Blog Post

Are Somatic Exercises Okay?

TV asks: “Just need a quick yes or no. Have been following your new age practices series. Was doing "Catholic" yoga. . .  stopped that, got cleansed,  but how about Somatic Exercises? They do have a "cat stretch" routine that doesn't resemble yoga at all that I can see. But want to know before I start. I need something slow and gentle for health reasons.”

Unfortunately, there’s no “quick yes or no” answer to a question about somatic therapy. This field is closely associated with all kinds of New Age methods - from kundalini yoga and rebirthing to rolfing and Feldenkrais.

Somatics comes from the Greek word, soma, which means “living body” and is a kind of movement therapy that employs “mind-body training” to help with muscle pain, improve balance and posture and increase ease of motion. Also known as “the body experienced from within,” somatics essentially teaches that muscular aches and pains are often the result of repressed worries and stress and can be relieved when a person becomes aware of these tensions and releases them. People use somatic exercise in place of physical therapy, chiropractics or massage therapy.

Somatic therapy was developed by Thomas Hanna in 1976. Hanna was a follower of Moshe Feldenkrais, a twentieth-century physicist who developed the Feldenkrais method based on the philosophy that all movement, thought, speech, and feelings are a reflection of one's self-image. Because the Feldenkrais practitioner believes there is no separation between mind and body, they believe if one learns to move better, they can improve themselves on a variety of levels.

Hanna eventually elaborated on these beliefs and developed somatic therapy, which is based on the philosophy that the body's sensory-motor system responds to the stresses and traumas of daily life with specific muscular reflexes that become involuntary and habitual. These contractions cause stiffness and soreness and eventually result in a person forgetting how muscles are supposed to feel and how to control them. The somatic practitioner attempts to correct this problem by a kind of mind-body re-education system where a person is taught how to recognize, release and change their patterns of pain and movement.

People claim it has helped them with a variety of complaints such as arthritis, back pain, balance problems, dislocated joints, sciatica foot pain, even frequent urination, headaches and obesity. Somatic education is also taught to combat the decreased ease of motion associated with aging.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the research into the effectiveness of somatic therapy has been conducted within the discipline itself, which is why most of the studies showed positive results.

Hanna founded The Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training in 1976 which conducts a three-year training program for persons who have training in related fields, such as physicians, chiropractors, physical therapists and certified massage therapists.

The biggest problem I see with somatic therapy is the fact that this field is so closely linked with all kinds of New Age practices. This makes it highly possible that a person will encounter some sort of hybrid version that incorporates “universal life force energies” or the use of spirit guides, etc.

I would stay away from any somatic therapist who is not a medical doctor or licensed physical therapist, and be particularly careful with any practitioner involved in massage therapy, a field that is riddled with New Age energy workers.

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