Somatic Spiritual (Evolutionary) Practice -- The Big Pandiculation

Hanna Somatic Education® is a highly accessible doorway to spiritual practice. It provides means for integrating and transcending psycho-physical (somatic) limitations and instant feedback as to the success of the practice.  

It's primary technique, "Pandiculation", puts principles into operation that apply equally well to subtler and "inner" aspects of the human being, i.e., the emotions and thinking mind, and the mind of subtle intuition -- the emotional and mental psychic fields -- as they do to the "outer" physiological body/organism.  So, I refer to the grand process of human evolutionary transformation as, The Big Pandiculation.

This essay explains how this is so, and also identifies the advantage and limitation of Hanna somatic education as an element of spiritual practice.

An entire human life may be summarized as moving from one state and degree of contraction to another -- with varying degrees of habituation.

Spiritual practice may be summarized as "increasing involvement with and increasing transcendence of" the conditions of life -- increasing involution and increasing evolution -- awakening to what we are constantly doing and being. I suggest that one of the most powerful means of spiritual practice is pandiculation -- applied not only at the sensory-motor level, as in Hanna somatic education, but also at emotional, mental, and intuitive levels.   I call this, The Big Pandiculation.  Correspondences with Kinetic Mirroring and Means-Whereby (explained here) also apply to those other levels. For non-participants in Hanna somatic education, I explain the term, "Pandiculation", here.



Spiritual practice has two aspects:
  1. awakening to and outgrowing (transcending) archaic, habituated patterns of function and perception
  2. awaking into new faculties of function and perception
In the language of somatic education, (1.) addresses "sensory-motor amnesia" or "attentional-intentional amnesia" -- indicating that the person is suffering (a) the results of inherited, unevolved habits of thought, feeling and action and (b) impairments of their functioning from injury or emotional trauma.  (2.) addresses "sensory-motor obliviousness" or "attentional-intentional obliviousness" -- indicating that the person is suffering from the lack of faculties that have never yet awakened.

The first category is that of loss; the second category is that of limited development.

I know that's a lot, and I'll clarify, as needed, below.

For students of Ken Wilber, let me say that these two aspects of spiritual practice correspond to what he characterized as "state pathologies" and "stage pathologies" -- where a state is analogous to "weather" and a stage is analogous to "climate".  All problems from category (1.) stem from functional impairments that occur within a given stage of development (broken personal integrity); all problems from category (2.) stem from functional deficiencies that occur because the person needs to mature to his/her next-higher stage of development.

That said, what is the role of somatic education?  To answer that rhetorical question, I should first define my terms.

The term, "somatic" (derived from the ancient Greek word, "soma") refers to the experience of our faculties -- awareness and control -- from within -- autonomy, self-regulation, freedom and responsibility.  The term, "education" (derived from Latin "e ducare") refers to the drawing out and making functional an individual's latent faculties so that they come alive.

In this day, both words, "somatic" and "education", are abused and misused in popular parlance.  "Somatic" is used to refer to the flesh-body or to cells of the body (as opposed to the mind), so that the word, psychosomatic is not recognized as the redundancy that it is.  (Remember, "soma" includes both bodily (or incarnated) existence and awareness, from within, of ourselves and our faculties.)  Likewise, education is used to refer to mental learning of more and more things -- facts and rules, without the recognition that such mental learning relies upon a more basic learning -- the learning of how to pay attention and to exercise intention in action (to get specifically intended results).  These abuses of words point to the degeneration (category 1.) and unevolved stage (category 2.) of our human culture.

So, we have to rehabilitate these words and their meanings for this essay to be meaningful.  If you accept that rehabilitation, read on.

Somatic education does two major general things:  it awakens perception (sensory awareness) and it awakens self-control (and by extension, control of things and others).

Understanding that point is "huge", since it is the basis of entire human lives.  Somatic education increases the effects of ones actions upon oneself and others.  It frees (and in effect, causes) one to be more aware of what one tends be, and, as habitual functional patterns are set free, to be more intensely "what's left" -- in effect, a surfacing (like the body of an iceberg as the top melts) of unconscious/subconscious habitual material.

The enterprise of spiritual practice appears in many forms in human culture -- everything from nature-spirit worship to organized religion to self-transcending practices.

For the purpose of this writing, I especially mean self-awakening and self-transcending practices.

At this point, we have to rehabilitate another slippery word:  transcendence.

People commonly use the term to mean "being above" and dissociating from some kind of experience -- not experiencing it anymore.  That's a formula for neurosis, pathology and breakdown; it's not transcendence.

The proper understanding of the term is "being inclusive of and more than" some kind of experience -- experiencing it consciously, with understanding, with mastery.  This understanding goes along with Einstein's declaration that "It is impossible to solve a problem from within the frame of reference within which it was created."  To solve a problem, we must first have mastered and transcended its original frame of reference.

This kind of mastery involves two stages:  differentiation and integration.

Differentiation means clearly seeing the distinctions that define something as it is.  When cooking, it is "helpful" to distinguish the taste of salt from that of other ingredients so that we can regulate how much salt we put into the cooking.

Integration means putting things together into a satisfactorily functioning whole so that all the parts complement each other.  When cooking, it is "helpful" to balance the taste of salt with other tastes.

We can't know how much salt to add by tasting the salt we are adding; we must taste both the salt and the rest of the dish-in-progress and balance them with each other.  By so doing, we transcend both the taste of salt and the taste of the rest of the dish -- we include them and occupy a frame of reference that is greater than either.

The somatic principle we have identified as applying to this situation is, "Somas perceive by means of contrasts."  The corollary is, "Whatever doesn't change fades from perception."  Try staring at something, sometime, and see what I mean.

How does this pertain to somatic education?

First, we understand that all of our experience gets processed through the body via the senses -- brain-based learning of how to interpret experiences.  This interpretation applies to physical sensations, to emotions, to mental processes, and to higher intuitions that don't have physical objects but which are felt (e.g., music and other forms of coherent art).

Secondly, we understand that that process of interpretation is subject to the distortions of Category (1.) and to the obliviousness of Category (2.)

Let's clarify how injuries and emotional trauma distort both perception and function.

Memory consists of two aspects that make up ordinary experiencing:  sensation and response (or movement, or behavior).  All memories exist as states of "readiness to respond", manifested as patterns of muscular tension that keep us ready for action.  The common term is, "nervous tension".  A technical term would be, "motor habits".

All experiences leave imprints on memory; intense or repetitive experiences leave intense imprints on memory -- and stronger patterns of muscular tension.

These imprints overlie each other as patterns of tension that show up as posture and "body language", breathing patterns, body-sense or the sense of "self", and also thought patterns and emotional responses.  "I" am patterns of memory, in action.

"Don't ask me to relax; it's my tension that's keeping me together."

Most of these memory imprints are below the surface and only get activated by circumstances, but reside at a low level of "idle".  When activated by circumstance, we call that "emotional reactivity".

For a more detailed and elaborate discussion of how these memory imprints show up as neuromuscular tension patterns, I refer you to "An Expanded View of the Three Reflexes of Stress", "Is the Body 'Self' or 'Other'?" and "Sensory-Motor Amnesia is Not a Disease."

Now, we get into it.

Somatic education provides a means of shifting those memory patterns from "automatic" to voluntary, turning "emotional reactivity" (for instance) into "emotional responsiveness" -- not in a wholesale manner, but progressively and specifically, and also activating latent faculties to which we are oblivious.

Just as muscular tensions can be brought under control by the three basic techniques of Hanna somatic education, "Means-Whereby", "Kinetic Mirroring" and "Pandiculation", so the logic of those techniques can be applied to emotional, mental, and intuitive levels of the being.

In general, three effects make somatic education useful in spiritual practice.  (1) It shifts unconscious/semi-conscious habits from unconscious to conscious.  (Some would say it integrates the mind-body connection, but it just awakens what is already the case.  Please see, "There is No Mind-Body Connection | There is No Mind-Body Split) (2) It awakens and integrates more of the "neural network" of the brain to make possible more complex and more finely articulated perceptions and behaviors, and (3) It re-activates awareness of personal functions that has been lost in Sensory-Motor Amnesia, so they can be integrated.

These effects correspond to (1) incarnation, (2) maturation, and (3) integration of "shadow (psychological) material".

Mere conception is not incarnation, nor is mere birth.  Conception and birth begin the process of incarnation, which involves identification as "body/mind" (soma), so that we experience the body "from within", as our "acting" selves.

The "incarnation" step applies especially to people who tend to live in their dreams, thoughts or emotions, whose fantasy or mental life substitute for engagement in relationships in the world.

Development of our capacity to experience and to act is progressive and proceeds by the formation of memory patterns along the developmental lines outlined by Piaget, Rogers, Maslow, and others, which involve progressive development of perception, conception, and action (behavior).  It's the development of functional sophistication (more or less).

The "maturation" step applies especially to people who have unevenly developed competence in various areas of their lives.

Integration of "Shadow (psychological) Material"
Shadow material consists of behaviors and feelings that have previously developed and then been distorted by reactions to traumatic experiences of various kinds.  They're ways we "won't let ourselves be", but which we still have impulses to be.  They're actions "stopped mid-step", both active and opposed by us at the same time.

The "integration" step especially applies to people who have been traumatized.

I'll tell you a few personal stories to illustrate my points.

Incarnation.  I grew up in an emotionally dissociated (but financially well-off) family, in which my emotions and wishes felt generally invalidated, even as my material needs were satisfied, without much social contact or play time for ten months out of every year (required to practice piano during the time when the boys on my block were out playing, together).  At home, I lived in frequent anxiety, boredom and alienation; in school, I feared for my physical safety and suffered frequent humiliation from more aggressive boys.  I was small for my age, but intellectually well-developed (which earned me the name, Peabody, after the brainy cartoon dog-character on "Bullwinkle" -- "Sherman and Peabody" -- from one of the boys).  In my free time (after piano practice), I read copiously -- astronomy, paleontology, anatomy, physics, chemistry, science fiction, and the entire World Book Encyclopedia, cover to cover.  In physical education classes, I had the least prowess of anybody and was always the last chosen for team sports.  So, I was mentally well-developed, emotionally intimidated and alienated, physically undeveloped, and socially out of synch with my peer group.

In my teens, I developed incapacitating tendonitis in my right hand/wrist that resulted, ultimately, in my getting Rolfed.  The point of this narrative is that my "incarnation history" led to this:  My rolfer described me as being "like concrete" and "the most contracted individual" he had ever worked on.  I was largely oblivious to my condition, and I had so little bodily sensation that my forearms and abdomen felt as insensate as wood.

Rolfing was the beginning of my somatic education, and in the process, what aroused my great interest is that I was starting to perceive myself, my body, and my behavior, in ways that had never before awakened.  The awakening of feeling and the changes of how I was moving were giving me a viewpoint for self-perception other than the one with which I had been identified -- the contrast making possible new self-observation.

My process of maturation gradually progressed, with Rolfing, and accelerated with movement practices designed to speed the integration of the changes from Rolfing.

The movement practices had the same effect of awakening new self-observation (by means of contrast between the state I generated with movement practice and my habitual state) and it had a further effect, development of a kind of psychic sensitivity.  I recall one afternoon, working the counter at my father's print shop, when the front door opened and a man came in, and with him, an emotional field that I would characterize as "a downer".  It came in with him, specifically (and not the same way with other customers), so it wasn't a matter of "oh, another customer"; it was about, "wow, feel what just walked in the door".  Practice of the Structural Patterning Movements typically magnified that psychic sensitivity by calming my mind and quieting and sensitizing my nervous system -- a lower "signal-to-noise ratio".

I stayed with Rolfing for about twenty years, and in so doing, built up a mass of contrast between my physical state and my habitual subjective state (memories of "how to be" and "how I am").  It was to be the basis of a rending, wholesale transformation (that has continued to this day).

At age 36, after a fairly easy divorce, but also during a wrenching time of change during which I went back to university to train as a physical therapist (living in the dorm with 18-21 year-olds), and during which I lost my entire social network, accustomed diet, work and living situation and had no source of income.  I was fairly maxed-out on stress.

Shortly after the end of my university studies, I returned to my previous town in a completely different situation than the one I had left, without friends or income, still maxed out on stress.

During that time, my Rolfer plopped a copy of Somatics, by Thomas Hanna, onto my lap and said, "You might be interested in this."  The book contained somatic exercises "for neuromuscular stress", which I began to practice.  Surprisingly, instead of reducing my stress, they made it worse.  Much worse.  The exercises, by surfacing unconscious processes and developing more responsiveness in my process, intensified both my awareness and my manifestation of my state of stress, physically.  The exercises made me experience more the state I was in.

That may not seem like a good thing, but by intensifying my experience of stress, it also made me available (and irresistably compelled me) to undertake further spiritual training and intensive inner work to "disarm" the stress.

When I entered training in somatic education with Thomas Hanna, I was in so much stress and so intense that I deliberately wore a red tee-shirt with the words applied to it, in white letters, "Too Intense".  Mutual practice of the somatic education techniques among students alleviated my stress by about 50%.  At the conclusion of training, we had a celebratory barbeque, at which time my peers burned that tee-shirt.  As one of my peers said, as testimony to their acknowledgement of how much I had changed, I wasn't wearing the tee-shirt when they burned it.

After training with Thomas Hanna, circumstances brought me into contact with a teacher of The Avatar Course, which consists of methods that have the same underlying principles as Hanna somatic education.  Using those methods has been instrumental in disarming so much of the accumulated stresses of my earlier life, intensified and revealed to me through somatic education.

This is a fairly summary recounting in which I omit a lot of details -- but the essentials are present.

Spiritual practice does not occur in a vacuum or in a state of obliviousness.  Bliss is not oblivion.  It's equipoise -- which means active, participatory ease or grace -- what Thomas Hanna termed, "the fair state".  It entails both momentary deep intuitions of the formless self-nature ("original mind"), emotional peace,  and progressive deepening and integration into life.

Somatic education awakens human faculties so that we come more awake as we are, develop our faculties, and see more vividly the ways in which we are "stuck" in unconscious memory-and-action patterns that befoul attentive consciousness and prevent the awakening to increasingly free being and transcendental intuition.

In practice, clearing up each habituated action-pattern frees and integrates creative energy (attention and intention), so that we have more of ourselves available to put into action.  That means we get more effect from the same amount of felt-effort as before.  We also feel that effect more keenly and also feel "what's left to do" more keenly.  We become more "how we are" and get more sensitive to ourselves and to others, more keenly discerning.  As a result, we experience a progressive revelation of our habituated state, to ourselves, leading to "the next thing to clear up", and that progression happens faster and more intensely than before.  The term, "the Fire of Practice" attains meaning.

Somatic education activates the great Truth Teller -- our actual feelings, apart from idealistic mental notions or deluding spiritual enthusiasm.  "The Body Doesn't Lie."  It decreases the likelihood of "spiritual bypassing" -- in which we assert idealisms rather than working with our actualities.

By the same token, Hanna somatic education has a limitation -- its greatest strength is sensory-motor integration, with the secondary emotional and mental benefits described earlier -- however, at some point, the somatic limitations seated at the sensory-motor level have essentially been dealt with, and habituated limitations remain in the subtler "bodies" -- emotional, mental and intuitive.  These remaining limitations must be dealt with at those levels on their own terms, even though they may show up as problems in the physical body.

At that point, one must engage processes that apply the principles of somatic education in techniques analogous to those of somatic education, but that apply to those higher bodies.

In summary, the effects of somatic education on spiritual practice are:
  1. relieving impediments left behind by trauma
  2. organizing attention and intention to a higher level of integration
  3. increased effectiveness of intention and action
  4. increased sensitivity to the effects of intentions and actions
  5. progressive revelation of somatic habituations, leading to
  6. progressive integration and transcendence of habituated adaptations

The Big Pandiculation is exactly that process of conscious incarnation and transcendence, awakening experiential awareness and control, and coming out of the habituated state of identity that characterizes the unawakened individual so that (s)he can be her or his free and responsible, unique self.


Here's a link to an internet interview on clinical somatic education, as found on Happiness After Midlife (

"The Immortal Harold Somaman -- What Keeps Him Going?"

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