How to tune into your body
A system of gentle movements that can improve the function of the nervous system is being used to relieve debilitating back pain with much success, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON
THE PROMISE that you can reduce physical pain and psychological stress by learning a series of movements that you practise daily is appealing in straitened times. For some yoga is the discipline of choice. Others may turn to tai chi. But, a growing number of people are learning what are called somatic movements to ease pain, relieve tension and live fuller lives.
Brian Ingle is an osteopath, former yoga teacher and somatic movement educator who teaches somatic movements in one-to-one sessions and group classes. He also trains people in clinical somatics in the United States, Australia and Ireland.
He describes somatics as “sensing from within” and says that the key to these gentle movements is that they improve the function of the nervous system, which in turn lengthens the muscles in various muscle groups, which brings ease to the body. “When you take stress into your life, a holding happens which develops into a sensory motor amnesia,” says Ingle.
The central message of somatic movement education is that by moving various groups of muscles in a slow, conscious way, you can re-develop a sensory awareness which can in addition help to release emotional trauma and reduce physical pain.
“It’s based on the first person experience. Moving out of the idea that somebody has to do something to you and more that you have to do something for yourself,” says Ingle, who describes himself as an educator rather than a therapist, although he also does hands-on clinical work with some clients.
Cork-based artist Orla Clarke has found daily somatic movements beneficial to her as part of her recovery from a car crash eight years ago.
“I had crushed vertebrae and went to osteopathy regularly for about five years. It helped but I was very dependent on it and it became expensive,” she explains.
Clarke tried lots of other approaches from yoga to pilates to dance but found that somatic movement worked best for her.
“At first, I couldn’t even go to a restaurant or sit in the cinema,” she explains. “It was too painful, but once I learned somatic movements and did them every day for about six months, I began to get more flexible again and my back became stronger. Now, I do about 45 minutes a day and feel totally energised afterwards.”
Will Dempsey learned somatic movement to help him deal with a sports injury. “I had inflammation of the pelvic bone following a soccer injury. There is no real treatment for it so I heard about somatic movement education and went to a few classes,” he explains.
“I found the exercises help me to build up strength around the injured area. Now I can swim, walk and cycle but I still can’t run. I do them every day with other core exercises.”
Ingle suggests that one of the problems in society today is that we have been educated into a rational, thinking approach to life that ignores messages from our body.
“We have cut ourselves off from our feelings and sensations,” he says. “We literally don’t know how to move anymore, how to walk, how to sit. We have become talking heads.”
“To use our body wisdom, we have to come into our first person experience of our bodies and, with that, our intuition, self-knowing, self-healing and autonomy will reveal itself.”
Alongside this growing interest in slow, mindful movement, whether through the somatic movement, the Feldenkrais method and other Eastern and Far Eastern meditative movements, is an interest in somatic psychotherapy.
Kate O’Boyle (kateoboyle.com) is a psychotherapist working in Dublin and Wicklow who incorporates an exploration of body sensations into her approach.
“I bridge the relationship between the psyche (mind) and the soma (body) by looking at how we feel our aliveness in our bodies and how psychological issues show up as symptoms in the body,” she says.
According to Boyle, there is sometimes a risk of only talking about trauma, which can keep people trapped in fear.
“If someone has suffered a trauma, it is already painfully in his or her body,” she says. “So, rather than just talking about the thoughts and feelings, I include the relationship with the [bodily] symptom in a safe context.”
Depending on the client, O’Boyle might encourage the person to track bodily sensations during a session or even find ways of expressing their feelings through movement.
Ingle believes that this integrated approach to psychotherapy is the way forward. “Somatic psychology or somatic psychotherapy is where the psychology movement is going at this time,” he says.
“It’s taking us back to our bodily experience where we can be taught how to make changes for ourselves.”
For more information about somatic movement, see livingsomatics.com