What is Ecosomatics?


“We can sense the world around us only because we are entirely a part of this world, because - by virtue of our own carnal density and dynamism - we are wholly embedded in the depths of the earthly sensuous. We can feel the tangible textures, sounds and shapes of the biosphere because we are tangible, resonant, audible shapes in our own right. We are born of these very waters, this very air, this loamy soil, this sunlight. Nourished and sustained by the substance of the breathing earth, we are flesh of its flesh. We are neither pure spirits nor pure minds, but are sensitive and sentient bodies able to be seen, heard, tasted, touched by all the beings around us.” - David Abram, Becoming Animal



Ecosomatics is a growing field of research and practice that combines the knowledge systems of Somatics and Ecology to expand our sense of self to include our wider relations by re-rooting us back into our bodies and awakening our sensory perception. This blog post is an introduction to the realm of ecosomatics.


In this blog post you will find:

  1. Introduction

  2. The Fusion of Somatics and Ecology

  3. Decolonizing / Unsettling Ecosomatics

  4. The Trauma of Separation and Disconnection

  5. Ecosomatics: Embodied Belonging

  6. Closing

  7. References


INTRODUCTION


When was the last time you felt fully alive? What words would you use to describe the uniqueness of that experience? Was there an over-arching feeling or sensation? Where were you and what were the conditions that gave rise to the feeling of utter aliveness? How was this moment different from any other?

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the first question brought you back to a moment in nature. When we feel alive, we are sensually open and receptive to being empathically moved, touched and responsive to the greater body of earth (or to other beings), to whom we belong. Ecosomatics is all about coming back to life and supports the cultivation of an ancient (embodied) way of knowing/being that dissolves our sense of separation and isolation. It acknowledges the indivisibility of self from nature, and gives voice to the elemental interrelationships that make up the fabric of our co-existence.


Our human body is a microcosm of earth’s body. That is to say, every being is a mode of the earth and an expression of consciousness in form. We are each but a strand in the relational tapestry of existence spanning the arc of space and time all the way back to the beginning wherein the first moments our universe moved toward creating relationships. Our being here arises from the evolutionary need for connection and relational reciprocity. David Abram, in his book Becoming Animal, beautifully captures this idea:


“Caught up in a mass of abstractions… it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese… We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” [1]


As we lie on the cool earth caressing the grass with our toes, we enact our most ancient ancestral inheritance: our hearts beat in unison with the pulse of Spring Peepers and the flap of wings. Our breath oscillates to the same rhythm of the ocean and moon tides, “offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next.” [2] The same forces of gravity (attraction) and expansion that give form to the universe are essential to the nature of who we are. There is no separation from one moment to the next, and there is no separation between the manifold expressions of life. Ecosomatics seeks to expand our sense of self to include our wider relations by re-rooting us back into our bodies and awakening our sensory perception through which our ecological identity unfolds. As David Abram asserts, “Sensory perception is the silken web that binds our separate nervous systems into the encompassing ecosystem.” [3]




THE FUSION OF SOMATICS + ECOLOGY


Our interpretation of ecosomatics (since this is a relatively new term) is any set of practices that weave together somatics and ecology (in this case deep ecology) which are fields of study and practice that have lineages rooted in indigenous knowledge systems. It is for this reason that ecosomatics must itself embody decolonial praxis at its core. See below for more on decolonizing / unsettling ecosomatics. Before we dive deeper into ecosomatics, let's first unpack the two fields: deep ecology and somatics.



DEEP ECOLOGY


Deep Ecology as a movement and a philosophy emerged in the latter half of the 20th century (1960s/70s) in response to the shallow environmentalism of the time which emphasized technological innovations as the solution to addressing industrial systems impact on the planet. Deep ecology as a social and political movement refers to a “broad ecocentric grassroots effort, as contrasted with an anthropocentric, technocratic approach, to achieve an ecologically balanced future.” [4] As an ecological philosophy, deep ecology is premised on the idea of “Self-realization achieved through wider identification with one’s ecological context.” [5]


Autumn Spanne summarizes Deep Ecology into two main ideas in their article, What Is Deep Ecology? Philosophy, Principles, and Criticism:


“The first is that there must be a shift away from human-centered anthropocentrism to ecocentrism in which every living thing is seen as having inherent value regardless of its utility. Second, that humans are part of nature rather than superior and apart from it, and therefore must protect all life on Earth as they would protect their family or self.” [6]


Ultimately, deep ecology as a movement and philosophy aims to reconstruct humanity’s relations with the rest of the living world. It seeks to awaken humanity to the latent dissatisfaction of life under industrial growth society and the perpetuation of its legitimation through our own participation in extractive, capitalist institutions upheld by systems of oppression. Our feeling at home and belonging to a thriving world requires a dramatic shift in our cosmological understanding and radical commitment to uprooting the systems that have severed our relational bonds with each other and the natural world.



SOMATICS

Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement which studies the soma: namely, “the body as perceived from within.” As Thomas Hanna beautifully describes it...

"When a human being is observed from the outside -- i.e., from a third-person viewpoint - the phenomenon of a human body is perceived. But, when this same human being is observed from the first-person viewpoint of his own proprioceptive senses, a categorically different phenomenon is perceived: the human soma.” [7]

In essence, somatics draws upon your mindbody connection to support “felt sense” observation and listening for internal signals that your body sends about what you are currently experiencing. [8] Over time, these practices strengthen your relationship to your felt sense, allowing you to access more information about the ways in which you hold on to experiences in your body, and how they are related to the ever-changing landscape of your life.

With incredible advances in neuroscience, the field of somatics is expanding and informing the realm of trauma healing, both individually and collectively. Dr. Peter Levine is widely known for developing an alternative therapy model called “Somatic Experiencing,” which is aimed at treating trauma and stress related disorders like PTSD through bottom-up processing, where clients learn to observe and track internal sensations and with time, allow trauma to be released from the body. Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands, is widely known for his work on “Somatic Abolitionism” which seeks to address healing trauma on a collective level through a living embodied anti-racism.

Trauma, whether it’s of a psychological or physical origin, impacts the delicate functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and its response to stress. A brief summary of this is described well by psychotherapist Sherry L Osadchey:

The autonomic nervous system (ANS), which includes the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), and the enteric nervous system (ENS), is triggered into action when we’re faced with adversity and it governs the fight, flight, or freeze instinct. Although designed to be self-regulating, the ANS can become dysregulated, particularly when full expression of one’s response to trauma is repressed. As a result, the body continues to respond as if it is under threat. [9]

Somatic Experiencing, among other somatic therapies, get to the root of unprocessed trauma which manifests in myriad ways such as anxiety, IBS, depression, shame, hypervigilance, and so much more. It is understood that trauma is stored in the body and negative symptoms will perpetuate if the body doesn’t have an opportunity to fully process the traumatic event. Somatic therapies support this process.



ECOSOMATICS


Ecosomatics therefore marries these two fields of study and practice by recognizing the traumatic impact that industrial growth society has on the delicate life systems and soul of the earth, as well as our own bodies, minds, and soul. Ecosomatics comes from the perspective that what we do to earth, we do to ourselves, because we are not separate.


Ecosomatics unsettles notions of individualism and binary thinking which serve to uphold systems of oppression that desensitize us from our bodies and from the greater body of earth by rooting us within specific place-based, cultural, and relational contexts. Ecosomatics invites us to expand notions of self to include the relationships that make up who we are, both on micro and macro levels. It awakens whole systems thinking, imaginal play, sensual aliveness, and erotic intelligence.


Somatic activist and practitioner, Satu Palokangas, frames it this way, “The shared aspects of ecology and somatics are awareness of relationships, patterns and change. The small shift from somatics to ecosomatics is to extend our perspective from human life to all life, from human movement to all that moves, breathes, lives.” [10]