Eco-somatics is a growing field of research and practice that combines the knowledge systems of Somatics and Ecology to expand our felt sense of self to include the wider web of our relations by re-rooting us back into our bodies and awakening sensory perception. This blog post is an introduction to the realm of ecosomatics.
In this blog post you will find:
“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
Eco-Somatics is a growing field of embodied research and holistic practice that combines principles from ecology and somatics to enhance our connection and felt sense of self to include the natural world and our own bodies. It is a body-centered and nature-based healing approach that builds resilience, restores vitality and nurtures a sense of authentic power. It recognizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and seeks to cultivate mindfulness and awareness of our place within the wider web of relations. The felt sense relationship between the inner and outer realms IS the primary portal for healing and transformation.
Here are some key concepts and practices of Eco-Somatics:
Embodied Ecology: Eco-Somatics encourages us to develop a deep, experiential relationship with nature. It emphasizes the importance of immersing ourselves in natural environments and engaging all our senses to connect with the earth, plants, animals, and the elements.
Sensory Awareness: This practice involves paying attention to our senses and tuning in to the sensory information that surrounds us. By becoming more aware of our physical sensations, we can deepen our connection with nature and improve our overall well-being.
Movement Practices: Eco-Somatics incorporates movement practices to help us reconnect with our bodies and the natural world. This can include activities like yoga, tai chi, dance, primal play, or any form of mindful movement that helps us experience a sense of embodiment and connection.
Mindfulness and Presence: Being fully present and attentive to the present moment is a key aspect of Eco-Somatics. By cultivating mindfulness and presence, we can develop a greater appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of the natural world, as well as deepen our understanding of our own bodies.
Ecological Consciousness: Eco-Somatics promotes an ecological consciousness, which means recognizing the interdependence of all living beings and the impact of our actions on the environment. It encourages sustainable practices and a sense of responsibility towards the natural world.
By engaging with Eco-Somatics practices, we can foster a stronger connection with nature, enhance our mind-body-spirit well-being, and develop a more sustainable and harmonious relationship with the world around us
As a healing and integration approach, eco-somatics aims to repair disconnection from our bodies (mind/body split) and separation from the body of earth (spirit/matter split) by engaging in practices that support our nervous system to access safety, nurture our capacity to embody the present moment more fully, and listen to our inner nature in response to the ebb and flow of outer nature.
Eco-somatics is a relational process whereby healing happens over time, at the speed of trust, and through seasonal cycles of change. By intentionally engaging the senses in relationship to the ecology of place we invite awareness to take up more space into the landscape of our bodies and slowly call back instinctive ways of being.
As a re-cap, eco-somatics seeks to:
nurture ones sense of purpose, vitality and belonging to place (Land/Waters).
expand ones felt sense of self to include the wider ecological web of relationships.
restore ones ecological identity (sense of purpose and place) and intelligence (sense of relational responsibility).
heal the wound of separation (spirit/matter split).
repair disconnection from self (mind/body split).
intentionally engage the senses in relationship to the ecology of place
invite awareness back into the living landscape of the body and slowly call back instinctive ways of being.
support nervous system regulation and re-patterning.
nurture self trust and create space to listen to ones in nature wisdom.
deepen ones sense of belonging, reverence and responsibility to place (Land/Waters).
THE BODY AS A MICROCOSM OF EARTH
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.” 
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.”  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. Eco-somatics 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.” 
THE FUSION OF SOMATICS + ECOLOGY
Our current working interpretation of eco-somatics is any set of practices that weave together somatics and the spectrum of ecologies (in this case we'll focus on deep ecology) which are fields of study and practice that have lineages rooted in indigenous knowledge systems. It is for this reason that eco-somatics must itself embody decolonial praxis at its core. See below for more on decolonizing / unsettling ecosomatics. Before we dive deeper into eco-somatics, let's first unpack the two fields beginning with a breakdown of their etymological roots.
Ecology comes from the greek work oikos which means home and logos which means study. Thus Ecology is the study of the relationships that make up home; the organisms and their interactions with each other and with their environment.
Somatics comes from the greek word sōmatikos. Soma roughly translates to the english word for body but more accurately soma can be better understood as “the body as perceived from within.”
Eco-somatics therefor can be understood as an embodied exploration of our relationship to home and the felt sense experiences we are having / sharing when interacting with life forms and our environment. It is our belief that Eco-somatics can and should be informed by as many different streams of ecology and somatic knowledge systems as possible for a richer and more diverse understanding of this experiential work. For the purpose of this post, I will speak to deep ecology as an influential field of ecology that informs our approach to Eco-somatics. Other streams of knowledge that inform our approach include: systems ecology, ecophysiology, spiritual ecology, animism, bioregionalism, natural history and nature connection.
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.”  As an ecological philosophy, deep ecology is premised on the idea of “Self-realization achieved through wider identification with one’s ecological context.” 
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.” 
Ultimately, deep ecology is a movement and philosophy which 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 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.” 
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.  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. 
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.
Eco-somatics therefore marries these two (and more) 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. Eco-somatics comes from the perspective that what we do to earth, we do to ourselves, because we are not separate.
Eco-somatics 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. Eco-somatics 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 eco-somatics is to extend our perspective from human life to all life, from human movement to all that moves, breathes, lives.” 
DECOLONIZING / UNSETTLING ECO-SOMATICS
The whole concept of things like “nature connection” and “Eco-somatics” though wouldn’t exist if history had unfolded differently. As Jade Delisle asserts in their essay entitled, “Decolonizing Ecology”…
“The ecological problems we face have historical roots in the property law, agricultural strategies, and colonial expansion of Rome, which were also used by the British Empire on Turtle Island. The idea that we could build a truly fair and sustainable society using those foundational European institutions and environmental relations must be thrown out entirely.” (11)
The violent process of european land enclosures (12th-19th centuries) through the guise of capitalism severed ancestral land-based ways of knowing and being. The genocidal project of settler-colonialism attempted to do the same thing, that is to erase Indigenous cultural lifeways that were (and still are) intrinsically alive and interwoven with land-based ways of knowing and relating across Turtle Island. The traumatic impacts of this historical legacy are deeply felt in our collective body and continue to play out to this day.
That is why the work of addressing trauma at its roots (body/land) is so important and why a field such as “eco-somatics” must be informed by decolonial praxis, understood as “interventions that seek to target and dismantle the colonial matrix of power. ”  Eco-somatics must be grounded in a radical vision of the future that goes beyond and dispels the mythology of eurocentric, colonial and capitalist worldviews.
In an interview on the topic of “Why we need a Decolonial Ecology,” Malcom Ferdinand states that:
“We need to link the exploitation of bodies to that of lands. If we start from the unmodern principle that there are continuities between bodies and ecosystems, we realize that to harm one is to harm the other. This prism helps us to understand anti-slavery revolts also as resistance to this colonial habitation… Eurocentrism and Western-centrism have prevented us from seeing other worldviews… we should let their worldviews challenge us, without forgetting the history of these peoples and what they are asking for. What are the terms that these people use to assert their relationship with the world?... understanding that destruction was possible thanks to the exploitation of indigenous peoples means recognizing these peoples’ need for justice, as well as demands for slavery reparations.” 
We must own the truth of our shared history and move through the discomfort it brings up in our systems (especially for white folks) when we acknowledge the ways we continue to participate in a system that is designed to perpetuate division and dislocate us from the very source of our sustenance. We are reminded that:
“Praxis requires a continuous learning/unlearning and critical examination of our thinking and actions, in order to avoid the reproduction of the very colonial systems it is trying to undo. It requires decentring western rationalities and centring other ways of knowing, being and relating.” 
Those of us in the fields of nature connection therapies and related fields must be diligent in our commitment to rooting our work in unsettling (decolonizing) ourselves, otherwise we’re just spiritual bypassing and continuing to repeat harmful intergenerational trauma patterns.
THE TRAUMA OF SEPARATION & DISCONNECTION
“Western civilization creates a disembodied self. We feel alienated from our own bodies and from the world.” - Adrian Harris
It might be hard to imagine that all humans were once indigenous to place, that our lived experience was fully embedded within the natural world, and our sensory perceptions were suffused in the landscape. As entangled elements interwoven into an ecosystem, we were one body. With great sadness, and to a devastating extent, this primal embodiment has been lost.
The trauma of separation of humans from the natural world happened very slowly and for different reasons as matriarchal societies based on balance and egalitarianism gave way to patriarchal societies of exploitation, conquest and domination. Matriarchal societies viewed earth as the living Mother and believed that she does not belong to us, but that we belong to her. As matriarchal societies began to disappear, so too did our connection to earth Mother.
Today, the western cultural framework of industrial growth society and the systems that uphold it (settler colonialism, racial capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy) inflict a style of complex trauma on ecological and relational systems as well as our own nervous systems. As Rachael Alaia describes it…
“Global overculture enforces a system of beliefs, world views, self-concepts, coping strategies, and flows of belonging built upon a certain set of values, goals, and qualities: namely self-interest, individualism, domination, competition, short-term thinking, impulsivity, power hunger, profit-seeking, authoritarianism, consumerism, endless growth, perfection, urgency, reductionism… among others.” 
A cosmology rooted in separation produces binary thinking (ie. subject/object, good/bad, right/wrong), alienation, and hierarchies of otherness that place certain people and ideas as superior to others. Those things that are inferior need to be controlled and dominated. Western thought is deeply entrenched in Cartesian dualism which separates the mind from the body and removes spirit from the realm of earth. It identifies goodness and consciousness with the thinking mind and relegates the body to an inferior role stripped of dignity in need of taming. This mind-body split shaped the worldview of medieval europe and justified violence and domination as the modus operandi. This cosmology of separation set the stage for the formation of industrial growth society as we know it today:
“[A] culture characterized by an organized effort of human control that inflicts widespread violence and terror. It is a culture that is manufactured to provide for a small proportion of the population at the oppression and exploitation of the rest. It is a culture that dominates and restricts access to dignity to only that small proportion deemed valid, worthy, and deserving. It is a culture that has mechanized, chemically-doused, dammed, divided up, and denied life-force to such a degree that our living cells, souls, and soils become fractured parts and parcels of what it means to thrive. It is a culture that is not only lacking in support for a vast number, but is an environment that forces many into a daily, ongoing, uphill battle to survive. A system of endless consumption and extraction, this is a culture that seeks to take and to lay waste, with no limits and no end in sight.” 
Western culture and industrial growth society relies upon domination, disconnection, fear, and scarcity to drive the growth of our economy while compromising the delicate balance of ecological systems in the process. We are born into and shaped by a system that isn’t designed for our thriving but aims to keep us in the trauma cycle of survival, further disconnecting us from our bodies.
Disconnection keeps us from feeling. Feelings are connected to sensations which arise from our resonant and relational entanglement with our environment providing us with important information about our safety and belonging.
Disconnection keeps us numb. Numbness is a survival response to life threatening situations and indicates overwhelm to the nervous system. Numbness weakens sensitivity and pre-disposes us to dis-ease and co-optation.
Disconnection keeps us from knowing and seeing ourselves clearly. To know ourselves, is to know our relatedness; to know our place and creative purpose in relationship to everything else.
Disconnection keeps us from knowing and claiming our power. Cut off from our relationships, we become cut off from our ecological intelligence which is the source of our knowing and informs our ability to effectively respond / adapt.
Disconnection keeps us from our responsibilities. As a living relational entanglement, disconnection severs us from the web of belonging and cuts us off from our sacred duty to uphold nature's reciprocal relations.
Separation from nature is the source of trauma as it alienates and cuts us off from the intelligence of our ecological selves and relational nervous system. The alarms are going off and collectively we cannot hear. We are numb to the pain of the world because the trauma of separation is ongoing and the violence of our culture continues to impact our bodies/lands. That is why having a holistic understanding of wellness and going beyond individualistic notions of healing is necessary.
We must understand how our body is embedded within relational and ecological systems of interdependence.
The pressure that we feel in our own life and bodies is the same pressure impacting the fine balance of biological systems, threatening life on Earth as we know it. It comes from the same place. The pressure we might personally feel on behalf of earth manifests in myriad ways such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, sleeping problems, digestive issues, and so much more. That same pressure is being applied to delicate life systems and looks the same, except on a global scale: poverty, war, disease, the growing wealth gap, climate collapse, biodiversity loss, etc.
Humanity’s collective consciousness is dissociated from the body of earth. That is why somatics grounded in an ethics of decolonial ecology is absolutely necessary for whole systems regeneration and healing. What we do to earth, we do to ourselves.
ECO-SOMATICS: EMBODIED BELONGING
“Armoring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body” – Wilhelm Reich:1936
Eco-somatics calls us home to the sensual aliveness and intelligence of our living earth body. It calls us home to our embodied belonging by engaging practices that cultivate inner resiliency in the face of oppressive systems and rigid structures that do not reflect nature’s intelligence. As microcosms of earth, we know that change is the only constant, flow is our inherent movement, and that our power lies in the ability to fluidly adapt and remain responsive to subtle cues and shifts taking place in the ecosystem.
And yet under the influence of Western culture, the patterns we inhabit through trauma and conditioning create so much constriction (fear) in the body. The violence of industrial growth society (aka. separation, mind-body split) enacted against earth (thus ourselves) gets stored in the body as trauma and shows up as certain holding patterns (ex. posture, breath, pacing) unless there is an opportunity to metabolize the experience. The resulting disembodied state creates an alienated sense of being in the world which fuels feelings of apathy, numbness, disconnection etc.and ultimately make us less caring and sensitive, and more fearful.
Maintaining a clear channel for energy to flow through is where Eco-somatics comes in. Eco-somatic practices support nervous system regulation and re-patterning by learning how to trust and listen to our bodies while deepening our sense of belonging to place. As we heal and become more sensitive vehicles for information to flow through, we become healing channels for nature’s intelligence to operate through us. Victoria Maria of “Body Metta Spore” captures this reciprocity of healing with nature by describing eco-somatics as, “perceiving yourself as a bodyworker for the earth and the earth as a bodyworker for you.” As we heal, earth heals.
Such an embodied state creates a grounded and connected sense of being in the world which fuels empathy, creativity, purpose, and action. It is in the felt sense of being here now, fully embodied and present to what is arising that we learn to “be with” the wholeness of who we are including all threads of existence woven together across space and time. Adrian Harris of the Green Fuse emphasizes the importance of embodied knowledge as key to our ecological understanding:
“If we have a well-grounded, fully embodied self, we will have a full sensual connection with the more-than-human world. This allows us to be fully connected to that world and to be fully empathetic with it… When we have an embodied way of being-in-the-world, the subject/object distinction breaks down. The notion of a 'body' shifts dramatically from an enclosed 'inside this skin' understanding to a more fluid, open understanding of body/self as integrated within the world, as a single point of awareness within a vast matrix of being.” (17)
Sensuality, that is our ability to perceive through our senses, is the embodied inheritance of our belonging and the channel by which we access our deepest knowing and primal power. A fully embodied sensuality unsettles binary thinking and breaks down the apparent division between body/self and “other.” Like two rivers converging, when we sense both our inner world/landscape and the outer world/landscape an awareness dawns that the two are one.
There was a time in history when all humans were Indigenous, when we lived in full relationship with the more-than-human world, when we respected land as kin, and honored the myriad manifestations of life with reverence and wonder. We knew our place among our relatives, we knew their names and learned their ways. We knew our responsibilities and recognized the sacred laws of Land and Waters. We listened. There was a knowing and necessity to take care of all life. The embodied wisdom was that when you thrive, we thrive; when you suffer, we all suffer.
There are places where this land-based knowledge still exists and even more where it’s being revived and remembered. The term Rematriation is a powerful word that Indigenous women across Turtle Island are using to describe how they are restoring balance to the world...it means ‘Returning the Sacred to the Mother.’ The Sogorea Te’ Land Trust is a beautiful example of this.
Eco-somatics is a growing field of study and practice that is also contributing to land-based remembrance by supporting people to come back into a grounded relationship to their own bodies and an embodied reciprocity with the living landscape. This is so important because the trauma of separation runs deep and creates modes of being and patterns of behavior that perpetuate the norms and values of industrial growth society that are ultimately violent against and incongruent with nature’s intelligence.
Eco-somatics helps us to counter the culture of desensitization from body and nature by strengthening our ecological resilience. Spending time engaging with the living landscape is co-regulating, soothing, and enlivening. It reorients our nervous system toward nature’s rhythmic movement and flow which stimulates sensitivity, curiosity, wonder, and embodied aliveness. It’s all about coming back to life, coming back into connection with our sensual self, coming back into relational reciprocity and embodied ways of being that dissolve our sense of separation and isolation.
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.
Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.
Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.
Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010.
The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology. Alan Drengson & Yuichi Inoue. 1998. (pg. xxi)
Drengson, Alan & Inoue, Yuichi. The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology.. 1998. (pg. xxi)
“What Is Deep Ecology? Philosophy, Principles, and Criticism?” TreeHugger.com. Autumn Spanne. © 2021
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Palokangas, Satu. Eco Somatics.
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Ferdinand, Malcolm. “Why We Need a Decolonial Ecology.” Eurozine.com. 2020.
Pashby, Karen; Costa, Marta da; Sund, Louise; Corcoran, Su Lyn. “Resourcing an Ethical Global Issues Pedagogy With Secondary Teachers in Northern Europe” Teaching and Learning Practices That Promote Sustainable Development and Active Citizenship (47). 2021
Alaia, Rachael. “The Trauma of Western Culture and the Crisis of Climate Change.” Medium. 2019.
Alaia, Rachael. “The Trauma of Western Culture and the Crisis of Climate Change.” Medium. 2019
Harris, Adrian. “Eco-somatics: Towards an Embodied Ecology.” The Green Fuse. 2016