Thomas Hanna (1928-1990) was a philosopher and somatic educator who coined the term “somatics” to define the field of movement education that teaches self-awareness and improved movement. Hanna spent his life searching for ways for human beings to become free – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Through his teaching of somatic philosophy, he clarified that we are “somas” – bodies experienced from within – and emphasized that each person, as a living process, has the capacity for self-learning, self-responsibility, and self-determination.

 

Thomas Hanna's Early Career

After earning a PhD in philosophy and divinity from the University of Chicago in 1958, Hanna embarked on a distinguished career as a college professor. He began at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, and served as a guest teacher at the University of North Carolina and Duke University. His teaching, research, and writing took him to Paris, Brussels, and Mainz. In 1965, Hanna assumed the role of Chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University of Florida where he also delved into neurology at the medical school.

His interdisciplinary exploration of divinity, philosophy, and neuroscience led him to posit that life experiences manifest as physical patterns in the body. In 1969, supported by a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, Hanna resided in Guadalajara, during which time he penned Bodies in Revolt. In this work, he redefined the Greek term “soma” to align with contemporary understanding, asserting that “Soma does not mean body; it means Me, the bodily being…Somas are the kind of living, organic being which you are at this moment, in this place where you are.”

In 1973, Hanna relocated to San Francisco and assumed the directorship of the graduate school at the Humanistic Psychology Institute (now the Saybrook Institute). It was here that he encountered the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist and movement educator whose work exemplified the somatic liberation Hanna envisioned for all people. Inspired by this encounter, Hanna went on to establish and direct the inaugural Feldenkrais Functional Integration training program in the United States in 1975.

Founding The Novato Institute of Somatic Research

In 1975, Thomas Hanna and his wife Eleanor Criswell Hanna, founded the Novato Institute of Somatic Research. The following year, Hanna coined the term “somatics” to encompass various movement awareness practices, including those of F.M. Alexander, Moshe Feldenkrais, Elsa Gindler, and Charlotte Selver.  At Novato, with the experience he gained from Feldenkrais in movement education, Hanna applied his insights to help numerous individuals suffering from chronic pain and unresolved medical issues.  His evolving research integrated biofeedback techniques, enabling him to teach clients to quickly relieve and eliminate pain by addressing what he named “sensory motor amnesia” and fostering “sensory-motor awareness.”

Hanna also developed Hanna Somatic Exercises®, detailed in his influential 1988 book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health. Throughout the 1980s, he continued his pioneering work in somatic education, earning the moniker “philosopher who works with his hands” for his success in assisting many individuals considered untreatable or seen as“hopeless cases” by conventional medicine.

In 1990, Thomas Hanna launched his own training program, Hanna Somatic Education (also known as Clinical Somatic Education), at the Novato Institute. Tragically, he passed away later that year in a car accident, leaving his 38 students with a solid foundation of Hanna Somatic Education. His intention was to refine these foundational protocols and techniques further during the remainder of the training. Despite his untimely death, Thomas Hanna’s groundbreaking work continues through the dedication of his 1990 course graduates and his widow, Eleanor Criswell Hanna, who directs the Novato Institute.

Alongside numerous articles and essays, Thomas Hanna authored several books, including: