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Somatics, Embodiment and Body Therapy

by Hyoun Bae on 10/27/18

Somatics, Embodiment and Body Therapy
One of the key facets of our work is somatics, often regarded as a field of disciplines that engage methods of inquiry and discourse that mediate ways of knowing(and healing, through the body. These include bodywork, the expressive arts, approaches to manual and movement therapy that populate the healing grounds of science, philosophy, psychology, medicine and even spirituality.

Within somatic inquiry we can also chart the sociopolitical mapping of the body, anthropological concerns regarding what the body is and means, and meaning itself that is forged through the body. There’s the fitness and wellness domain, that of the performing arts and the emotional body, with its internal schemas.

These all form the broader enterprise of embodiment, not only its practices but also their manifold expressions. Embodiment frames each of our own coming to identity, health and healing.

Body Talk: Ways of Seeing
I’m currently working on a database or anthology of somatics, for clinicians, to complement one on Asian mindbody therapies I’ve slowly been growing, over the last two decades.

There are many ways to frame the discourse of somatics. An insightful and concise work by Sandra Reeve entitled “Nine Ways of Seeing a Body.” discusses the body as an object, a subject, as well as phenomenology. The first personal exploration of our embodied experience is also the realm of mindfulness.

Both mindfulness and healing can be extended to any of these “nine ways” of viewing bodies and embodiment. This short tract and its mapping of the somatic terrain, is well worth the read and I invite dialogues.
I’d preferably label myself an interdisciplinary “body thinker” meaning I locate my views in experience, and experience enriched through somatic practices. It began for me through martial arts training from the age of three, then through the arts, and finding the richness of Eastern mindbody disciplines and art history/anthropology.

For many, whether involved in dance or art, the body becomes a space to carve out understanding – where one returns. Where one gains trust and finds their answers.

Art, in different eras – just as medicine – invariably reflects notions of how we conceive of the body, embodiment.

For example, the relationship between Asian temple art and architecture, or landscape painting (ecology and relationships with the environment) also conveys this shifting sense. Whether its Korean embroidered folk art, or Chinese or Japanese landscape painting, I've always enjoyed how smaller scenes might depict the frivolity of daily life amidst natural environs, and the scales of human life in relation to the immensity of a mountain range, or a waterfall in the backdrop.

The abstract and symbolic are just as potent descriptors as the linear and anatomic – referencing the subjective and objective. One might find in Sandra Reeve’s “Nine Ways” a conceptual road map for exploring issues through art, movement or any embodiment discipline.

The First Principle of Somatics: Knowing and Learning Through the Body

There are many ways to talk about a body, but bodily practices enrich our ways of knowing and attending to experience.

They are about immersion, rather than abstract theorizing.

I locate a few such mindful creatures across a variety of disciplines. For example, Jaida Kim Samudra’s notion of “thick participation” speaks of deeply entering into mindbody disciplines, unearthing body knowledge that is fundamentally tacit. Her work was on White Crane Silat.
A body thinker is first, one who is engrossed and enchanted by the sensual wisdom that is encountered through bodily practice. Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan mindbody practices have influenced my particular methodological orientations. Contemporary psychology, somatics and the humanities have helped me see beyond these rich, and often binding, cultural frames.
Narratives of Embodiment
Each of us carries one or many somatic narratives. Understanding them is a key to health and healing.
A perennial favorite – author and editor – Don Hanlon Johnson, has published a new title (Diverse Bodies, Diverse Practices, 2018) and as I dove in, I had some preconceptions shattered.

I was initially confronted by the switch up – the interdisciplinary shift in this new discourse of embodiment. I found it to be bold. While at first acknowledging my own conditioned notion of somatics and embodiment, it was a breath of fresh air as I settled into what was being offered.

My appetite in the somatic realm includes discussions of cutting edge movement and manual disciplines, and their crossover in somatic psychology. This new work shares different “narratives of embodiment,” ones that challenge and specify more discrete socio-cultural issues.

In medicine, we speak of bodies and embodiment in ways that place them in a clinical or therapeutic framework, and often less in terms of the lives and stories we encounter. This work speaks from the place of real issues identity and social experience, rather than medicalized bodies, unconscious of context.

Before sharing my takeaways, I wanted to direct some of you to the chapter by Nick Walker on “Somatics and Autistic Embodiment.” Walker is an Aikido instructor and professor, who discusses the notion of neurodiversity and his autistic experience and embodiment.

You can locate a youtube video entitled: Autistic Identity and the Neurodiversity Paradigm.
I found Walker’s article one of the most articulate and eye-opening pieces I’ve come across, in some time – acutely of benefit to those working in the fields of mindbody practice and medicine.
Johnson, Don Hanlon, ed. (2018). Diverse Bodies, Diverse Practices. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.  
Reeve, Sandra (2011). Nine Ways of Seeing a Body. Devon: Triarchy Press.
Samudra, Jaida Kim. (2008) Memory in Our Body: Thick Participation and the Translation of Kinesthetic Experience. American Ethnologist, Vol. 35. NO. 4

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