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This article is about sensation-based movement practices. For the Greek philosophical system, see hylics. For other uses, see Somatic.
Somatic educator Moshe Feldenkrais adjusting a student's head placement
Somatic educator Moshe Feldenkrais teaching in 1978

In human movement, a somatic technique or practice is one which emphasizes individual proprioceptive experience. The term is used in movement therapy to signify a therapeutic approach based on the soma, or "the body as perceived from within,"[1] and in dance as an antonym for "performative techniques" such as ballet or modern dance which emphasize the external perception of movement by an audience.[2] Somatic techniques may be used in physical therapy,[3] dance education[4][5] or performance, or spiritual practices.[6]


Movement practices in Asia, outside the influence of Cartesian mind-body dualism, have included somatic components such as embodied cognition and physical mindfulness for many centuries. Somatic movement in Western culture can be traced to the turn of the twentieth century, when philosophers such as John Dewey and Rudolf Steiner advocated experiential learning while Isadora Duncan and Rudolf von Laban challenged traditional European conceptions of dance. Although Frederick Matthias Alexander developed a seminal somatic technique as early as the 1890s, the term "somatic" or "somatics" was not in general use until movement therapist Thomas Hanna introduced it in the 1980s.[7]

Therapeutic practices[edit]

Many forms of alternative medicine hold that the interrelationship of mind and body plays a role in the genesis of physical ailments.

The Alexander technique, an early example of such an alternative medicine practice, was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an actor, in the 1890s.[8] It is an educational somatic technique intended to undo students' habits of using unnecessary tension in movement.[9]

The Pilates method is a somatic form of physical fitness conditioning developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1910s. He designed his technique, which he called "Controlology," to benefit posture, strength, and flexibility. He emphasized the somatic principles of mind-body connection, concentration on proprioceptive observations, and attention to breath.[10][11] Most contemporary forms of Pilates focus on correct physical technique and form more than proprioceptive connection.

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic movement pedagogy developed by Moshé Feldenkrais. It aims to improve well-being by bringing attention to movement patterns which are inefficient or unnecessarily tense and replacing them with more beneficial patterns.[12]

Movement disciplines[edit]

In non-medicinal movement contexts, the term "somatic" generally refers to techniques which emphasize the mover's internal proprioceptive sensations, in contrast with performance-based techniques.

Traditional practices[edit]

person in crow pose next to a stream
Yoga combines physical and mental exercises

Many traditional Asian spiritual practices involve the integration of body and spirit. Yoga is the best-known and most influential in Western civilization, but many others exist.

Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices which originated in modern-day India before 500 BCE.[13] The ultimate goals of yoga are spiritual,[14] and yoga practice generally involves physically assuming and moving through codified asanas or body positions. Yoga physiology describes a system of interconnected bodies, having different but interrelated physical and spiritual properties.[15] The concept of energy flow through corporal channels reappears in other somatic forms, including contact improvisation and Qigong.[16][17]

Qigong, another traditional Asian somatic practice, helps its practitioners align body, breath, and mind through cultivation of qi, or "life energy".[18]

Dance practices[edit]

Dancers move freely at a Contact Improvisation "jam"


All forms of dance demand the dancer's close attention to proprioceptive information about the position and motion of each part of the body, but "somatic movement" in dance has a more specific meaning: it refers to techniques whose primary focus is the dancer's personal, physical experience, rather than the audience's visual one.

Contact improvisation is a somatic genre developed by Steve Paxton and others in the 1970s, which consists of two or more dancers responding organically to the physical sensations generated by their mutual contact; it can be performed, but is not designed to have any particular visual impact.[19]

Ruth Zaporah's Action Theater, developed in the 1970s and 1980s, is an improvisational performance technique based on "'embodied presence', a state of awareness in which performers maintain conscious contact with their somatic experience," according to dance scholar Susanna Morrow.[20]


Some dance educators use somatic principles and training, especially Laban Movement Analysis, Ideokinesis, Alexander, and Feldenkrais, in performative technique classes. These practices are used to train dancers' proprioceptive skills, to adjust alignment, and to reduce the risk of injury by correcting improper or inefficient movements.[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hanna, Thomas (1986). "What is Somatics?". Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Long, Warwick (2002). Sensing Difference: Student and Teacher Perceptions on the Integration of the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education and Contemporary Dance Technique (M.P.Ed.). International Feldenkrais® Federation. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Macy, John. "Physical Therapy and the Alexander Technique: An Overview". Alexander Technique of Lincoln, Nebraska and Toronto, Canada and Life Bridge Coaching. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Brodie, Julie; Lobel, Elin (2004). "Integrating Fundamental Principles Underlying Somatic Practices into the Dance Technique Class". Journal of Dance Education (Taylor & Francis) 4 (3): 80–87. doi:10.1080/15290824.2004.10387263. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Fortin, Sylvie; Long, Warwick; Lord, Madeleine (2002). "Three Voices: Researching how somatic education informs contemporary dance technique classes". Research in Dance Education (Taylor & Francis) 3 (2): 155–179. doi:10.1080/1464789022000034712. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Amaan, Tara. "Creating Space for Somatic Ways of Knowing within Transformative Learning Theory". Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  7. ^ Eddy, Martha (2009). "A brief history of somatic practices and dance: historical development of the field of somatic education and its relationship to dance". Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices (Intellect Books) 1 (1). doi:10.1386/jdsp.1.1.5/1. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Rootberg, Ruth (September 2007). Mandy Rees, ed. "Voice and Gender and other contemporary issues in professional voice and speech training". Voice and Speech Review, Voice and Speech Trainers Association, Inc, Cincinnati, OH 35 (1): 164–170. 
  9. ^ Rosenberg, Bobby. "The Alexander Technique and Somatic Education". Retrieved 14 December 2014. “[Alexander's] frequent references to “kinesthesia,” “sensory awareness,” and “feeling” place him squarely in the center of the field of somatics. 
  10. ^ Rouhiainen, Leena (2010). "The Evolvement of the Pilates Method and its Relation to the Somatic Field". Nordic Journal of Dance 2: 57–69. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Caldwell, Karen; Adams, Marianne; Quin, Rebecca; Harrison, Mandy; Greeson, Jeffrey (December 2013). "Pilates, mindfulness and somatic education". Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices 5: 141–153. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 249–60. ISBN 9780737300987. 
  13. ^ Samuel, Geoffrey (2008). The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69534-3. 
  14. ^ Jacobsen, Knut A.; Larson, Gerald James (2005). Theory And Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-14757-7. 
  15. ^ Frawley, David (2004). Yoga and the Sacred Fire: Self-Realization and Planetary Transformation. Lotus Press. p. 288. ISBN 81-208-2746-5. 
  16. ^ Dills, Ann; Albright, Ann Cooper (2001). Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Wesleyan University Press. p. 406. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  17. ^ Oh; Butow; Mullan; Clarke; Beale; Pavlakis; Kothe; Lam; Rosenthal (31 August 2009). "Impact of Medical Qigong on quality of life, fatigue, mood and inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial". Annals of Oncology (Oxford Journals) 21 (3): 608–614. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  18. ^ Cohen, K. S. (1999). The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing. Random House of Canada. ISBN 0-345-42109-4. 
  19. ^ Novac, Cynthia Jean (1990). Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-12440-1. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  20. ^ Morrow, S. (2011). "Psyche meets Soma: accessing creativity through Ruth Zaporah’s Action Theater.". Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 1 (2): 99–113. doi:10.1080/19443927.2010.543987. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  21. ^ Wozny, Nancy (May 2012). "The Somatics Infusion". Dance Magazine (DanceMedia, LLC). Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  22. ^ Brodie, Julie; Lobel, Elin (2004). "Integrating Fundamental Principles Underlying Somatic Practices into the Dance Technique Class". Journal of Dance Education (Taylor & Francis) 4 (3): 80–87. doi:10.1080/15290824.2004.10387263. Retrieved 6 November 2014.