What is Soma?

Aug 28,2019
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In Indian mythology, soma is the elusive elixir of immortality.  It is a celebrated beverage that is healing, uplifting, and intoxicating.  In the Vedas, India’s most ancient scriptures, It is much enjoyed by the Vedic 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 soma as it is described in the Vedas.  The ancient elixir is also personified in the God Soma, who is depicted riding a three wheeled chariot pulled by a team of ten white horses. He is the lord of plants, associated with the moon (chandra) and known as the bringer of health and prosperity.

Soma is also a word of ancient Greek origin and means “body”; it is largely from this latter origin that the field of somatic therapy has developed to emphasize the individual’s internal experience of the body.   In Greek translations of the Bible, soma is aligned with the body of Christ, a corpse revived with spirit. In biology, a somatic cell is a basic term that describes body cells as distinct from reproductive cells.  In Greek terms, soma generally indicates bodily experience that is separate from psychological or mental knowing. 

In contrast, the contemporary field of somatic healing signifies a shift towards integrating mind and body in the process of overcoming life’s obstacles. It emphasizes the idea of learning from and through the body.

Somatic therapy uses dance, yoga, massage, and physical therapy as essential tools to unpack and repattern a variety of experiences, including trauma, addiction, and depression.  The body holds and expresses emotion, anxiety, and stress, therefore the body plays an essential role in how we experience and understand life’s challenges. Traditional talk-therapies focus on cognitively understanding and addressing issues, while Somatic therapy explores feeling states of the body and treats the body as a source of knowledge.   

In contemporary somatic healing, which brings in questions of spirituality, we can trace a cross-cultural integration taking place. The Vedic Soma, ambrosia of immortality, god of health and prosperity metaphorically merges with the corporal Soma of the Greeks to foster a truly holistic picture of healing and transformation.

Stephanie Corigliano

Stephanie Corigliano is an adjunct professor in the Religious Studies department at Humboldt State University and independent lecturer. Her 2015 Phd in Comparative Theology from Boston College focused on the use of the Yogasūtras within the Modern Yoga teaching tradition of T. Krishnamacharya and engaged the work of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J. to highlight the potential interdependence of devotion and detachment in spiritual practice.  She recently completed the essay, “The Making and Unmaking of the Self: Patañjali’s Yogasūtra and the Experience of Trauma,” for the volume Thinking with the Yogasūtra of Patañjali: Translation, Interpretation, edited by Ana Laura Funes and Tracy Sachs and is currently writing for the forthcoming Handbook of Hindu-Christian Relations, edited by Michelle Voss Roberts and Chad Bauman, with an essay entitled, “Postcolonial Theology in the Hindu-Christian Encounter.”  

Stephanie is an authorized teacher of Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of K. Pattabhi Jois and a daily practitioner since 1999. Mother of two active boys, she also maintains a 28 acre homestead in Northern California where she tends to bees and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables.  

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