Our Body is Our Brain:
The Basis of Somatic Yoga
by Daphne Chua
What is Somatic Yoga?
The notion of practising yoga might in itself present itself as a scary concept for some.
I’ve heard many utter…
“I’m not flexible enough!”
“ Are you kidding? I can’t bring my legs behind my head,”
“ It’s a practice for women”
“ It’s too boring”
“ I will break before I start”
Contemporary yoga presents a svelte, slim, flexible, bikini-toned, model-like poster image of what a modern yogi (yogini) should look like.
The power of glossy marketing have certainly encouraged many to take up this form of fitness modality as it is now a modality practiced by over 36 million people*. However, it has also turned away many others who might have the notion that Yoga is an exclusive club for social media savants.
The accessibility of Yoga has often been mistakenly positioned as a practice for:
1. those who are hyper-mobile enough to pick up the practice easily,
2. those we are determined enough to put themselves through the ordeal of contortionism, or
3. those who thick-skinned enough to suffer through the humiliation of being “stiff”.
The yoga landscape is really diverse now with a gazillion choices on styles and lineages.
It can be overwhelming to even get started! There is Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, HIIT Yoga, Yin Yoga, Barre Yoga, even Beer Yoga, Dog Yoga… and the list goes on…
But what if, just what if, Yoga isn’t about touching your toes or forcing your body into odd shapes or being able to look good in Lululemon gear, to get a glimpse into enlightenment?
What if it is actually a practice centred around cultivating awareness, using different toolkits, to better connect body and mind? What if it can be fun, accessible, engaging? What if it can offer you insight into how you carry your beliefs through your body so you have more choices? What if it helps you to understand more about your relationships with self and others so you have more confidence, clarity and empathy in your interactions?
For me personally, Yoga is first and foremost, a somatic practice to arrive into the present moment.
What does that mean?
Soma comes from a Greek word connoting “The Living Body” – pertaining to the consciousness of our living body, experienced and regulated from within. It is an exploration into waking up our innate senses to uncover our mind-body mapping. The practice shines a light on our habitual but mostly unconscious neurological patterning that will show up in how we breath, how we move, how we react to circumstances. These are manifested through pre-dispositions, deep seated patterning, and years of conditioning.
The practice of Somatic Yoga is thus a process of inquiry into how consciousness inhabits the living body.
Somatic Yoga brings together mindfulness through movement, meditation, breath work, touch, visualisations, sounds, creative expressions etc, to dive deep into our consciousness and our embodied biological processes. Through sensory-motor education we can also improve motor control, coordination, and change learned muscular patterns. This approach to yoga is highly effective in relieving chronic pain, improving bodily function, and recovering from common musculoskeletal conditions.
What are Somatic Principles?
- It is body centred to improve awareness of the body-mind connection
- It is a sensory approach (rather than cognitive approach) to learning / unlearning / relearning
- It is exploratory in nature, based on the premise that the body is shaped by the mind, and that the mind can be reshaped through the body
- It is focused on the internal experience of the movement rather than on the end result.
A Body-Sensing Approach
- It is calming & restorative. It regulates our nervous system from the constant Fight – Flight – Freeze mode, to a Rest – Digest – Engage mode.
- It brings together somatic, mindfulness & movement principles to guide better movements.
- It is an embodied learning approach based on neuroplasticity (the brain can be rewired, i.e unhealthy, deep conditioning patterns can be shifted_
- It helps us to develop kinesthetics and spatial intelligence by working through the whole body’s myo-fascial connections.
- It helps us embody how the various systems (e.g circulatory, digestive, endocrine systems) of the body work in unison to achieve balance and homeostasis.
- It is based on how moods & language influence physiology
- It improves fascia health, immunity, and overall body and mind integrity
So how are we shaped?
- Via communication – the exchange of information between body and mind, through the nervous system – central, autonomic, enteric (gut).
- It influences how we breathe, our digestion, body chemistry, and energy levels
- Our moods & emotions lie at the heart of this communication as it shapes our physical body, i.e stress & anxiety can lead to poor posture, pain, inflammation, dis-eases.
- How we feel, think and behave is a biological process that is embodied through fascia health and body chemistry
- Interoception – how we are being informed by our body – is linked to the myofascial system.
The Benefits of Somatic Yoga
- Helps to uncover movement patterns / habit (Samskaras) that are built on misalignment, inhibitions, co-contractions, and compensations.
- Awaken sensory motor amnesia
- Helps lubricate joints, nourish and hydrates tissues, create ease and increase range of motion
- Interoception will regulate our nervous system and reduce pain sensitivity.
- Variety of movement creates better coordination and neuroplasticity. It helps us to adapt better to our environment physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- “Subtle is how the body works. Gross is how the mind works.” Paying attention to small changes can create profound impact on the way we think, move and relate.
- Motion is powerful to Emotion. Movement can be used as a gateway to explore emotional regulation
“The mind is like the wind & the body is like the sand. If you want to know how the wind is blowing, you can look at the sand.”
~ Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Founder of Body Mind Centering
* Figures quoted from ~ http://media.yogajournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016YIAS-Release-Final.pdf
Daphne will be offering Somatic Yoga & Movement Therapy at Pure Flow Yoga Retreats in gorgeous Koh Phangan from May 27 to June 28, 2019.
Join her on this journey of self-exploration into uncovering your very own healing through movement, breath-work, hands-on techniques, and creative expressions to unravel our innate intelligence to nurture our body, mind and spirit.
As a yoga therapist, a movement educator and bodyworker, Daphne has been practising yoga for the last two decades in a multitude of yoga styles & movement disciplines. Her studies include are grounded in philosophies as well as in anatomy and physiology. Some of her biggest inspirations have come from Richard Freeman – who has had a deep impact on the way she sees Yoga as a profound embodiment practice for the body, mind,spirit – as well as Donna Farhi, Tom Myers, and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (Body Mind
In recent years, she has delved into the study of neuroscience, somatic movement, combined with the holistic framework of Yoga Therapy tools to deepen her knowledge in the connection between mind and body. She uses an inquiry-based, body- sensing approach to bring about greater transformation and healing into the way we relate to ourselves and the environment. She has also recently completed her Graduate Certification in Yoga Therapy.
Daphne is trained in the art of Traditional Thai Yoga Massage, Biodynamic Cranial Sacral Therapy, Chi Nei Tsang (TCM Abdominal Detox Massage), Tai Chi Massage and Reiki, all of which she infuses into the alchemy of her integrated bodywork and evidence-based yoga therapy. Her therapy sessions, classes, workshops, retreats, and trainings are known to focus on breath, mindfulness, and embodiment to create the moment-to-moment balance
in nurturing the body, mind and spirit.
for more info on Daphne, you can visit her website here – www.yogawithdaphne.com