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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
Somatic educator Moshe Feldenkrais in 1978, teaching how to rise from a chair

Somatics refers to practices in the field of movement studies which emphasize internal physical perception. The term is used in movement therapy to signify an approach based on the soma, or "the body as perceived from within,"[1] and in dance as an antonym (opposite) for "performative techniques," such as ballet or modern dance, which emphasize the external observation of movement by an audience. Somatic techniques may be used in bodywork, psychotherapy, dance, or spiritual practices.


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.[2][3]

Movement disciplines[edit]

In 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 are "somatic" in that they involve the integration of body and spirit.[4] 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.[5] The ultimate goals of yoga are spiritual,[6] 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.[7] The concept of energy flow through corporal channels reappears in other somatic forms, including contact improvisation and Qigong.[8][9]

Qigong and tai chi are traditional Chinese somatic practices, which involve body, breath, and mind and claim to affect qi, a claimed "life energy".[10][11] Aikido is a Japanese martial art that includes internal awareness and an emotional state of non-aggression; some styles emphasize this with separate "ki development" training.[10][12]

Exercise practices[edit]

The Pilates method was originally developed as a somatic form of physical fitness conditioning in the 1910s. However, most contemporary forms of Pilates focus on correct physical technique more than proprioceptive awareness. Joseph Pilates emphasized the somatic principles of mind-body connection, tracking of proprioceptive observations, and attention to breath.[13][14]

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,[15][16] 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.[17]

Somatic teaching practices build students' attention to the sensations of dancing. They include making corrections with touch, in addition to verbal instructions; focusing on energy and process, instead of the shapes they produce; and relaxing habitually-overused muscles.[18] Warwick Long claims that using somatics in dance training, by strengthening dancers' knowledge of the soma, makes their technique more "intrinsic, internal and personalised." He claims the direct self-knowledge is valuable for contemporary dancers, who are increasingly asked to work outside the structures of canonically codified techniques such as ballet or Graham technique.[19]

Some dance educators use somatic principles and training, especially Laban Movement Analysis, Ideokinesis, Alexander, and Feldenkrais, in performative technique classes.[20] These practices are used to train dancers' proprioceptive skills, to adjust alignment, and are claimed to reduce the risk of injury.[20][21][22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

Alternative medicine[edit]

Several forms of alternative medicine consider sensory experience of the body important to the therapeutic process.

The Alexander technique, an early example of such a practice, was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, an actor, in the 1890s.[25] It is an educational somatic technique intended to undo students' habits of using unnecessary tension in movement.[26][10]

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic movement pedagogy developed by Moshé Feldenkrais, inspired in part by the Alexander Technique. It claims to improve well-being by bringing attention to movement patterns which proponents claim are inefficient or unnecessarily tense and replacing them with other patterns.[10][27]

Structural Integration, including Rolfing and Hellerwork, claims that bodywork, mindfulness, and movement retraining are tools for somatic education. Practitioners claim to make both the body and mind more adaptable and resilient.[28][29]

Trager uses gentle bodywork and relaxed exercises called Mentastics to explore sensation and effortlessness in movement. Practitioners enter a meditative state and attempt to physically communicate a sense of lightness, curiosity, and playfulness via the therapeutic contact. Mentastics are an exploration of body weight in gravity and relaxation. [30]


Some forms of mental health therapy have a somatic focus. For example, in Somatic Experiencing, clients are said to learn to monitor internal sensations as way to interact with the nervous system.[31]

Spiritual practices[edit]

Spiritual practices may use somatic principles, such as Sufi dancing and Buddhist walking meditation.[12]

See also[edit]

Somatic practices[edit]



  1. ^ Hanna, Thomas (1986). "What is Somatics?". Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Eddy, Martha (2009). "A brief history of somatic practices and dance: historical development of the field of somatic education and its relationship to dance" (PDF). Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices (Intellect Books) 1 (1). doi:10.1386/jdsp.1.1.5/1. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Allison, Nancy, ed. (1999). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-mind Disciplines (illustrated, annotated ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780823925469. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Jeffrey R. Cram (2011). Criswell, Eleanor, ed. Cram's Introduction to Surface Electromyography. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 193. ISBN 9780763732745. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Samuel, Geoffrey (2008). The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69534-3. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Frawley, David (2004). Yoga and the Sacred Fire: Self-Realization and Planetary Transformation. Lotus Press. p. 288. ISBN 81-208-2746-5. 
  8. ^ Dills, Ann; Albright, Ann Cooper (2001). Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Wesleyan University Press. p. 406. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  9. ^ 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. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdp479. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d Knaster, Mirka (1996). Discovering the Body's Wisdom: A Comprehensive Guide to More Than Fifty Mind-Body Practices. Bantam. pp. 188–245, 326–51. ISBN 9780307575500. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ a b Payne, Peter; Crane-Godreau, Mardi (24 July 2013). "Meditative movement for depression and anxiety". Frontiers in Psychiatry 4: 1–14. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00071. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  13. ^ Rouhiainen, Leena (2010). "The Evolvement of the Pilates Method and its Relation to the Somatic Field" (PDF). Nordic Journal of Dance 2: 57–69. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Smitt, Myrim Sillevis; Bird, H. A. (2013). "Measuring and enhancing proprioception in musicians and dancers". Clin Rheumatol (Springer) 32 (4): 469–473. doi:10.1007/s10067-013-2193-7. 
  16. ^ Bläsing, Bettina; Calvo-Merino, Beatriz; Cross, Emily S.; Jola, Corinne; Honisch, Juliane; Stevens, Catherine J. (2012). "Neurocognitive control in dance perception and performance". Acta Psychologica (Elsevier) 139 (2): 300–308. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2011.12.005. 
  17. ^ Smith, Janet (29 September 2010). "Helen Walkley digs deep for latest dance piece". The Georgia Straight. Retrieved 28 February 2015.  "[Walkey has studied]...Somatic Movement (dance born of personal experiences rather than technique)."
  18. ^ Nettl-Fiol, Rebecca; Vanier, Luc (2011). Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the Missing Link (illustrated ed.). University of Illinois Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780252077937. Retrieved 28 February 2015. 
  19. ^ Long, Warwick (2002). Sensing Difference: Student and Teacher Perceptions on the Integration of the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education and Contemporary Dance Technique (PDF) (M.P.Ed.). International Feldenkrais® Federation. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  20. ^ a b 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. 
  21. ^ Wozny, Nancy (May 2012). "The Somatics Infusion". Dance Magazine (DanceMedia, LLC). Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ Rosenberg, Bobby. "The Alexander Technique and Somatic Education" (PDF). 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. 
  27. ^ Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 249–60. ISBN 9780737300987. 
  28. ^ Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 209–234. ISBN 9780737300987. 
  29. ^ Behnke, Elizabeth A. (1998). "Matching". Somatics (Spring/Summer 1998): 24–32. , found in Johnson, Don, ed. (1995). Bone, Breath & Gesture: Practices of Embodiment. North Atlantic Books. pp. 317–338. ISBN 9781556432019. Retrieved 28 February 2015. 
  30. ^ Stillerman, Elaine (2016). Modalities for Massage and Bodywork (second ed.). Mosby. pp. 366–83, 402–14. ISBN 9780323239318. 
  31. ^ Levine, Peter A. with Frederick, Ann: Waking the Tiger. Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1997 ISBN 1-55643-233-X