Tarka #014

On Somatic Healing & Social Justice

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On Somatic Healing & Social Justice

In Indian mythology, soma is the illusive elixir of immortality.  It is a celebrated beverage, much enjoyed by the gods and sought after by centuries of Yogis.  In Sanskrit, it literally means to distill or extract and there is a wide body of literature that debates the exact nature of the original soma.  In ancient Greek, soma is a word that means body and it is from this latter origin that the field of somatic therapy has developed to emphasize the individual’s internal experience of the body.  The Greek term soma indicates bodily experience as distinct from psychological or mental knowing.  However, somatic healing usually indicates the integration of mind and body in an intentional or therapeutic setting, with an emphasis on what can be learned through the body.

Last month the articles in Tarka focused on understanding trauma and various therapies and approaches for addressing traumatic experience.  This focus continues this month with an added consideration of social trauma and social justice.  Yoga, meditation, and other forms of alternative therapies that involve the body are often inaccessible to those who might benefit the most from them.  This issue combines articles that focus on specific techniques, theoretical precepts, and personal narratives.

Rae Johnson opens this issue with, “Grasping and Transforming the Embodied Experience of Oppression,” which considers the integration of body focused therapies and social justice movements.  Johnson notes that currents models that study and work with social oppression often do not account for bodily experience and that, similarly, body oriented modes of study and therapy often lack an awareness of social power dynamics.  Johnson’s course, Embodying Social Justice: Understanding the Trauma of Oppression, begins May 9.

Next, Martha Eddy introduces her pioneering work in somatic education and considers how bodily awareness (somatic inquiry) can interrupt systems of oppression.  Her article, “Intersectionality – within the body and beyond,” introduces core concepts of somatic education and looks at the concept of intersectionality, thus raising several important and practical questions for how somatic education can effectively work for social justice.

Isa Gucciardi’s “Understanding Forgiveness,” is an excerpt from her book Coming to Peace that considers the importance of forgiveness for the process of restorative justice.  Striving to move beyond superficial apologies and the “mask of neutrality,” that potentially harbors deeper emotions of resentment and anger, Gucciardi looks carefully at the process of genuine conflict resolution from the perspective of both the offender and the offended.  Gucciardi is currently teaching the course, Light in the Shadow.

Next, Natalia Quiñones, María Adelaida López, and Mayme Lefurgey share their article “Yoga, Social Justice, and Healing the Wounds of Violence in Colombia,” that looks at the dramatic history of violence in Colombia and psychological wounds that Colombian people are now struggling to heal.  The article initially looks at factors that limit access to yoga as a tool for healing and then goes on to detail specific ways that the Colombian non-profit group Dunna has overcome accessibility issues, including free classes, posture modification, trauma sensitivity, and the integration of particular aspects of indigenous culture into yoga practice.

Subsequently, Chanda Williams’ “Insights from the Inside: Teaching Yoga at San Quentin State Prison,” describes her experience teaching trauma-informed yoga at one of California’s most notorious state penitentiaries.  She notes that, “Many prisoners are victims of trauma and violence themselves,” and argues that teaching inmates yoga can help them to process unresolved trauma and to develop new forms of coping skills.

Yasmin Lambat then introduces her own specific approach to somatic therapy in the article, “Using Motion to Heal Emotion.” This article also provides a helpful review of the neurobiology that supports somatic therapy, including a discussion about the vagus nerve and the role of fascia tissue, the fabric of embodiment.

“Somatic Salvation & Caste Elevation in the Name of Ram,” by Katy Jane recounts the origin of Tulsidas’ Ramcaritmanas, the retelling of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. Jane shows how the devotional practices and the further adaptation of the Ramcaritmanas by a group of lower caste Ram devotees, the Ramnamis, lead to their rejection of caste hierarchy and to greater literacy within their community.

The final two articles in this month’s Tarka issue celebrate the accomplishments of student work in the certificate program, The Embodied Brain.  Both of these excellent essays focus on aspects of neuroplasticity and healing.  Tonja “Sunflower” Bennet is our Viveka prize winner for outstanding student work.  Her essay, “The Homunculus Yoga Project,” looks at the science behind simple, effective yoga techniques and, in particular, how the use of hand gestures, or mudras, can improve cognitive functioning and an overall sense of well-being.

Robert Rose’s “Positive Neuroplasticity: Resilience for Thriving During Cancer Treatment,” is our honorable mention for the Viveka prize.  His personal narrative of facing cancer with “calm-abiding,” and internal strength is a reflection upon the efficacy of contemplative practice.  Rose’s own experience is woven into an analysis of practice from the perspective of positive neuroplasticity.

Several of the authors in this issue are also featured in the recent on-line conference, Tracing Trauma and the content in this issue supports the offerings in the on-going certificate program, Embodied Healing 75 Hour Certificate Program: the Somatics & Psychology of Trauma, Healing & Embodiment.

~ Stephanie Corigliano, TARKA Managing Editor
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