Clinical Somatics: an overview
What is Clinical Somatics?
Clinical Somatics is a gentle modality, originally developed by Thomas Hanna, which retrains your nervous system to overcome chronic pain caused by trauma, stress, injury or habits. It is a slow, conscious form of physical movement, and is suitable for all abilities. It is also a wonderful way to become more aware of your internal sensations, which is essential for learning new patterns.
Clinical Somatics uses the technique of ‘pandiculation’ to retrain our nervous system and allow our muscles to release the chronic tension they carry. Think about a dog or cat when it first gets up from a nap: it will always do a big stretch, often first rounding its back luxuriously, before moving slowly into a deep ‘tummy dip’ - arching its back and looking up to the sky.
What the animal is doing, is gently contracting a set of muscles, before slowly allowing them to release, and then doing the same with another set of muscles. So in the first movement (the rounding of the back), the animal is contracting the muscles in its front body - abdomen, chest, front of neck - before releasing the contraction. And in the second movement, the animal is contracting the muscles all down its back and then releasing. I invite you to have a gentle go yourself now, if it calls you - can you feel which muscles are contracting, and then slowly releasing as you come back to a neutral position?
This action, of gentle, slow contraction, allows our nervous system to ‘remember’ that ‘this is what it feels like to contract this set of muscles - and this is what full release of those muscles feels like’. And doing this consciously, with different muscles groups, is the basis for the approach of Clinical Somatics: we work to become very aware of our movements, and the contraction and release of our muscles, through practising specific pandiculations and body movements. And this allows our nervous system to learn to release the chronic muscle tension which many of us carry.
Who could benefit from this approach?
Anyone who experiences chronic pain, postural issues, or difficulties with sensing their internal sensations, may find Clinical Somatics helpful.
The physical movements we repeat regularly are stored in our brain, which helps us to be efficient in our movements. Due to our activities (day-to-day tasks, work, hobbies such as sports, and so on), we develop certain patterns of movement and lose our conscious awareness of what our muscles are doing. This is what we know as ‘muscle memory’ - the ability to enact a certain posture or movement without any conscious thought about what the muscles are doing.
And it’s very helpful! Imagine if you had to think hard about how to clean your teeth, brush your hair or even just pick up your cup of tea each day - everything would take a very long time! If you want to get an idea of what it would feel like to lose your ‘muscle memory’, just try cleaning your teeth with your non-dominant hand and notice how conscious you have to be to do it. (Even if you are ambidextrous, you will likely have preferred hands for different activities - so find one where you have a preference and make a switch and see what it’s like!)
But over time our ‘muscle memory’ can mean we get stuck in patterns of posture and movement that aren’t as supportive as we might hope. And when these stored posture and movement patterns are causing discomfort or pain, we need to regain conscious awareness of our muscle contractions so that we can learn to release the muscles fully, rather than carrying unnecessary muscle tension around with us.
As well as habitual movements and postures, injuries can cause our muscles to tighten up around the site of the pain, in order to protect us as we heal. This is very helpful in the short term, but these tightenings can continue long after the original injury has healed, as they have become ingrained as a habit (i.e. our nervous system has ‘forgotten’ how to do things differently - how to fully release the muscle contractions). Again, we need to regain conscious control of our muscles to retrain them. Stress and trauma are similarly held in the body, and also need addressing through conscious awareness of our muscular tensions and patterns of posture and movement.
What happens in a Somatics session?
Somatics sessions take place in a quiet, warm-enough space, with lighting that is not too bright. Many of the exercises are done lying down, on a carpet or exercise mat - the surface needs to be firm but comfortable enough to lie on. A few exercises are done in front of a mirror, and a few in a seated position (your Somatics teacher will let you know in advance if you will be doing exercises with a mirror or in a chair). You will need to wear comfortable, stretchy clothing (jogging bottoms/leggings, t-shirt, etc) which will allow you to move freely. You may like to have some water available to drink – although the exercises are not strenuous in the usual sense of ‘exercise’.
Your teacher will guide you in the principles of the approach, and teach you specific self-care exercises to support you in gaining awareness and control of your muscles. The aim is for you, the student, to take ownership of the process, to empower you to continue to make gains and overcome issues throughout your life.
How long will it take for me to see improvements?
There’s no easy answer to this. It will depend on factors like: how long you’ve been carrying the chronic muscle tension; whether you are engaging in activities currently that reinforce any issues you have; and your patterns of tension throughout the body.
There is no magic wand for this work. But with regular practice, and through increasing your knowledge and understanding of, and skill in using the approach, you may see significant gains within a few months. The most important thing is to do the exercises slowly, consciously and frequently (daily is ideal).
Beginner’s Somatics group course
- 6 online group sessions giving a foundation in the self-care exercises of Clinical Somatics.
- Somatics addresses chronic pain, postural issues, and learning to recognise our body sensations. This group course gives a basic grounding in the approach - to address specific or complex issues, please get in touch to enquire about 1:1 sessions.
- Sessions - weekly (except where stated), Sat mornings 10-11.15am.
- Requirements: preferably a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted; room to lie on the floor (carpet or exercise mat) and spread arms and legs out; Zoom (free download); ability to position the camera so I can see most or all of your body when you are lying on the floor (or at very least your torso); ability to get down to the floor to do exercises; ability to lie on your back (this could be propped with cushions if needs be; intention to create space to practise between sessions.
- Various price levels available - we offer these different levels to keep the work as accessible as possible. Please pay what you can afford <3
- Visit the Events page for upcoming course dates or get in touch if you have any questions.
I am trained to deliver Clinical Somatics self-care exercises, in the tradition of Thomas Hanna. I received my training under Sarah Warren, at the Somatic Movement Center. In my pure Somatics classes, I teach only the Clinical Somatics self-care approach and exercises - although I may add some guided relaxation at the ends of the classes. In my blended classes, I deliver Somatics alongside my other modalities, including Reiki, dance, qigong, and nervous system regulation practices.
“Thank you so much Emilie, I loved it! I never expected to feel so relaxed afterwards. I really enjoyed listening to your recording last night to practice. I’m loving how much concentration and focus it needs to I work out how to do the pandiculation. It’s enough to engage my mind so I’m not away with thinking/worrying and the combination of this and the deep connection with the body seem to allow my system to relax which is really rare. I’m excited to see the effect of the practice on pain and flexibility too.”
“This week I noticed a new internal sensation when I get angry (I feel a tight band of muscles constrict around my upper chest, under my arms). I was quite surprised to feel it! This is great because I can make a mental note to watch for that sensation as a trigger that it’s time to be more intentionally mindful and step away if needed.”