Western civilization, as a whole, has not been kind to the human body. The past 2,400 years have seen the body worshipped, debauched, vilified, denied, ignored, and mechanized.
Things started well enough for the body with the Greeks. They worshipped the body. The Greek word soma means “the living body in it’s wholeness” or mind, body and spirit in unity. The Olympic Games were the ideal test of physical strength and endurance and mental and spiritual purity.
Power shifted to Rome with the dawn of the Piscian Age. The Romans took their worship of the body and sensual pleasures to the extreme. The orgies of their Wine God, Bacchus, were notorious for their debaucheries. These drunken festivals would be the fodder that the Christians would rail against.
The Christian Church has taught for 1,700 years that the body is carnal; riddled with sexuality and given to crude pleasures and appetites. The final blow came when De Carte declared, “I think. Therefore, I am.” The Age of Reason saw the body as inferior to the superior mind. The body became the object which transported the brain. The advent of modern medicine has, at the very least, viewed the body as a magnificent machine.
The past century has seen a re-claiming of the human body. The cultural merging of western principles and Oriental attitudes and spiritual practices has generated a dramatic shift in the way we experience our bodies.
Somatics is a body/mind/spirit-centered approach of many therapies which began with Wilhelm Reich. Reich was a student of Freud’s and stated that the clinical treatment of neurosis must include changes in the physical body.
Fritz Perls, a student of Reich’s, helped to found Gestalt therapy. Gestalt in German means an irreducible experience. It has an emphasis on the organism as a whole; the mind and emotions equally connected to the body.
Ida Rolf developed Structural Integration, a series of deep tissue massage techniques which re-align the posture of the muscular/skeletal structure. Dr. Randolf Stone contributed Polarity therapy with it’s emphasis on restoring energy movement through the contracted tissues of the body.
Somatic movement saw such pioneers as Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Hanna. They used movement to re-educate the muscular system to find the most efficient ways of moving and eliminating bodily tension.
There are several Asian traditions which are integrated into Somatic practice. These are Hatha, Tantra and Pranayama Yoga, Seva, Vippasana meditation and Aikido. Hatha Yoga is the well known stretching postures. Tantra yoga is the cultivation of sexual energy for spiritual transformation.
Pranayama yoga is the control and direction of breath. Seva is a Sanskrit word which translates to “selfless service”. Vippasana, which means “insight,” is a body centered meditation technique taught by the Buddha. Aikido is a Japanese martial art which teaches harnessing universal love to heal conflict, create fluidity of the body, and the strengthening of ki, or personal energy.
This last century of the millennium has seen a valuable shift in the way we experience the body. Yet in many ways our bodies are still a great mystery. However; they are the only concrete reality we can know. It is our one constant friend. It is always there, moment to moment, living and breathing in present tense. Your body will never lie to you. If you pay close attention it will reveal it’s mysteries to you. If you sit still enough for long enough your body can offer you a path to transcendence. Enlightenment is a body mind spirit experience.
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Alan Davidson, founder of
and author of Body Brilliance:
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