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Publications ~ Somatic Awakenings

Somatic Awakenings
            By Cheryl Mitouer

Somatic Awakenings is the tuning-in to the Body-Wisdom Channel.

It is what inspires me these days and makes me want to share the inspiration—either in a class setting or in private sessions or even in this brief article.

Somatic Awakenings is my version of a weaving of many different body-mind approaches to health and well-being. Thomas Hanna, the father of Somatics defined soma “as the body experienced from within, where we experience our mind/body integration.” Soma is the alive and aware body.

In my 20’s I knew myself through dancing.
Dancing was my muse—my connection with my spiritual soulful self.
Dancing took me beyond this world.

It was not about performance or being social.
It was private, yet expansive.
When I danced I was free and connected with Universal Love.

The sensation felt like the brushing away of all the psycho-emotional entanglements in my mind. And, when I felt spent, I could sit and know stillness.

Today, four decades later, when I dance, I feel the strong interconnection of my movement with my meditation practice. Through my experiences with Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi I have understood the value of “movement meditation”. More recently, I have been practicing Somatic Meditation and have been introduced to the value of beginning with an intentional sitting practice that invites movement, amongst other elements, into the experience.

My teacher, Jamie McHugh is the creator of Somatic Explorations/Active Meditations (SEAM). He describes SEAM as “the bridge between meditation and movement that uses breath, alignment, and micro movements in sitting to cultivate “embodied stillness”.” In the yearlong seminar that I took with Jamie, I was gracefully met and invited to explore how  thebody’s wisdom is honored in this somatic meditation. The process itself teaches one how to shift perception from looking out to looking within—and in so doing, know ourselves more intimately. From this more intimate relationship with our inner world, we are able to understand our relationship to our core needs and aspirations—comfort and security, freedom and ease, pleasure and inspiration—and thus embrace our greater wellbeing in our daily lives.

So how is this meditation different from others?

Your mantra or focus point is all about your inner landscape, the body. It begins with finding a place of comfort and support on your chair or pillow(s). You become aware of your posture and make any adjustments in the beginning and throughout your sit. You become aware of your breath. Inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the nose or mouth.

As you settle in, the mantra can grow into a belly and diaphragm breath.

Inhale ~ diaphragm descends ~ belly expands

Exhale ~ diaphragm ascends ~ belly settles.

These somatic mantras are balanced with time for personal inner exploration and relaxing in open space and stillness. At any time, you can go back to ordinary breathing or to make any small adjustments for comfort and ease.

In the year of study with Jamie, our group would be guided through a somatic meditation and then we would share our experiences. It became clear through the sharings that we each had our own unique experiences and that there were specific patterns of the human condition that arise in each individual: old childhood stories; an awareness of physical holding patterns; fears, anxieties, brilliant new ideas. The plot thins.

We are blessed at birth with five preverbal languages: breath, contact, movement, vocalization and stillness. Consciously communicating with ourselves in these languages, we begin to take in somatic data that sheds insight into our human experience. This can free the mind and inspire new ways of being in the world by offering us an internal sensate map with which to navigate our lives.

Breath is our core movement. In our daily lives we rarely pay attention to our breathing. Working with people in movement and on the massage table, I find that people will often hold their breath. We take breathing for granted, it just happens. Yet, when we put our attention on our breathing things change. The rhythm, the length, the energetic direction of our breath can take us from one emotional state to another. There will always be life experiences that are full of joy and others that bring pain and stress. My practice in somatic meditation has embedded itself into my very cells as a means to find comfort, ease, and grace even when my world feels like it is falling apart.

Recently a family issue came up that caused me high anxiety. I became so grateful for my somatic meditation practice. I felt I had created new pathways in my body that I easily accessed from the repetition of meditating regularly. My body’s reactive state was anxiety. I wanted to jump out of my skin, run away, anything but sit in the situation. Yet, I found myself energetically sending my breath into my back body where the kidneys reside. In the Chinese Law of Five Elements, kidneys hold the emotion of fear. I put my hands on that same spot, contact, and took several long breaths, inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth. With the exhale, I made the “ah” sound, so now I was using vocalization. I gently moved my torso side-to-side, movement. My energy shifted and I sat down in stillness.

I don’t know if I would have shifted my energy as quickly as I did if I hadn’t developed an internal map. I think some of that is instinctual, but here, I felt I had an awareness of what I was doing and I credit it to my meditation practice.

I learned the value of having a meditation practice once again and that being realistic and committed is essential. Greater success happens when you start small; so committing to ten minutes a day is a great start. It’s the consistency that builds the muscle for this exercise; making a commitment to practice has been its own reward. In our busy crazy worlds—yes, even for us locals who are blessed with the beauty of nature in abundance—we benefit from giving ourselves the time to grow an intimate relationship with ourselves.

Somatic Awakenings is the blend of many tools in my medicine bag. It grew out of my SEAM experience and became the unifying thread to the work and play I do with my students and clients in movement, meditation, bodywork and identity clearing. My many years of teaching in public and private schools for children— and adults in massage, bodywork and the healing arts—has taught me that we are all learning how to find comfort and ease in our bodies. It is that abundance of comfort or lack of comfort that clears or clouds the windows we look out of.

I was inspired to write this article because my passion grows by empowering others.

Somatic meditation is an empowering tool for anyone choosing to use it.

I invite you to open to this relationship with yourself.   Click here to find out how.

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