Health & Wellness Committee: Mind/Body Repair Through Somatic Practices

Dr. Jodi Schwartz-Levy, for the Shuttle

Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily the Health & Wellness Committee, and are not meant to be a substitute for talking to your doctor.

Welcome to 2016— mind/body practices are all the rage. But wait . . . when did the mind get separated from the body and why are we just now putting ourselves back together? To answer this, we can look to Descartes (from the 17th century) and revisit what he termed the “mind-body problem,” in which he saw the two as separate entities with little interaction. 

His famous quote, “I think, therefore I am,” is a testament to thoughts as validating our very existence. This overemphasis on thoughts has left us believing that they are all we have to navigate the world, thus undervaluing the importance of listening to and working with the body. 

Many Eastern perspectives view the body as an energetic system that becomes blocked on a regular basis. In the West, the field of somatics has emerged to emphasize the body experience also as an energetic system that engages directly with sensations, movement, breath, posture, touch, etc. to achieve health on all levels. 

The term soma refers to the body as the container of all of our experiences, which is quite different than our objectified body concept.

The body holds the cognitive, emotional, energetic and spiritual parts of the self — which is ultimately an ecosystem. All systems affect one another and we need to listen to all of them. The body realm has been viewed for so long as something the mind can control; exploring how to listen to the body’s language as a vital resource for health can allow people to look inward and find more resources. 

Here are some tips to bring greater awareness to your somatic process.

Basic Somatic Practices

Deepen your breath. This is the No. 1 way to calm the nervous system and create more body awareness. We can look at the breath as the bridge between the mental and physical realms, as well as work directly with our life force energy.

Pay attention to sensations. This is our body’s main messaging service. Start to notice where you hold tension and bring awareness to those places. Notice all the sensations that become available and how they are trying to communicate information.

Sense and move. Listen to how your body wants to move to find more flow. From rolling the head, to stretching, to dancing, go to the places of tension (or blocked energy) and start to move those areas in ways that feel satisfying.

Posture. Believe it or not, those old “Sit up straight!” commands were right on. The better our posture, the better our energy can flow. Psychologically standing up tall gives us greater confidence when we can open our hearts as well.

Become mindful of the five basic senses: Listen. See. Touch. Smell. Taste. Take a bath, use aromatherapy, light candles, go into nature — emphasize BEING and FEELING.

Health and Wellness Committee member Jodi Schwartz-Levy, PhD, LPC, is the owner of Healing Arts Studio. She is a somatic psychologist and developer of Movement Lab.