How yoga therapists work: Somatics and yoga
By Carrie Meyer
Yoga therapy is mind-body medicine with a basic—if not always simple—understanding at its heart: True healing encompasses the mind, body, and spirit. SomaYoga, which is the style I practice, blends somatics (Thomas Hanna’s system of neuromuscular re-education) with yoga therapy.
Fundamental to this work is the understanding that our brains and nervous systems pull us into predictable reflex patterns based on past experiences—essentially to keep us safe. These patterns lie in the nervous system and can present physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
SomaYoga Therapy uses a technique called pandiculation to reset the entrenched habits caused by stress, trauma, injury, and peak life events at the level of the nervous system. Pandiculation involves the sensory motor cortex of the brain and works by resetting the resting length of muscles, encouraging the release of these patterns. In SomaYoga therapy and yoga therapy in general we address all of the koshas, or layers of our being.When we affect one layer, we affect them all.
An example in practice
A client I am currently working with—I’ll call her “Anna”—came to me suffering from sciatica, low-back pain, pelvic pain, panic attacks, stuck in her breath, and a significantly imbalanced posture (what we’d call a trauma pattern in SomaYoga). Anna reports that with SomaYoga therapy she has seen a reduction in panic attacks, is breathing much better, and no longer has pelvic pain. After12 sessions, her posture is releasing toward more symmetry and balance. To me, the best part of our journey together has been the empowerment Anna has gained by understanding that the healing process lies within.
I first taught Anna how to build the skill of interoception. This is the ability to turn attention inward, to get quiet and listen to the subtle messages coming from the body. Cultivating interoception—this ability to sense and feel—is essential to working with the three-step process of pandiculation:
- conscious contraction of a muscle or group of muscles,
- conscious lengthening of a muscle or group of muscles, and
- conscious rest.
In all three steps the brain is attuned and receives sensing and feeling information from the body. Keeping the attention present allows for re-education of the nervous system.
I’ve found that for clients like Anna, with repetition the pandiculation releases tension and improves functioning of the diaphragm, belly, and back muscles. As this happens breathing becomes easier and fuller. The more regulated breath further calms the nervous system, which in turn quiets the mind—supporting a shift from an outward focus (disembodiment) to inward connection and knowing (embodiment), where healing occurs. This is the process of SomaYoga therapy that I practice.
Carrie Meyer, C-IAYT, is a SomaYoga therapist and somatics educator in private practice in Yukon, Canada. With Nicole Ablack Ramkay, she co-founded and co-owns Resolve Pain Guru, where they teach individuals and professionals how to return to embodied pain-free living using somatics, yoga therapy, functional movement, and mindfulness.
*To read more about the kosha model please see the following posts on this site:
- Increasing self-awareness—and healing—through panchamaya kosha
- How yoga therapy works: Part 2—Frameworks for understanding
- Ancient and modern approaches to whole-person health
- How yoga therapists work: Behind bars
- Yoga therapy and healing with brain cancer
- A yoga therapy perspective on the human system: The panchamaya model