Somatics: Brain training to reduce stress, anxiety, pain and move freely

From studying Thomas Hanna’s work we are able to gain a deeper level of understanding around the amazing yet complex Human mind and body, which Thomas refers to as the SOMA. Thomas Hanna refers to their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and well being as their SOMA. The word Soma comes from the Greek word meaning the body, which is inclusive of the soul, mind and psyche.

The purpose of Somatics is to create movement integration back into the body. Due to muscle tension and tightness, we have lost our natural movement patterns and find we are trapped in a very tight body. This impacts on our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health (Soma). If we feel stress, pain or discomfort in our body, it affects our emotional and mental health. Likewise if we are suffering with emotional or mental stress, our body will hold that trauma. Move forward several years, add the stresses of life and we find that we hold and move in a very restrictive way.

This is where the Total Somatics program comes into play. By developing mindfulness techniques whilst slowly moving through the somatic movements, we are changing our neuroplasticity and creating new neural movement pattern pathways in the brain. The more we develop mindfulness with Total Somatics, the deeper the neural pathways will be. We are training the brain , which is in charge of all movement, coordination, muscle contraction and relaxation; to allow the body to move freely. The mindfulness skills you develop help to thicken the activity in the prefrontal cortex. This area is crucial for concentration, focus and awareness. At the same time, you are shrinking the actions of the stress regions of the brain.

I have read a really interesting book entitled, The body keeps the score written by Bessel van der Kolk. He is a leading expert and researcher in the field of Post traumatic stress. Bessel commented on the way the mind and body (soma) are affected by trauma or stress. He said, “people become living testimonials for things that no longer exist, but they need to hold it in their hearts, minds, bodies and brains….the loyalty to WHAT WAS just blew me away.” He was referring to Vietnam veterans he treated and how their trauma would leave an imprint on their mind, body, immune system and relationships with others.

We may find the word “trauma” to be a heavy expression for how we feel. But any stress, fear or anxiety will create similar feelings. When we become anxious, we disconnect from our body, start to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Our subconscious creates reflexes from the brainstem such as the startle reflex or withdrawal reflex. If we live in this cycle for too long, it creates chronically tight muscles which alter our posture and impact on our overall health and well being.

Fear is purely a state of mind. The blog I wrote on 11 February 2017 ( uses the example of a longstanding fear of dogs and the effect a trigger will have on the amygdala and limbic system, recreating the fear from years ago. The body becomes hyper vigilant, fear is triggered and avoidance behaviour results. This fear becomes stored in the subconscious emotional memory.

In order to deal with anxiety, stress, trauma and fear, the body needs to know that it is safe. This is where Somatics plays a crucial role and complements other modalities helping to release and cope with stress, anxiety, trauma and fear. When we practice Somatics, we are moving in a slow, mindful manner. We are sensing and feeling the the feedback from our body. It is an important area of mindfulness. Often a person suffering with stress, trauma or anxiety will keep busy or find other ways to keep themselves occupied, so they don’t have to stop and have time to think about “things.” Taking time out to recharge, recuperate and rest is an important part of working through stress, anxiety or trauma.

A person will often find that high levels of stress and anxiety has created a stiffness, rigidity or frozen appearance in their movements. This impacts on the depth of their breathing due to a very tight diaphragm, intercostal (between the ribs) muscles. The muscles in the pelvis become very tight from holding a stress reflex muscular pattern created from the subconscious part of the brain. Notice for example when a dog is anxious, their tail will go between their legs. Likewise, as vertebrae creatures, we possess the same reflex. So when we have long term stress, our tail bone or coccyx tucks up and under. Thus creating shortened hip flexors, back pain, hip pain and other common ailments.

Somatics helps to gently reset the brain’s influence over the body by using specific movements to relax chronically tight muscles and improve movements, whilst also reducing pain. Somatics is brain training at it’s very best. I often see clients in my clinic presenting with many muscular ailments. But my first observation is that they have been living in what appears to be a corset for too long. Their ribcage has little movement, their chest is depressed due to rounded shoulders. Once they learn how Somatics can help them regain movement and a life again, they feel empowered. As a result, this takes away some of the anxiety and hopelessness they have carried for so long.

I have recently been working with a young man. He has suffered great pain for many years and sought all sorts of therapies. After three private Somatics sessions with him, he is noticing huge changes already. I felt teary last week when he looked at me and said “Thank you for helping me. I feel empowered and for once in my life I feel I have real hope that I can manage this issue.” This is exactly what Thomas Hanna, the creator of the modality Somatics said should happen. When people become aware and are educated by Somatics educators or practitioners in the field of Thomas Hanna, they are able to use this knowledge and skill set to empower themselves. This has a positive impact of their emotional and mental health, they now have a focus and direction and can see and feel the benefits of Somatic education.

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