Somatic therapist: by listening to our body we can initiate a positive change in our life
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Jurga Bliss, a certified Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy practitioner and a lecturer at the WoW University Gamma Club, teaches people how to deepen the connection with their bodies. According to the somatic therapist living in Portugal, by learning to listen to our body and finding a connection with it, we can improve the quality of life.
"Bodywork and movement therapy is one of the proven ways to bring our awareness back to the body, learn to read the signs the body sends and to consciously use our inner resources," says Jurga.
Tell us more about what somatic meditation is and how it is performed?
Traditionally, meditation, as well as the currently popular Mindfulness practises, are associated with calming of the mind, the silence of thoughts in which we can calm down, see and recognize the true essence of us, the nature of our consciousness. This often involves focusing on breathing, which is of course carnal, but most often meditative practices focus more on working with the mind, using the left hemisphere of the brain, which is responsible for analytics. So to speak, we experience the body from the neck up - meditation takes place in the head.
Somatic meditation draws our awareness and attention to the body. Soma is a Greek word meaning an alive, living body. Thomas Hanna, an American philosopher and creator of the term somatics, redefined the meaning of the word soma as the body experienced from within. Somatic meditation is an experiential meditation. We embark on a journey of experiencing our body - through our senses, focusing on what is going on in our body, how we sense it. Instead of thinking, analysing the senses, we learn to be in a direct experience of our body, here and now.
Who benefits from this practice and in what cases?
Research has shown that meditation benefits everyone, from very young children to the elderly. Today, more and more schools around the world are incorporating meditation into the curriculum, and spaces for practising meditation are appearing in workplaces that understand the benefits of this practise. We know that meditation improves emotional state, reduces stress, slows down the ageing process in the brain, enhances focus, creativity, and so on. We only need to choose which kind of meditation we want to take up.
Somatic meditation takes us home - after all, we all have a body, everyone lives in it. Unfortunately, we often look at it more as a vehicle that takes us from point A to point B. We start caring about the body when our health causes issues, or when we want to improve our physical appearance. But there is much more to the body.
Somatic therapists often say that the body is like a notebook that records and preserves our life experiences. Probably everyone is familiar with a situation where, after smelling some scent, we travel far back into our memories of childhood, or a new acquaintance makes us feel uncomfortable, although we can’t explain why. It is our body speaking to us. Somatic meditation helps to learn this language of the body, to recognize messages sent by it, to be in touch with our bodies.
Have we really lost that connection?
Historically, in the West the mind has become separated from the body. The statement of the French philosopher René Descartes "I think, therefore I am" exalted the importance of the mind, raising it above the body. This Cartesian philosophy lives on in us to this day. At the same time, Western medicine and body training systems looked at the body instrumentally, in isolation from conscious and subconscious processes. But just as the mind would not exist without the body, so the body without the mind would be just a vegetable. The body, mind and the emotional world are constantly interacting with each other. This is a two-way road. Fortunately, this connection is increasingly recognized in the scientific community. For example, recent research reveals links between traumatic experiences - not only shock traumas, major tragedies, but also developmental traumas, adverse childhood experiences - and some of the increasingly widespread health disorders (e.g. autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.). Meanwhile, lack of certain minerals, vitamins or hormonal imbalances in the body affect our mood, psycho-emotional state, consequently making a negative impact on relationships, professional life which in turn worsens the overall quality of life, and the vicious circle spins further. Understanding this two-way relationship changes the way we work with both the body and the psyche.
In the lectures at the WoW University Gamma Club, you reveal that finding a connection with one's inner world is especially important for a modern person. Why?
Modern urban people are often separated from the resources that support self-regulation of the nervous system - being in nature, walking barefoot on the grass, skin contact with the soil, flowing water. Moreover, it is common for us to boil in a soup of constant stress and notice our condition only when it becomes a serious ailment.
We don’t notice our raised shoulders until the tension locks our back in a spasm or recurring headaches start to plague us. We are not able to associate an unpleasant conversation in the evening with stomach pain the next morning. Our self-regulation in the modern world requires our conscious attention. Somatic therapy is one of the proven ways to bring our awareness back to the body, learn to read the signs of the body, consciously use our inner resources, and to develop skills of being in close contact both with ourselves and with life itself.
What challenges do the people you try to help most often face?
Somatic therapists create a space for a person to help themselves. In every human being lies the primordial wisdom of the body, the inner power of healing that unfolds spontaneously, without our conscious will. All you need is space and conditions to meet that power and get to know it. We do not treat diseases, we are not doctors, in the Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy we create conditions for everyone to meet themselves safely, get to know themselves better, embody their experience, learn to use the resources inherent in the body in everyday life and thus improve the quality of life.
People who turn to somatic therapists often look for a way to "go back to themselves", seek internal change, or want to understand the connection between the physical ailments they experience and their life experiences. Often, those who come to us suffer from psychosomatic disorders, insomnia, anxiety, or seek ways to manage stress and alleviate its consequences. In each case, we work with the person by responding to their needs with attunement, not only through conversation, but also through movement and intuitive touch.
Can we engage in movement therapy on our own, or does it need a specialist?
Education is part of the work of somatic specialists. We aim for a person to take along their unique experience, a certain qualitative change in themselves, from individual sessions or group explorations. Of course, there is that part of the work that we will not be able to do on our own at home, but if we develop a closer relationship with ourselves, awaken our body awareness, learn certain techniques, all this remains with us, we can further apply it in our daily lives without a specialist. For example, by learning somatic meditation, grounding, or stress-relief techniques, we can successfully practice them ourselves.
How do we put into practice what we discover during meditations and therapies?
I would suggest starting with very simple things. Notice how you sit, stand, lie or walk in this moment. What position has your body chosen at this moment? Where does your attention go, what are your sensations? Maybe you feel a pleasant warmth under your scarf, or maybe you feel your back resting comfortably against a soft armchair, or maybe your body has given away its weight into the bed mattress? Hold those pleasant sensations in your attention, breathing freely for a few moments, rest in them. You can develop the habit of noticing pleasant sensations every morning or evening, and then - during the day.
If the awareness first went towards painful or tense areas of the body, at the beginning simply stay there observing for a moment. How does that pain or tension move around the body? Or maybe it is concentrated at one single point? Then internally, ask what this painful place needs most right now. Maybe some touch, warmth, maybe you'd like to warm it with the palm of your hand or rub, kneed, massage. Maybe, for example, the bottom of the back needs an extra cushion or just a sweater folded several times to create more support while sitting at the computer? Or maybe you want to stretch, stand up straight? Follow these impulses.
This is how we learn to notice and respond to our needs little by little. When observing our body and reading its signs becomes a habit for us, we learn to recognize situations that create tension in us quicker because the body notifies us of this long before the problem becomes chronic. And when it comes to entrenched problems, we can create a new relationship with them, make an inner change. This has a direct impact on quality of life. We can choose to take a deeper breath at some point, say "No" to someone, or rest without waiting to get ill in order to do that, change the body posture to the one that does not hurt us. It is an ongoing learning to be close to your experience of the colourful journey of life.
Original interview with Jurga Bliss conducted in Lithuanian by the journalist Laima Samulė and published at https://www.delfi.lt/moterys/asmenybes/portugalijoje-gyvenanti-lietuve-moko-moteris-atrasti-rysi-su-savo-kunu-pazine-kuna-pradesite-teigiamus-pokycius-gyvenime.d?id=88676285