felt sense of ourself and how we relate to the world and how the world relates back to us and in us.

Last I checked, there were some 38 professional Somatic Practices delving into the brain-mind-body field which includes practices such as Trager, Sensory Awareness, etc.

Over the past 100 years modern day Somatics practices have derived from the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and associated Sensory-Motor Awareness movement trainings and traditions.

In my case, I practice what is formerly known as Hanna Somatic Education and is the basis for Clinical Somatics (which is also our professional cousin).

Clinical Somatics

A Hanna Somatic Educator®  is a trained bodyworkers and movement educator where people are taught the system of somatics exercises which are a specialized set of movement patterns unlike regular exercise since it has to do with targeting the brain’s motor cortex to affect change.

Many people will simply refer these exercises as “doing my somatics”.

Hanna Somatic Education is a system made up of the two parts that work together or independently.

One part is hands-on bodywork.  The other part is the specialized movement practice.

The movement practice is to help us get back in touch with our sensory-motor system through our feel and sensitivity using the brain and body to make the necessary changes to restore control and comfort.

As a professionally trained Hanna Somatic Educator, my take is this - if you have have pain, I believe you first and foremost.

Your internal somatic experience is what is highly meaningful since you’re the one who knows how, when and if those painful signals actually change.

We take into account any diagnosis and any or all associated sense perceptions and feelings, both good and bad and even neutral too.

The System

This system is a combination of motor control exercises (MCE), mindful based stress reduction (MBSR) and progressive relaxation all rolled into one where you learn how to change negative feelings into more neutral, positive states so those gremlins and negative feelings or stiffness, leave the area.

We are excited since the American College of Physicians has recently said “this is the first to do to relieve pain” especially when you “work with a trained professional”.

What People Discover When They Do Somatics (our version)

Since somatics is an inside out game, you learn:

  • how to teach yourself to heal,
  • regulate your bodily discomforts back to comfort,
  • and you learn how to tap into the brain anytime you need as you learn what to do for yourself 24/7.

This way you can handle discomfort since it is built into our living system to self-correct back to our birthright to feel good and move well.

It’s a matter of knowing what tools, how to apply them and what specific movement combinations that will wake up the brain and body to its more pleasant sense of itself.

Brain and body in your hands

This way you feel your well-being is in your own hands or body to re-awaken and maintain lifelong comfort.

The Somatics (Un-Exercise) Difference

The missing element in many exercise or movement approaches is simply how fundamental brain based or cortical movement isn’t brought into the dialogue.  I'll often refer to this as un-exercise since it can un-lock tension, un-do stress and un-pain us through focused, small, gentle movements which sets us up to exercise or enjoy physical activity at higher levels of comfort. (Which even allows us to recover more quickly too).

This is where we come in with a neurophysiological approach since the ACP recognizes motor control exercises.

Our viewpoint is quite different since we take into account how the nervous system processes our self sense of information and how the brain can change that.

In other words, you get to feel your way and learn or re-discover how to get back to the more pleasurable feelings and sense perceptions via certain feedback loops.

Somatic Events

Certain bodily experiences, feelings or sense perceptions arise when you practice changing how your body responds.

When do what appears as a simple somatics exercise movement, one of the most prevalent and most useful experiences is that of sensory-motor amnesia.

You learn either how to feel or discover when or where there is a loss of motor control.

This is huge! 

When the loss of motor control becomes evident, this eye opening or ah-ha moment gives insight into the very nature of how self-correction and restoration is built into our living system.

By not knowing about it, we may have a type of amnesia around a specific or general area in our body.

This highly useful information lets us regain control as well.

What is interesting is that it doesn’t take much of a movement to know whether we have control or not. 

This isn’t knowledge you think you have or don’t, you have to feel it, experience it or sense it to know whether this exists or not.  You can try this SMA test.

Another form of amnesia shows itself when we can’t quite feel either the actions or connections that are involved in what appears from the outside as a simple movement.

This somatics opening event unlocks a pathway (in the nervous system) eventually leading to greater and more cohesive internal connections.

More ah-ha moments and a regaining of comfortable control.

Other Somatic Events

Another event happens say when you see a deer twitch in the woods or when you see someone writhing after taking a shock to the body.

When you see a deer twitch in the woods, it’s most likely that an internal event took place such as this.  The deer thought or sensed a high level of danger, then it simply vibrated the negative feelings or sense perceptions out of itself.

Such neurogenic tremors can be induced or they can spontaneously happen as we release high levels of tension from a present trauma or an accumulation that we’ve been unconsciously holding onto.

Releasing Held Tension

In the same manner that some people simply cannot let their shoulders drop and release held tension in the neck and shoulders, stored or programmed high tension levels, fear, trauma and other personal negative events preclude us from simply letting things drop.

The body can be reprogrammed at a certain brain level and then remember to let go.

How it does this is a somatic event which can vibrate us to our core or be as subtle as the most faint sensations that you can be aware of.

Subtle feelings and a felt sense of energy surging in us can defy descriptions or are beyond words as the chemicals within us are aroused.

These somatic events are one’s you can tap into as your nervous system shifts more readily to more relaxed and unencumbered states all via a simple, gentle, mindful movement practice.

What a Practice in Somatics Can Do For You

Depending upon what kind of somatics you choose to do, ideally you are learning more about yourself and what you can do for yourself.

Some Somatics practices may need to be used in conjunction with another since the passive ones don’t necessarily give you tools to maintain life long comfort.

Say you chose to have Bodywork, Acupuncture or Chiropractic done to you, you oughta be able to learn how your body responds and if it is helpful.

Other passive approaches such as Reiki, Cranial Sacral, Massage, etc. can be useful since they can help relax the body or facilitate positive change.

You might be receiving training or coaching in emotions, feelings and behavior - all well and good.

Since we are creatures of movement,  the human body needs to move to the best of its ability and this comes through your awareness and setting yourself up for successful movement in the first place.

A good Physical Therapist or Physical Trainer can assist in helping you do exercise - if that is your choice.  Normally, corrective exercises can help many conditions.

When they don’t or you’ve hit the wall say even in Yoga or Pilates or Sports Training - then that too may need to be augmented with a much deeper or more neurophysiological approach.

This is where we come in with Hanna Somatic Education - using the Somatics Exercises to learn how to move and feel internal connections so the foundation for comfortable, successful movement is set up in the first place.

The foundation is built upon the building blocks of movement itself.  In order to do a larger movement.  That large movement can be broken down into smaller or more doable parts.

And then... those can be played with to break it down further as a means of a somatic exploration.  Which is what we did as children when we developed our senses and abilities.

We were building and rebuilding the foundation as it relates to gravity.

Lifting an arm on our belly feels different than we lift it while sitting.  Which can be different than when we lift while lying on our side.  So that gradually.  Standing and lifting the arm was built from the foundation of the ground, or earth first.

Thus we were already changing and aging.

This fundamental is what we can revisit as we continue to age.  We are now bigger.  Our bones have grown.  Life, accidents have intervened.

So to regain and maintain life long comfort.  Or the ability to move as well as we can.

Such that aging can be full of many happy movement surprises.  From both past and present.  And into the future.  We can influence this healthy lifestyle factor.

We are as young as we feel.  Wouldn't you agree?

And certainly as we age.  We can honor where we are at.  Yet now with a finer, more subtle appreciation of abilities to test, experience and maintain to our heart's delight.

What We Can Do For Ourself

Ideally, you can have the ability to:

Decreases muscle stiffness quickly

Reduce and overcome short term and chronic pain

Lessen stress and tension

Restore natural flexibility

Maintain lifelong comfort

To live with pain free use of the muscles and movement system is built into the very nature of who we are when we simply remind the brain & body of its natural process to self-correct.

Natural balance, free of effort where our mobility is un-encumbered is our birthright.  One in which we may need to restore or reclaim and certainly maintain with an awareness which is attainable.

How We Restore Comfort & Regain Control - Somatically Speaking

Most anyone can participate and learn how to restore comfort, move with an effortless ease, and be confident that you know what to do and when to take care of things yourself.

If you experience pain or discomfort.  Even if you’re a weekend, professional athlete or simply want to be able to tie your shoe again comfortably and regain flexibility.

You can discover an approach that is un-like any physical training you’ve had before since we’re working at the motor-control level of the brain’s motor cortex.  In tandem with our sensory cortex.  To sense and feel at the subtle levels we developed ourself in the first place.  

Such that if we had gaps in our development.  Injuries, dis-ease, or other circumstances which took us off course.  We have an ability to course correct.  Enhance.  Or shift back to a better, more useful or artful use of our physical abilities.

For me personally, I had to do a complete 180° shift in what I had learned about exercise to understand and embody the benefits of this neurophysiological approach.

In our Somatics Un-Exercises Classroom, we dive deep into Somatics so you can learn a simple 3 step method towards a full and complete recovery or just for the fun of learning how the brain and body can work together and how you can set yourself up for successful, easy movement where you can restore yourself in minutes.

See we now know it takes 8 months to fully resolve issues like chronic pain.  And it can happen in less time too.  That depends upon how long you’ve been having what I call our issues in our tissues.

So in The Classroom, you learn specific, easy to do movement combinations to lessen stress, tension and feel pain or stiffness melting away.

Plus, we meet live online where you can get personal coaching - which is included too - while we discuss other somatic concepts.   Where you also learn our hands-on method that we do when we work with our clients in our office.  These additional tools and knowledge are a wonderful addition to anyone's tools or ways or means of a healthy lifestyle.

For more info:  See More About the Classroom Here

Beyond Exercise and Movement

As you keenly feel how your muscles and fascia (that which covers the muscles) connect and coordinate with the 'least of efforts', you change your awareness throughout your entire body, not just a part of it.

The quality of feelings and sense perceptions is what you tap into.  This can be heightened to nip issues in the bud and to further your ability to age well by moving with a comfortable ease and confidence of knowing what to do when life goes bump.

So you use the one big muscle, the brain, which is the seat of learning and evolving our understanding of our self.

Somatics is a way to change your feelings and sense perceptions.

How you feel as a whole integrated living being through your sense perceptions and feelings as a creature of movement.  Provides the vibrancy and effortless ease in using your awareness to regain cortical control, maintain it.  And enjoy life to its fullest.

Ed Barrera is a Hanna Somatic Educator®, H.S.E., Holistic Health Advisor, H.H.A., Muscle Balance & Function Development Trainer, M.B.F.

Author of Move Like an Animal:  Feel Comfortable, Move Well for Life in 3 Simple Steps.  Amazon Bestseller in Pain Management & Aging.

Latest book:  The 1 Thing to Do to Relieve Pain, Stiffness, Tension & Stress:  When You've Tried Everything Else.

Ed lived with chronic pain and fibromyalgia in his 20's & 30's, so he appreciates the long road out and can help you shortcut your way back to feeling comfortable for life.

Ed has over 20 years of experience, helping people find natural pain relief with somatics exercises which are the complete reverse to most approaches since we use conscious gentle body movements that targets the brain’s motor cortex, resets the nervous system, and provides deeper states of relaxation which leads to a healthy, fully-functional body.

Essentially it's motor control exercises (MCE), mindful-based stress reduction (MBSR) and progressive relaxation all rolled into one which now the American College of Physicians (ACP) are saying is "the first thing to do relieve pain".

Muscle lengthening, recovery, relaxation and control are restored by this "alternative to exercise” approach; plus it's natural pain relief that actually works!

Lose Pain or Stiffness

… in 3 Simple Steps

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The purpose of our information is based on Hanna Somatic Education® (HSE®) and the system of somatics exercises which are primarily Motor Control Exercises (MCE), Mindful-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Progressive Relaxation all rolled into one. HSE® is primarily an educative process and system. It is not intended to serve as medical advice. If you have any known conditions which prevent you from exercise, then please check with your doctor if you feel you need his/her blessing. The American College of Physicians (ACP) are now endorsing Motor Control Exercises (MCE), Mindful-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Progressive Relaxation as the "first thing to do" to relieve pain. So most doctors will agree that Somatics Exercises® are both gentle and beneficial for your well-being.