Book Report by Shelley Martin
Somatics: Reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility, and health
By Thomas Hanna
I have always had an awareness of the connection between my mind and my body. I struggle with our western way of diagnosing and treating issues within the body and this is what ultimately led me to yoga. As a patient of our healthcare system I was frustrated at attempts to mask my symptoms and strip me of control over my own health and as a healthcare provider I became frustrated with individuals coming to me to “fix” them. Reading Thomas Hanna’s book Somatics: Reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility and health (1988) opened my eyes to a practical way of empowering clients to manage their own well-being as well as prevent injury and maintain function in my own body.
Somatics is published by Da Capo Press and is organized in a logical fashion using case studies to exemplify and explain the concept of Sensory-Motor Amnesia (SMA). SMA is defined as “… a memory loss of how certain muscle groups feel and how to control them” (p. xiii) and Hanna’s book offers practical exercises to prevent and reverse it. The Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training (http://somaticsed.com/), states that founder Thomas Hanna was a philosopher who introduced the concept of ‘somatics’ in the 1970s. He continued to carry out research and develop the field of somatics until his passing in 1990.
According to Hanna, somatic exercises can not only prevent issues that we consider natural to the aging process but they can reverse changes that have taken place within our bodies. The author believes that many of the common health conditions facing our population are not a predictable progression of health decline but are caused by our lack of connection with the body. Hanna defines this state and goes on to explain how it manifests within our bodies based on habitual reflexes and our individual responses to stress. When these reflexes become deeply engrained, our nervous system looses touch with what is ‘normal’ and eventually health problems will develop. He argues that conditions such as lower back pain, frozen shoulder, high blood pressure, scoliosis, sciatica and osteoarthritis are largely functional not structural and can be corrected by retraining the body to balance reflexes and muscle tone.
The idea that we have control of our own bodies is something that I believe, however my professional training and limited experience with mind-body medicine have restricted my ability to credibly share this concept with others. I have always known that physical decline with aging is to a large extent a myth but was unable to verbalize my reasoning. Reading this book has given me the vocabulary and practical skills that I was looking for to raise awareness of the false assumption that we should be in pain and lose function as we get older. The concept of somatic exercises also bridges the gap between what I do as a career and my passion for yoga. These exercises are a nonthreatening way to introduce clients, friends and family to the practices of body and breath awareness, which in my opinion are foundations of yoga. Once individuals become interested in their mind-body connection it is my hope that they will be more open to some of the other elements of yoga practice. This is helpful as I have found in practice that the word “yoga” carries with it certain stigmas and can be scary to some individuals. “Somatics” is a new term to the majority of the people and it seems to provoke interest rather than fear.
In conclusion, this book has helped me to clarify my instinctual feeling that there is more we can do to take care of ourselves and prevent health decline. It has also provided me with a way of easing people into the world of yoga. Hanna’s book provides simplistic explanations of common health conditions, as well as practical, easy to follow exercises to combat these issues. This is a book that I will not only refer to myself for years to come but will encourage others to read. This publication is proof to me that it is possible to age gracefully, avoiding many of the commonly accepted aches and pains of our daily life and managing the stress of our societal responsibilities. Reading Hanna’s thoughts and learning of his experiences has been wonderful for me and I look forward to being able to share them in order to help others relinquish pain and regain control over their bodies and health.
Hanna, T. (1988). Somatics: Reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility, and health. Cambridge (MA): Da Capo Press.
Somatics Educational Resources. Retrieved November 2nd, 2012, from Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training website: http://somaticsed.com/
Shelley Martin is a physiotherapist who has successfully completed her 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training with Body Therapies Yoga Training.