Nervous system

What does Somatic mean in holistic healthcare?

Somatic therapy and somatic movement are both terms that we’ve been hearing a lot lately in the world of holistic health. The term somatic is used in a number of movement and healing modalities, each having its own particular healing approach, but ultimately leading to the same result, healing of the mind and body.

The word somatic means “pertaining to the body”. It comes from the Greek word “sōmatikos” meaning “of the body”.

Somatic therapy is more of a mental health treatment and somatic movement is mainly used to address chronic pain and physical syndromes. However, both acknowledge the interconnectedness of both the mind and body and treatment addresses both simultaneously. We explore both in more in-depth below.


Somatic Therapy

Somatic therapy is a holistic approach that studies the relationship between the mind and body taking into consideration your psychological past.

Somatic therapy can help heal past psychological trauma, the theory is that trauma symptoms are the effects of instability of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), so addressing the ANS, will in turn help to heal symptoms caused by the trauma.

Negative emotions and trauma can affect us in similar ways, whatever we suppress gets expressed at some point and in some way in our everyday life. Somatic therapy can help access the places in the body where we hold onto things and experience physical and emotional pain or discomfort.

When we do not work through trauma and deal with it, our bodies hold onto it and it is reflected in our posture and body language. It can also manifest in physical symptoms such as pain, addiction, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, hormone imbalances and many other symptoms.

Somatic therapy works on the basis that the mind and body are connected and influenced by each other, which has been shown to be true in many studies. The treatment returns the ANS to homeostasis and heals mental and physical symptoms resulting from past trauma.

A somatic therapist is skilled in tuning into what the body is trying to say, as opposed to the logical explanation of the physical symptoms. They will listen, learn and be able to direct the client in ways that will bring about healing for them

There are a number of techniques used as part of the treatment plan to affect the ANS and release the physical tension, these can include awareness practices, breathing techniques, movement, voice work, physical exercises and healing touch. The client will track their experience of sensations throughout the body.

Holistic healthcare addresses alignment of the mind, body and soul in order to live fully and in the present. Somatic therapy requires present moment awareness, which allows you to connect with what is happening within you. It teaches you to listen to yourself and to listen to your body to understand what you need to heal.


Somatic Movement

Somatic movement is a combination of conscious movement and relaxation to help you increase bodily awareness. There is a focus on the internal experience whilst performing a somatic movement, over the external appearance or result.

Somatic movement education was first pioneered by Thomas Hanna in the 1970’s and after years of research and training in neurophysiology and movement, Hanna Somatic Education was born. Hanna used the term somatic education to describe methods of sensory-motor education that use movement to improve motor control and sensation to retrain the brain and change learned muscular patterns, thus relieving tension in the muscles. Through his research, Hanna found somatic movement to be effective in relieving chronic pain, improving bodily function, improving emotional resiliency and recovering from musculoskeletal conditions.

Here are some key points about somatic movement:

  • The movements should be performed as slowly as possible in order to be most effective. The nervous system needs to learn new things very slowly in order to change our posture. Once the movements are learned, you are able to gradually speed up and perform them more quickly whilst still maintaining control and form. Somatic movement is about quality over quantity.
  • The movements must be performed consciously with your complete focus and attention. You need to be aware of what you are doing in order to learn something new.
  • Focus should remain on the internal experience of the movement and not the end result. This can be difficult to grasp to begin with, but if you practise each movement as if it’s being practised for the first time, you will not only learn something new each time, but the learning process will also be more effective.


Have you had experience with either somatic therapy or somatic movement? Let us know in the comments.


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