“Somatics” is a common word these days. This is good news in that this very important word is no longer hiding in the shadows, but is front and center as it should be. At the same time, there is much confusion around what “somatic” means and how it changes the discipline it is attached to. Let’s demystify it.

On its own, the word “somatic” is defined as “relating to the body” as distinct from the mind or psyche. You have a somatic nervous system and somatic cells, and you can experience somatic disorders like an uneasy stomach or headache after periods of stress. The word “psychosomatic,” rather than meaning “it’s all in your head and you’re imagining things,” actually means that your mental state is affecting your physical state/wellbeing.

When “somatic” is attached to many of today’s therapies and disciplines, it simply means that these disciplines emphasize bodily awareness (i.e. relating to the body): somatic yoga, somatic psychology, somatic therapy, somatic stretching, and somatic breathing techniques.

What are the differences between all of these somatic modalities?

The groundwork for the field of “somatics” was founded by many early pioneers: Gerda Alexander (Eutony), F.M Alexander (the Alexander Technique), and Moshé Feldenkrais (Awareness Through Movement®) are some of the most well-known. Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., was a student of Moshé Feldenkrais and ultimately became the founder of the field of “somatics.” He used the word “somatics” to define the broad field of movement education that teaches people how to move and sense themselves from within with more ease, voluntary control, and freedom, referring to it as “Somatic Education.” He went on to create Hanna Somatic Education, also known as Clinical Somatic Education, and authored the book, Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health.

There are myriad forms of somatic work; some methods are bodywork-based, psychology or movement, breathing-based, and others are steeped in mindfulness meditation. Other well-known somatic disciplines are: 

  • Somatic Experiencing: A form of therapy, developed by Peter Levine, which is geared toward treating and processing trauma, PTSD, and other conditions associated with trauma. 
  • Body Mind Centering: An integrative movement method developed by Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen that utilizes movement, touch, voice, and consciousness to create an understanding of how the mind is expressed through the body and the body through the mind.
  • Yoga: A physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It typically incorporates breathing techniques, physical postures, meditation, food habits, and chanting to improve overall physical and mental well-being.

The field of “Somatic Education,” however, is distinct from other somatic modalities in that it seeks to foster self-awareness and self-responsibility specifically through movement education, while other somatic therapies foster self-awareness and self-responsibility, but not necessarily through movement.

What makes Thomas Hanna’s Clinical Somatic Education different from other somatic disciplines?

The focus of Hanna Somatic Education (or Clinical Somatic Education) is to teach people how to relieve muscle pain and tension primarily through awareness and the technique of pandiculation. This is the only method of Somatic Education with this approach.

Awareness is achieved by recognizing where Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is present in the body. SMA is a pattern of habituated muscle tension caused by the body’s reaction to various stressors: physical, mental, and psychological. SMA presents within three stress reflex patterns: the “Green Light” pattern of tension through the back of the body, the “Red Light” reflex pattern of tension through the front of the body, and the “Trauma Reflex” pattern of tension through the sides of the body.

SMA is corrected through a technique developed by Thomas Hanna called “pandiculation.” Pandiculation is a gentle but effective technique that involves the deliberate contraction and relaxation of certain muscles to reset muscle memory, thus reducing muscle tension and pain. Pandiculation can be achieved through hands-on guidance from a Clinical Somatic Educator and independently by using Hanna Somatic Exercises™ also known as “Somatic Movements.”

Most importantly, these techniques are applied from a first-person experience; therapists, medical practitioners, and bodyworkers help or teach from the outside (third-person perspective). In Clinical Somatic Education, practitioners work with a clear understanding that only the individual knows what it feels like to be in their own body, therefore awareness and pandiculation must originate from within the individual. The practitioner provides necessary third-person feedback and guidance but long-lasting results will only be achieved from the first-person perspective: the individual must be an active participant in their own care.

There are myriad somatic modalities and they all have their own benefits and contributions to improving self-awareness and physical comfort, yet Clinical Somatic Education is the only one that uses movement education (pandiculation) from a first-person perspective to address muscle tension (Sensory Motor Amnesia) for the long-term. 

We offer you the education that demystifies chronic muscle pain and physical discomfort and we empower you with a roadmap for maintaining and improving your ability to move with mastery and joy for the rest of your life.