What is Somatic Bodywork?
An interview with Madeline Wade
What is somatic bodywork?
Somatic bodywork takes a comprehensive, somatic approach to coaching through the body. “Soma” refers to the body in its wholeness – that is, mind, body and spirit. This approach recognizes that a person’s physical, mental, emotional and psychological history is manifested through the body in particular patterns, and by working through the body these historical patterns can be changed.
In a gentle, systematic process, somatic bodywork allows you to open up and reshape your history – yourself – through releasing historical patterns, contractions, tension, and possibly trauma, in your body. And in this process of opening and releasing long-held patterns and contractions, you create space for more energy and aliveness in your body. When there’s more aliveness, there can be more choice, and in more choice you have an opportunity to shift something in your life, and a new story can appear.
Can you explain more about the concept of historical patterns?
Let me start at the beginning about how our bodies are “created” or shaped. As soon as we’re born, our family dynamics, culture toward race and gender, peer pressure, and institutions such as schools help us to create a body/self that moves in certain ways through the world. When we are young, the three main things we look for are safety, love and being seen. We create a body/self that will help us feel those things, no matter what’s going on around us.
For some people, growing up could have been very traumatic, for others not so traumatic. We’re not pointing fingers at parents or caregivers, but it’s just the case that nobody has had a perfect childhood. For example, let’s say that the old expression “Children should be seen and not heard” was used in your home on a regular basis and you were not allowed to speak out and say how you felt. Now as an adult you want to be a public speaker and really be authentic, or maybe you want to write a book. But because historically the message that you weren’t allowed to speak up was driven into your body, it can be much more challenging for you to express yourself. You may have learned to stay small, keep quiet and stifle your natural enthusiasm. And in doing that, you developed a body shape to help you feel safe and loved. However, that shape today no longer serves you.
Who is a good candidate for somatic bodywork?
A good candidate is someone who really wants to continue learning and developing themselves personally, professionally or spiritually.But they see that they’re stuck and haven’t been able to change. In somatic bodywork, we ask how you want to shift yourself, because the quickest and most effective way to make that happen is to shift the body.
For example, some people are looking to enhance their ability to move through a corporation – they would like to become executives or senior leaders. Some want to create a new company where they are leading. Others want to improve their health, get in better physical shape, or lose weight or gain weight. All of this is around being able to build a body/self that can move you forward in what you want to shift or change in your life.
A lot of people have a very hard time declining, saying no to things.We keep saying yes, yes, yes. We get anxious, our breath gets short, we get tense. Most of us probably grew up wanting to please others, and so saying no can be very, very challenging to people.
For instance, if you’re in a workplace where you have to do your job plus someone else’s because they’re on vacation, how do you say no? How do you decline? A lot of people that come to me want to be able to decline with dignity for themselves and for others
And it’s not always saying no to outside situations. It’s also being able to decline those old stories that hold you back, such as a story that says, “I cannot stand up in front of people and speak. I’m scared. I’m not smart enough.” There could be multiple stories that manifest as bodily weakness and contraction. With somatic bodywork, we start to create a body/self that can and will stand up in front of people by creating more space, and allowing the contraction to relax in their bodies so that they can build a different story. A story that says, “I am smart enough. I am capable.”
Do you have clients who have tried other methods to overcome a fear of public speaking and haven’t been successful, so now they’ve come to you?
Yes, and I want to affirm that many methods can be appropriate and good. But when you learn just a talking practice – being in your head – you’re not using all of yourself, which includes your body. When you want to learn to swim, for example, you don’t just read instructions and jump in the pool. You have to physically practice, and “embody” the practice of swimming.
You can go to public speaking classes, but if you don’t connect in deeply as to how your body freezes when you stand in front of people, it’s going to be much more challenging. You might be able to stand in front of a very small group and speak, but what happens when you have 100 people in front of you? If you haven’t practiced how to be different in your body to be able to speak to a group of people, that 100 people could shift you right back to being scared and small and unable to speak. So embodying the practice of public speaking is vitally important in making the shifts stay.
We’re always practicing something in our lives, whether it’s being small and afraid, or taking our place in the world and being courageous.
Can you describe your process and what new clients could expect?
Yes, generally someone coming to me is looking to be shaped differently so that they can accomplish something, act differently, or enhance a practice. Let’s say you want to become a successful public speaker. First, we’ll talk about your intentions. Then I’ll ask these questions: “What’s working in your life? What’s not working? If you are successful, how would you be different?”
Next, I look at your body. You stand, and I notice the alignment of your body. Is your head aligned over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips, your hips over your feet? Due to holding your body in particular ways in response to challenging life circumstances, your body is not aligned. So I start to move your body so that your head is aligned over your shoulders, hips and feet.
Then I look at how you walk. For some of us, our stride isn’t very long. We plod instead of rolling our feet. If you watch people walking down a street, you’ll see many with their shoulders slumped forward or their heads pushed out past their necks. Their feet are flapping against the sidewalk. All of that is a shaping that’s been historically created.
When you are ready for the next step, we will begin bodywork to support you in opening up. While fully clothed and lying on a table, we look at where you hold tension and how you’re shaped. Most of us can relate to tension in our shoulders, whether it’s from sitting at a computer all day or being fearful about something. We start looking at how you can relax tense areas and let the body take a different shape. You’ve been practicing this tense and contracted shape for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70 years. Now we want your body to take a different shape – one that is relaxed and open.
This is a hands-on, deep opening. I literally hold a contraction so that your body can relax and feel that there is a different way of being. I gently and with intention extend into the body in certain areas – the shoulders, the bottoms of the feet, the neck – and open them up.
When our muscles are contracted, our cells are “contracted” too.They’re tight. There’s not a lot of energy. Sometimes we feel cold because of that. Even if it’s warm outside, we feel cold because we’re contracted. What we want to do is open up to allow more oxygen and blood, so that your cells can move and create more energy. You become more alive.
As I work, the fascia – the connective tissue under the skin that covers the muscle – softens and lets the muscles relax. The real pragmatic part of this is that we want the skeleton to do its job, and that is to hold us up. Muscles were not meant to hold us up. Hold us in place, but not hold us up. The skeleton does that. We’re loosening up the fascia, muscles, and joints so that more energy moves through the body.
This relaxing of the muscles allows for deeper breaths. Many people breathe up in their upper chest, which creates anxiety whether they’re anxious or not because the rest of the body is not getting as much oxygen. Just taking a good deep belly breath and letting the diaphragm drop, just letting it go, can also create an opening.
The work we’re doing on the table is creating a bigger container. When I say container, I don’t mean container in the sense of a tight closed box, I’m talking about a container that can hold more energy and more life. This is the essence of somatic bodywork.
“The bodywork was transformative. I felt like a different person afterward. Madeline is a truly gifted somatic bodyworker. I found her presence full of care, compassion, radiance, openness, trust and a deep knowing. I felt her listening on many levels. Her touch was gentle, powerful, inviting, soothing, deep and skillful.”
“Madeline was a wonderful grounded presence that put me at ease and engendered trust. She released a surprisingly dramatic experience that provided a cleansing emotional purge and valuable insights about myself.”
To learn more or to schedule somatic bodywork, contact Madeline Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-480-3846.