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An Introduction to Ecosomatic Practice

Ecosomatic movement practice is a term which is gaining increasing usage, particularly within therapeutic and expressive arts. But what is ecosomatic practice? How can it be used to improve and benefit our wellbeing? In this brief introduction, we explore the key concepts underpinning ecosomatic practice and offer some suggestions for how you might begin your ecosomatic practice journey.

Somatic and Ecosomatic Practice

Somatic practice refers to activity and exercises which aim to promote and create greater unity between the mind and body. Through somatic practice, very often in the form of movement or dance practices, individuals have the opportunity to focus on their “inner life”, to learn to connect and attend to their body from within.

In somatic practice, the focus is therefore on an individual and their experience. It creates opportunities for individuals to develop self-awareness and autonomy. By listening and attending to their bodily cues, individuals have the space and opportunity to investigate and develop their embodied selves and engage in embodied experience. These bodily cues can include listening to the breath, investigating touch and sensory stimulation, perception and inner impulses, as well as movement.

Through engagement in somatic movement practice, individuals have the possibility to enhance their body-mind integration or psycho-physical experience. Furthermore, somatic movement also encourages individuals to consider the body, not only in terms of its physical processes, but also as a site of “lived consciousness” (ISMETA).

Ecosomatic practices extend the embodied experience further to also include the relationship between the individual human and the “body of the Earth” or Nature. Through practice, especially that which takes place outdoors, this outer body of Earth/Nature, can be further sensed and understood. Through our own bodies and as part of our inner experience, we can begin to attempt to rebalance and reconnect to Nature and the natural embodied world all around us.

Fundamentally, ecosomatic movement practices aim to facilitate and create greater understanding of the continuity between the individual body and its inner experience, to the outer experience in and with nature. By widening our kinaesthetic and sensory perceptions beyond our bodies and experience, so as to include our environment and our awareness and relationship with and to the outer world, we can (re)connect with all the natural beings or “bodies” within that space, including all the fauna and flora.

The Benefits of Ecosomatic Practices

Engaging in ecosomatic practice has several benefits for our bodies. In the first instance, it can help to heighten our individual sensory awareness. It also improves physical wellbeing by improving coordination, posture and range of motion and movement. However, ecosomatic practices also offer additional benefits, in the form of movement (re)patterning. Through regular, ongoing practice, ecosomatic practice can equip individuals with tools to address and better cope with negative habitual patterning.

Practitioners such as Andrea Olsen, emphasise the benefits of somatic and other mindfulness practices for our daily lives. By introducing and regularly engaging in such practice during our daily lives, we create important opportunities for our bodies to continue to move, especially during challenging times. Similarly, Anna Halprin, emphasises the importance of using the expressive arts (including dance and movement) as a tool for healing, as well as to heighten our awareness of the environment.

Ecosomatic approaches can also be particularly effective for supporting the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for governing the body’s involuntary rapid response to dangerous or stressful situations (the fight or flight impulse). Meanwhile, the parasympathetic system works to calm the body down, encouraging it to rest and digest. Together, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems work to maintain a positive baseline and support normal bodily functions.

In order for our bodies to be able to cope well with stressful events, there needs to exist homeostasis or balance within the body. Our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems need to be in harmony and balance with one another. How our bodies respond to stressful situations, especially regular or ongoing stress, can significantly impact our health and wellbeing.

Through regular ecosomatic practice, individuals can learn to adapt their responses to stressful situations. In time, rather than triggering a stress response, the body can instead learn new ways to manage and handle such situations. This can be especially useful for individuals who suffer from regular bouts of anxiety and depression and has led to increased use of ecosomatic practices and strategies within therapy.

An Invitation...

This week we invite you to begin your individual journey into ecosomatic practices by undertaking the introductory audio guide by Anna in an outdoors location. If you’re already familiar with the practice, use this week’s Movement Inspiration as a point of departure from which to engage in your own explorations.

Take some time to tune into your body’s impulses, using the breath as an initial guide. Open your awareness to the sounds all around you. Listen to the natural sounds of other living bodies in the natural environment. Allow yourself to connect with them, to be inspired by them and to move in response and dialogue to them.

Above all, trust yourself to respond freely to these impulses. Remember that there are no right or wrong ways to move. Give yourself permission to experiment with big and small movements and variations of speed and rhythm.

Conclude your session by engaging in some contemplative reflection. Perhaps you want to engage in some written or creative recorded response? Or maybe you simply want to take the opportunity to sit in quiet contemplation.

We would love to hear your experiences and any reflections which you may have, or questions which arise from your practice. Connect with us via the comments, the Shared Thoughts forum or via our Facebook page.

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