I often use the following diagram to help explain the concept of the ‘Soma’. I have found it to be a useful way to elaborate on this idea. In his book Somatics, Thomas Hanna defined ‘Soma’ as ‘the body experienced from within’. That is, your first-person internalised experience of yourself.
So let’s say the circle above represents your physical body and all its associated physical sensations. Hunger, thirst, hot, cold, pleasure, pain, tension, fatigue, and so on. These sensations are constantly changing. So we include arrows on the circle to reflect this ever changing flow of sensations
Now we add a second circle to represent your mind or mental faculties. All your thought processes essentially. We add an arrow to this circle to indicate that thoughts and mental activity are also always in flux, changing, flowing.
Traditionally in western culture we tend to look at these facets of ourselves as somewhat separate from each other. Mental health as distinct from physical health etc. But the reality is…
…you exist right in the middle where all these elements converge and overlap. That is the point from where we live out our first-person experience of ourselves. The ‘Soma’;And what is it that we experience? The constant flow of ever changing physical sensations, mental activity, thoughts and emotions. All three aspects of our experience are overlapping and concurrent, and they all have direct influence over each other. The following would be a closer visual representation of what we experience…
Our thoughts influence our emotions and in turn our physical body – mind racing, feeling anxious and tense.
Our emotions influence our physical body and in turn our thoughts – one can be physically sick with worry/fear/apprehension.
Our physical body influences our emotions and in turn our thoughts.- angry and frustrated by chronic muscular pain.
Because they can all influence each other we can use one to make a change to another. Like using exercise to improve mental health, or breathing exercises to calm our emotions and quiet our mind.
But it is not so much that these elements influence each other, rather that they are different elements of the same thing, as illustrated by the diagram above. Looked at it in this way we begin to realise that there is no such thing as a mental state that is distinct from a physical or emotional state. There are really only unified states of being that encompass all facets of our experience; mental, emotional and physical. ‘Somatic’ states if you will.
To ‘experience your body from within’ is to experience all these facets of yourself, simultaneously, in real time, like we all do, all day every day.
So what is the relevance of all this?
Of the three elements, mental, emotional, and physical, the easiest one to manipulate is actually the physical, because we have, or can very quickly develop, direct control our our muscular system. This is where a Somatic movement practice comes in. By learning how to regulate your own muscle tension and increase your awareness of your physical body, you are also learning how to regulate an increase your awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Because as we have discovered, they are all just different elements of your ‘Soma’, your direct first-person experience of your own process. When regulating the ‘physical’, what you are actually doing is regulating your physical, mental and emotional, your unified state of being.
When you can release the muscular tension that accumulates in the physical body, you are also releasing the associated thoughts and emotional states that are bound up in the physical state. Because it’s all the one process. You are not a mind and a body, you are a constantly moving, changing, evolving, growing, self-aware process. You are a body, experienced from within. You are a ‘Soma’.
If any of these ideas resonate with you and you think you’d like to learn more about Somatics, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch. You can contact me here, you can find my online Somatic movement classes and 1-1 options here. And of course my YouTube Channel for free tutorial videos here.
Thanks for reading!