Somatology: A Warning and An Advantage to Clinical Practitioners

Thomas Hanna, the developer of Hanna Somatic Education, made a point to deliver lectures on somatology to us, his students.  In one of those somatology lectures, he read a poem to us, by Ranier Maria Rilke, about the statue of Apollo.  He had a reason to do so.

Every morning of every training day in 1990, Thomas Hanna delivered a fascinating and illuminating lecture on the behavioral and experiential side of somatic education (as distinct from the clinical techniques).

His reason for doing so is implicitly obvious in his including sections in his book, Somatics | ReAwakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health — the introduction, titled, “The Myth of Aging” and in his chapter, “The Role of Expectation”.  Mental state makes a difference, experienced in physiological state. Psychology and Physiology and two sides of the same coin.

I’ll now make it explicit.

Just as emotional states coincide with physiological changes, the mental state we are in when doing somatic exercises or delivering a somatic exercise lesson or doing clinical somatic education, that mental state imparts itself into the physiological changes that result.  Psychology impresses itself upon physiology and we emerge from experiences of somatic education with a psychological impression and corresponding physiological changes.

Aspects of our personality and character that have not yet been made conscious and responsive form the background of our practice and limit the changes we can get.

Contemplative practice, spiritual practice, psychotherapy and related disciplines of our subjective life all have their place in somatic education.  Without growing in those terms, our “reach” as somatic educators is limited to the reach we have in ourselves.

Somatology isn’t just an intellectual exercise, a form of “enrichment”, or a form of entertainment (though it may be all of those); it’s a call to recognize that mind and body are not two, but two perspectives of the same process that we call, “soma”.

To drive the point home, deeper, if we, in our character and habit, harbor unconscious (or conscious) liabilities, forms of immaturity, or patterns of stress, those liabilities, that immaturity, and those patterns of stress get reinforced by our practice of somatics (since we bring those patterns into our practice) until they surface as problems (in ourselves, our relationships, and our circumstances) that require us to do clean-up in that aspect of our lives.

In other words, somatic education isn’t a “cure”; it’s a catalyst taking us the direction we are already going (for better or for worse) unless we make a conscious, deliberate and effective change of direction.

As the final line goes, in a poem by Rilke about the statue of Apollo, that Thomas Hanna read to us, one afternoon, “We must change our lives.”

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