Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement studies that emphasizes internal physical perception and experience.
The word originates from the Greek word „soma“ which means the living body in its entirety: „thought, spirit, and body as one“. Somatics approaches people as a holistic living organism, working with all these aspects of who we are: thinking beings, but also emotional and spiritual.
The oldest somatic practices originate from the Asian world. Yoga can be probably named the oldest and the most practiced somatic discipline. Traditional Chinese movement practices qigong and tai chi are considered ancient somatic practices and deal with our inner perception influenced by the body position of the movement, finding an inner balance and life energy flow. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that includes practicing internal awareness and an emotional state of non-aggression.
Interestingly enough, the first somatic practitioners in the West were dancers who under the ideas of existentialism and experiential learning started to shift the focus traditionally given to the experience of the public – the spectators – to their own inner experience they were living through on stage.
I found that to be compelling analogy with rope bondage world. Early days, in Showa Era of Kinbaku, it was presented to the public through the text, through the story: story of the perverted desire, intimate – forbidden – feelings and emotions. Nowadays – in the Era of instant social interaction – modern rope bondage is presented to the public mainly through the imagery. Oftentimes very impressive and admirable presentation, however rarely touching me emotionally beyond being impressed by the skills of the rigger and abilities of the rope „model“. Looking at the pictures, I cannot help but wonder: what did they feel?…
But back to the history of somatics. Early somatic techniques were developed in Germany in the late nineteenth century by Elsa Gindlerand Heinrich Jacoby Gimmler. Building on their work, the „somatic pioneers“ Frederick Matthias Alexander, Moshe Feldenkrais, Mabel Elsworth Todd, Gerda Alexander, Ida Rolf, Milton Trager, Irmgard Bartenieff, and Charlotte Selver were active, primarily in Europe, throughout the early twentieth century.
In the 1970s, American philosopher and movement therapist Thomas Hanna introduced the term „Somatics“ to describe these related practices collectively.
What all these different methods and techniques have in common is that they study the life of the body as perceived from within by first-person perception. They involve the human being – as experienced by himself from the inside – in the process of change, learning, and transformation, by asking a question: „What have you just noticed happening in your body?“ This is the main difference between the somatic approach and traditional clinical medicine and psychology, adopting a third-person viewpoint and seeing a patient, or a body, displaying various symptoms. (Thomas Hanna, What is Somatics? 1986)
I strongly believe that this approach is directly relevant to the rope bottoming practice. If we choose to attend to what is happening in our bodies, this internal awareness offers a profound potential for change, learning, and transformation we want to make for ourselves, leaving behind our inhibitions, and trusting ourselves to accommodate the pleasure and intensity of the experience with our whole being.
In conclusion, I like to say, the somatic approach requires us to take a commitment to attend and be guided by the voice of our own body. This choice is not about a technique that “works better”, but rather about our values. Many of us still need to come to recognize the value of the experience of paying attention, of choosing to live your life based on your inner truth. Why would I pursue this pathway that is not always easily understood and validated in our society? This is the question that everyone needs to answer for themselves.