CAPA ROLF LINES 2000-04-Fall

The Somatics Study Group

Pages: 43-46
Year: 2000
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute


Volume: 28

The second annual Colloquium on Somatics Inquiry, conducted by the Somatics Study Group, will be held at CIIS on Friday and Saturday, March 9th and 10th, 2001. It is open to the members of the Somatics Study Group, the panel of judges, and those whose papers are selected for presentation. At that time, the second annual Somerville Awards will be given for papers selected from submissions made to member schools by approved graduates or trainees in the following schools: Antioch Somatics, Aston Patterning, Body Mind Centering, CIIS Somatics, Continuum, Feldenkrais® Guild, The Lomi School, F. M. Alexander, and The Rolf Institute®. Monetary awards will be given for all Somerville finalists whose papers are submitted through the individual schools. The Somerville Awards will be given to the papers judged as best in each of the categories listed below, to be judged by an outside committee of scientists and scholars. Finalists from each school will present a summary of their papers for discussion during the colloquium for reflection and feedback.



A carefully detailed description of your work with a person over an extended period of time, which illuminates the unique quality of your method of work and its efficacy.

The emphasis in the narrative should be on carefully described details:

-A carefully drawn description of the client, age, demeanor, uniqueness of personality, the larger context of his or her life, what brings the person to you, etc.;

-The various sessions of work, what happened, when, for how long, etc. What changes happened – positive, negative, and questionable?

-What questions were you faced with and left with?

-Staying close to the details of the story, indicate how you were thinking about this work. What kinds of theoretical frameworks did you bring to it? Did they stand up to the actual events as they unfolded, or did you find yourself having to modify the theories?

The point of the narratives is not to “prove” already existing theories, but to generate the kinds of raw material that scientists need for eventual theory building. Arthur Kleinman’s The Illness Narratives and Oliver Sacks’ neurological stories are examples. Other examples occur among non-fiction writers of the natural world: Barry Lopez, Gary Nabhan, Peter Matthiesen, Terry Tempest Williams, Annie Dillard, and others. For a complete bibliography on narrative methods: http://www.iona.edu/academic/arts sci/ org/sawchuk.html

A properly written narrative will reflect the writer’s sense of the ambiguously textured character of the real, that his or her method is one of many, and that there is an attempt in the details of the narrative to situate oneself in this larger community of practice. The study should be at least 6,000 words.

Dr. Martha Herbert of our SSG has written about the relevance of this careful narrative work to “hard” science:

“Somatics practices afford the gift of compellingly palpable direct experience of transformation. The experience of exceedingly real feeling change in one’s own body drives some to a search for an understanding of the physical basis of these changes. This admirable drive is, however, easily waylaid by various culturally conditioned temptations and distractions, one of which is a shift from a desire for understanding to a desire for scientific proof and validation. This shift carries a number of features that sabotage the genuine quest for understanding. One of these features is the assumption that since the experience of somatics is so real, the language of science, being a description of “reality,” should be directly applicable to these experiences. Along with this comes the temptation to turn over one’s quest for understanding to formally trained scientists even if these scientists have never cultivated their own personal somatics capabilities.

Scientific culture, however, is lived and created by people who are every bit as affected by cultural proclivities as non-scientists. One feature of the American culture is a craving for certainty that leads to a pouncing upon premature closure. This premature closure is death to wonderment and death to complexity. It is death to awareness of novelty and of variety. It is death to genuine observational powers. This quest for premature closure and inappropriate certainty is fueled by commercial interests who spew science-fiction hype to drive a personally frustrated public to tolerate massive funding of enterprises claiming to quest for scientific and technical fixes.

Yet somatics addresses and aims to release the physical holdings and blockages that rivet in place these anxiety-driven urgent-seeming fantasies. Somatics helps people to experience their own discomfort and to move through and beyond it, to integrate and resolve it rather than to repress and deny it. As this integrative opening proceeds, intellectual shortcuts can give way of themselves to patient primary attentiveness.

On this account it should follow that if somatics is to investigate itself-to engage in what I will call somatics reflective practice-it should do so with the same level of awareness that it attempts to cultivate in the somatics practices themselves. Deepening moment-to-moment awareness should thus become not only the basis of somatics practice, but the basis of somatics reflective practice as well.

The immediate problem then becomes how to observe and then to describe the practice and the experience of somatics. How do you do this without relying upon words that are from the outside rather than from the inside? How do you let go of your theories and still observe systematically? How do you observe and describe without simply plugging into a matrix that comes from somewhere else? How do you allow even matrix that you have generated from your own experience be changed by further experiences that are different?

Coming to terms with the implications of this initial problem will require, in truth, cultivation of a lifelong discipline of careful observation, but also of careful, regular, sensitive, mindful, and even (if we define what we mean) systematic recording of observations.

Such mindful observations are not unlike what happens to the meditator who moves from taking the breath for granted, experiencing it with the non consciousness of a dulled automaton to finding every micro moment of the breath infinitely fascinating and absorbing. This requires a transformation of one’s sense of time from “going there” to “being here.”

Then there is the discipline of explaining what one experiences without killing it by one’s stereotyped language. This discipline is the same as that of the artist, or the writer. What is fresh?

Mainstream science proceeds, or claims to proceed, by isolating variables to measure and finding statistically significant relationships. But how were these variables identified? They emerged only after a long process. Manipulating and controlling variables is only possible because current scientific disciplines have a history going back centuries. If you go back far enough into this history you find that people were not always measuring; before they could measure, they had to describe. Intensive, long-term loving description preceded observation of regularities worth measuring.

One of the reasons many students find learning science painful is that they are not taken back, experientially, through the stages of evolution or development of current knowledge and technique. They are given results without process. Their minds balk at the mysteries thus imparted. Chemists, for instance, did not always have the Periodic Table of the Elements. Chemistry can come alive to beginners when they see how this Periodic Table was figured out over time.

For contemporary somatics practitioners to rush into methods of science wherein isolated variables are measured, etc., they will also have to skip their own not-yet-lived historical stage of careful description and observation. They will wind up studying variables that may not arise organically from the intrinsic character of the somatics process. The data generated by doing this may well not be very interesting. It may not help internally-guiding somatics practitioners to do better work; and it may not help externally-validating effectiveness or clarifying “mechanisms.” On occasion some terrific findings may emerge-a given method may work better for lowering blood pressure, alleviating back pain, whatever. Not bad, of course, to show those things. In a health care world run by insurance companies such studies have some place. But they should not be allowed to define the terrain of somatic reflective practice.

Why should we question the variables we borrow from “science?” The basis for physiological and anatomical knowledge in western science and medicine is not somatically-based experience. It is something entirely different. The parsing of dissection and experimentation on something outside oneself yields a different set of categories than the self-or interactive experimentation with bodily experience.

This is not to say that having learned muscle and bone anatomy one does not alter one’s experience and skill. Yet it does not address the generation of a language, and moreover a shared language, for describing and communicating kinesthetically-based perception and transformation. One major challenge for somatics is the CONSCIOUS integration of two kinds of knowing which until now have been apart from each other: 1) a centered, grounded, proprioceptive and image rich detailed knowledge of anatomy and physiology (to describe it in this manner is already integrative); and 2) somatic practice and reflective description of practice. This INTEGRATION, and not just the anatomical or physiological details themselves, is central to the cultural contribution that can be made by the somatics project, and by somatic reflective practice.

(by Dr. Martha Herbert)

There is another dimension of reflective practice, having to do with the fact that language is spoken not by individuals in isolation, but by individuals in relationship, in community. Somatics needs to develop a shared language, a way of observing and talking that, while maintaining its honest direct freshness, at the same time is also comprehensible in a consistent manner by any adequately prepared member of the community. Developing a shared language involves both talking reflectively with other active somatics practitioners observers, and delving into the historical roots of somatics practices to explore the observations of pioneers and predecessors in the field.

This yields two challenges regarding data gathering for somatics practitioners. In relation to their own practices the challenge is to develop observational skill, and language skill. But while this skill is learned in part by direct sensual experience, it is also gained in community with other practitioners. How can sharing the observations of practitioners deepen the teaching potential of this community? Beyond this, can we establish a tradition of sharing observations that is both cumulative and reflective? By tradition I mean a meaningful rather than a rote grounding in somatics history. By cumulative I mean that new experiences may build upon those that have gone before. By reflective I mean cultivation of an ongoing mindful nurturing thoughtfulness about this cumulative building of a community of shared language and knowledge. The second challenge is thus to build history and living ways of becoming grounded in this history.

Raw materials for this history exist, but they have not yet been gathered and transformed into historical materials. Many somatics practitioners have already traveled down the road of data-gathering, and have written up at least some of what they have accomplished in this matter. Scattered in odd places are documentations of odysseys of observation that to one degree or another rise to this challenge. Many of the pioneers and past practitioners of various somatics practitioners have recorded observations, case studies, measurements, insights, epiphanies. Some of the somatics schools have file cabinets full of these materials. This already existing material is, however, not easily available. These rich resources are essentially gathering dust. Thus they cannot yet contribute to ongoing exploration and development of a community of discourse. Until these materials become more widely accessible, we cannot learn from them and they are not actively a part of somatics history.

Therefore, there is a special place for uncovering, collecting and annotating such materials. Rendering them available to others on this mindful quest will deepen and hasten the development of a shared reflective mode of understanding.

Thus, a crucial yet too easily neglected component of developing a shared somatics language and tradition is to gather the observations of somatics pioneers and other practitioners and rescue them from the inaccessible file cabinets and notebooks of those who made the effort to record such observations. This work is a loving project of archival rescue. This kind of historical archival work is important in setting up a longer-term and broader record of just what is involved in somatics thinking and discovery.

This archival rescue work is moreover linked with explication and with interpretation. Practitioners will probably have used their own idiosyncratic shorthand. This must first be rendered accurately, but then also reflected upon and explicated in terms that are understandable in other frameworks. Such explication inevitably involves interpretation. A somatics practitioner is well grounded in the discipline of acknowledging her or his own experiential ground, so is likely to be more gifted than a historian not trained in somatics in acknowledging the impact of her or his own perspective on the archival project.

Somatics practitioners don’t have easily measurable units of analysis that have remained consistent throughout the entire history of the somatics endeavor. Rather there is the emergence-in different ways for different pioneers-of the class of awarenesses that constitutes somatics. This process of emergence and discovery needs to be documented historically. The archival work can therefore proceed on multiple levels. One is the empathetic explication just sketched. Another is an alertness for aspects of the experiences recorded which somehow share features with the observations and experiences of others. Any given document or set of documents may contain many hints of such commonality, or just a few pearls. This remains to be seen, and will certainly be variable. Over time, if all of this is done well, patterns that connect these awarenesses may emerge. It is the organic emergence of patterns intrinsic to the work itself that might over time yield new levels of reflective and scientific questions. Responding to such questions will probably be more genuinely illuminating than trying to interrogate somatics using questions generated without somatics awarenesses.

It may also be the case that a practitioner’s recorded observations are in some cases fresh and in some cases stereotyped. Engaging in this archival rescue work does not mean abandoning all critical faculties. Instead, it may also involve awareness of blind spots, parochialisms, unconscious culturally conditioned habits of thought that may or may not since have been transcended by others. Sensibility to this dimension of archival work should also come more easily to a somatics-trained person who has cultivated the skill of inhabiting the space of the cusp of where a person is freely creative and where that same person is held and restricted.

Archival rescue work is a gift of respect to past practitioners who absorbed themselves so fully in their own pioneering work. It is also a gift of respect to the emerging broader community of somatics practitioners who are engaged in creating a more encompassing and inclusive community of practice and discourse. Somatics is rediscovering the body and finding language for this experience, but doing so in a brave new world full of science where this rediscovery has never before occurred. This rediscovery is a regenerative and also a freshly generative process. Experience grounded careful observation may help re-ground science, or perhaps to ground it in lived experience for the first time. If we are careful and mindful and cooperative and persistent we could make this vital contribution.


The first step in the submission process is to be determined within each of the individual schools under the direction of that school’s member of the Somatics Study Group (named above). That particular school must approve the final submissions to the Evaluations Committee, and submit no more than one candidate for each of the two categories. The date for the submission within the schools is determined by the SSG member from that school. Each school may submit its candidates for each category to the Evaluations Committee by Feb 1, 2001.

The Evaluations Committee will be composed of scientists and scholars who are familiar with our study group over the years and sympathetic to our goals, and the winner of the previous year’s prize (Carrie Davis this year). All papers chosen for presentation will receive a $100 award. There will be a $500 award for the paper judged best in each of the two categories. Authors of all of the papers selected will present a summary of their papers, followed by feedback and discussion.


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