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Somatic Reflections

In 1990, I attended the first Hanna Somatic training with Thomas Hanna. It was his first (and sadly his last) training due to his untimely death in a car accident.  There were 38 students from around the country in that training, and most of us were, in some form or another, working with the body. I had already received massage training from the National Holistic Institute and was also trained by William Dub Leigh in BodyTherapy, so I was indoctrinated with the concept of body. I was very successful and certain in my practice with the body approach—until I met Thomas Hanna.

From the first day of the training, I was moved by Thomas Hanna and his knowledge and passion for his work. I found his lectures on cosmology, philosophy, biology, and neuroscience fascinating and exciting.  I soon realized that he was introducing us all to something much more than just the body.  I recognize now that in his training that June he was inviting us to go beyond the obvious and to “move through the looking glass” (as he put it) into the realm of human freedom as somatic educators.

I have done my best to embrace his teachings from that summer 25 years ago.  I have found that I have not only benefited from his work, but also have been deeply influenced by his words of wisdom to our class those many years ago.  Now, as a Hanna Somatic Education practitioner for over 20 years, I have learned, practiced, and reflected on my experience with Tom's work.

We are fortunate to have had Tom “give it all I got” (as he put it) in the training he himself taught.  He gave us an inspiring philosophical context for Hanna Somatic Education which encompasses and holds together all of HSE's theoretical and practical components.  It was this philosophical aspect of that first training, and not the technical, that drew me into Hanna Somatic Education.  This is not to say that the technical aspect of Hanna Somatic Education was not important.  The powerful techniques of HSE, in no small way, make possible the beginning of a liberation within the individual, a freedom which, based on his writings, Tom championed his entire life. 

However, I believe that HSE is limited if it is interpreted primarily through the hands-on protocols which he taught. I believe that the philosophical base of Hanna Somatic Education is what actually defines Hanna Somatic Education and makes it unique and distinctive from other methods of somatic education. Hanna Somatic Education begins with the practitioner and evolves within and through the practitioner.  If we approach this work through conceptualizing the three lessons and performing them from an objective, methodological way, then we go against the flow of Hanna Somatic Education, and we relegate HSE to being just another “system” of pain relief. This way of practicing Hanna Somatic Education is mechanical and produces temporary and unfulfilled results. To teach or practice Hanna Somatic Education from outside of the first-person context imposes an “objective” view upon Hanna Somatic Education. It is this objective,  third-person perspective that deals externally with a body and emphasizes something outside of oneself, which was precisely what Tom was working to expunge.

Thomas Hanna defined soma as a body experienced from within. This definition points to the core of Hanna Somatic Education's philosophy with its emphasis on experiencing a process taking place within oneself and not outside. To function in this somatic process, one must become aware through self exploration of one’s own movements. This non-linear, intimate perspective is vital to understanding the HOW needed to navigate the three lessons of Hanna Somatic Education.

I believe the goal of Hanna Somatic Education extends beyond addressing simply the presenting symptoms of pain; HSE presents a true potential for personal transformation and human freedom.  In this somatic context of human freedom, we as practitioners are not captured by or diligently following a methodical system based on external observations.  Instead we are using our very own somatic understanding and process in our work. It is our technical knowledge and our somatic experience that enables us to do our work, i.e., to perform our “dance” with our clients.  Although our performance is supported by strong neurological evidence by neuroscience, it must also be based on our personal somatic experience.  Our “performance” might provoke more questions, no doubt, but its process is what will keep us evolving and learning while moving “through the looking glass.”

Hanna Somatic Education's philosophical essence is what takes it well beyond its becoming just another somatic educational procedure for alleviating chronic muscular pain, although we can all truly testify to its magic and effectiveness in dealing with pain.  However, HSE stretches beyond the walls of objectivity, third-person perspective, and technical methods.  Its power and  relevance are, in fact, found in its potential to become a universal phenomenon for human adaptation and evolution.

Thomas Hanna's philosophical metaphors of the “looking glass” and Rainier Maria Rilke's poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo, are pivotal points in  Hanna Somatic Education's philosophy.  I think “moving through the looking glass” is like jumping into the unknown, clinging to nothing but ourselves. The totality of Hanna Somatic Education's philosophy is about freedom and reawakening the spirit within so that we may become the source for controlling our own destiny and living experience. To do this work, Tom wanted us to see the way he sees; he wanted us to be open to a context of human freedom and possibility.

So, Hanna Somatic Education is not about a state of doing and fixing but about a state of being. This shift in perception from doing to being, from structure to function, and from body to soma is about re-inventing ourselves to a new way of seeing from the realm of the Soma. It frees us from operating as conceptual machines and instead we become the dance of a sensing, feeling, and living Soma. We become the philosophy and the technique that are inseparable from the What and the How of Hanna Somatic Education. This dramatic shift in perception is the culmination of Hanna Somatic Education's philosophy.

I believe that this philosophical aspect of Hanna Somatic Education is what provides the context for clarity and meaning in our work as practitioners.  It is where we can access true knowledge and experience to do our work. The philosophy is the fire that lights our knowledge and gives true meaning to Hanna Somatic Education. The philosophy is where Thomas Hanna lives and it is the origin of his passion and work.

This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, The Archaic Torso of Apollo, exemplifies the  Hanna Somatic Education Philosophy.
                                                 We cannot know his legendary head
                                                 with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
                                                 is suffused with brilliance from inside,
                                                 like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turn to low.

                                                 gleams in all its power, otherwise
                                                 the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
                                                 a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
                                                 to that dark center where procreation flared.

                                                 otherwise this stone would seem defaced
                                                 beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
                                                 and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur.

                                                 would not, from all the borders of itself,
                                                 burst like a star: for here there is no place
                                                 that does not see you. You must change your life.                                           

We all agree that Hanna Somatic Education has a very strong theoretical base supported by strong neurological data, but in reality its message needs to go beyond such language and concepts. What HSE needs and sometimes lacks is its soul (philosophy). We need to bring HSE closer to the heart of its source, (soma) which, I believe, is how its founder intended it to be. This requires a continuing of emphasis in HSE from content to context. What I'm suggesting here is a context where we as practitioners embody our experience of Hanna Somatic Education and thus reflect a sense of owning our experience and owning what we are learning. This embodiment is the “I am” of the What and the How of HSE, and I believe it occurs naturally throughout a practitioner's life.

HSE is not something you carry around with you while waiting to perform it on someone. HSE is about self-caring , self-responsibility, self-awareness, self-loving, and it is all self-evolving where the work and the practitioner are inseparable. This is where we walk our talk. We are not just practitioners but also participants in a living philosophy and our actions and our wholeness are constantly reflected in what we teach and in what we believe Hanna somatic Education is and should be.