What is Somatics?

Part One: What is Clinical Somatic Education?

Whenever I tell someone that I’m a Clinical Somatic Educator, a look of mild confusion and deep thought comes over their face. I immediately launch into my short explanation, which is some version of this:

“Clinical Somatic Education is a type of neuromuscular education. I mainly work with people who have chronic muscle and joint pain or issues with their posture or movement.”

This description is usually enough to elicit an understanding nod, but it doesn’t begin to convey just how unique Clinical Somatic Education is, or how effective it is for many common musculoskeletal conditions like back pain, joint pain, sciatica, and scoliosis.

Many people have heard the term somatic, as it’s becoming a bit of a buzzword in the health and wellness industry. The word somatic means “of or relating to the living body,” and it has long been used in medical terminology like somatic cell, somatic nervous system, somatic disorder, and somatic pain.

Due to its generic definition, the term somatic can be used to describe a variety of forms of movement and healing modalities. You may have heard of somatic yoga, somatic experiencing, somatic psychology, somatic therapy, or somatic dance therapy. You may have even heard of somatic education!

The term somatic education was coined by Thomas Hanna, a student of Moshe Feldenkrais. Hanna used the term somatic education to describe methods of sensory-motor education that improve bodily function by increasing motor control and sensation and changing learned muscular patterns.

Thomas Hanna learned a great deal from Feldenkrais, and he went on to develop his own method of somatic education. He wanted to call it simply “Somatics” but since that was too general a word, he decided to call it Clinical Somatic Education.

So then—what’s Clinical Somatic Education?

Clinical Somatic Education (CSE) is a method of teaching you how to release chronic muscle contraction and improve your posture and movement so that you can get out of pain and stop doing damage to your body.

Most pain, tightness, and structural damage to our body occurs because of the way that we habitually use our bodies. The way that we stand and move, each and every day.

The way that we stand and move is determined by learned muscular patterns, or what people often refer to as muscle memory. We develop these patterns over the course of our lifetimes, and they become so deeply learned that we don’t even think about them. And if we do stop to think about them, we find that it’s very difficult to change them.

We can’t change our learned patterns by stretching, or by strengthening, or with massage or chiropractic.

Our nervous system learns things SLOWLY and ACTIVELY. So the only way to change our learned muscular patterns is through an active learning process in which we engage in slow, simple, conscious movements.

Using slow, gentle movement techniques, Clinical Somatic Education first teaches you how to systematically release chronic, subconsciously held muscle contraction.

Next, you learn full body movements that restore natural, efficient movement patterns.

Last, you learn proprioceptive exercises that improve your posture by correcting how you sense your body in space.

You’ll initially learn all of these exercises from a certified educator. You can learn the exercises in private lessons, group classes, or with an audio or video class at home. After you learn the self-care exercises, you’ll be ready to continue the learning process on your own. In fact, you’ll be expected to. One of the tenets of CSE is that people can and should be responsible for their own health and learning. As Clinical Somatic Educators, our goal is to empower you to take care of yourself by teaching you the tools you need to stay out of pain and continue to improve your posture, movement, and function throughout your life.

If you’d like to start learning Clinical Somatics exercises at home, a great place to start is the Level One Course.

Check out the other five posts in this series:

Part Two: How Clinical Somatic Education was developed
Part Three: How is Clinical Somatic Education different from other methods?
Part Four: Is Clinical Somatic Education right for me?
Part Five: What to expect in Clinical Somatic Education lessons and classes
Part Six: The Clinical Somatic Education learning process

Recommended reading:

Why We’re in Pain: Why chronic musculoskeletal pain occurs–and how it can be prevented, alleviated and eliminated with Clinical Somatic Education by Sarah St. Pierre, CSE

Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility and Health by Thomas Hanna

About the Author:

Sarah Warren St. Pierre is a Certified Clinical Somatic Educator and owner of Somatic Movement Center. She has helped people with conditions such as chronic back pain, neck and shoulder pain, hip and knee pain, sciatica, and scoliosis become pain-free by practicing Thomas Hanna's method of Clinical Somatic Education. St. Pierre is the author of the book Why We're in Pain, which explains the science behind why learned muscular patterns lead to chronic pain and degeneration.