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Map Reading: the importance of a daily somatic practice

This is a short analogy to explain why having a daily habit of somatic practice is so important – if not a necessary precursor – for somatics to have the best effect on one’s body.

If you’ve ever been walking out in the hills or countryside, you’ll know that having a map and being able to read it will help you find your way. If the weather is good, you have plenty of snacks and you’re not too tired, then all seems well. You may not feel the need for navigation equipment. However, when the clouds come in, the rain starts and the paths seem to disappear, then having a map and being skilled at reading it will help you find your way to safety and comfort once more.

When the challenging weather rolls in, or when it’s getting dark and you become increasingly tired or lost; then the need to know what direction to turn in and how to keep moving forward become acutely or even frighteningly important. Would such a moment of panic, confusion or even injury, be the best time to learn and simultaneously practise the skill of map reading? If you tried to use a map and compass for the first time in the dark and cold, you might even think that map reading is too difficult or that it doesn’t work for you.
It may be that we tell ourselves a story or hold on to a certain belief, such as “I have a bad back”, or “I had an injury and that part of me won’t or can’t heal”. We know for others that the human body is responsive and dynamic and has an incredible ability to adapt, heal and learn. But do we believe that for our own body? We may have a psychological barrier or, on some level, a need or wish to hold on to the pain and discomfort. What if we could allow ourselves to release and let go? How would that affect your ability to keep moving forward?
Returning to the map analogy, what if you had already rehearsed your map reading skills on a clear and sunny day? With good visibility you can negotiate the path in front of you and keep moving forward, whilst checking how the landmarks relate to your map and compass, and practise being sure of where you are. This is akin to proprioception; knowing where you are in space. Rather than focusing on being lost, exhausted or injured, your brain is free to focus on learning the skill of map reading.

Think of your sensory motor amnesia and any pain you may be experiencing as the fog or unpleasant weather. The more difficult the conditions, the more challenging it may be for you to feel where you are in relation to your own body and space; proprioception. Do you principally turn to your somatic practice when you begin to feel pain or discomfort? I wonder how easy or effective this might be if you haven’t already rehearsed your ability to sense your body and pandiculate your muscles under less difficult or painful conditions. A bit like checking the weather forecast.

What if we approached our somatic practice like map reading, how might that affect our ability to be truly somatic, even during times of increased stress or pain? Somatic movement is an education for the brain, and we know that we learn more effectively when our mind is clear and not distracted by stress, pain or confusion (feeling lost). And, to pandiculate is a three step skill that requires focus and practice in order to 1) contract the muscles, 2) slowly and with control release the muscles, 3) come to complete rest with no new effort.

How would practising your somatic movements on the “clear sunny days” better prepare us to find and deepen the pathways between our brain and our muscles in order to address your sensory motor amnesia? How would it be to repeat this practice until it becomes a skilful habit and these neurological pathways become so familiar, they can be sensed and controlled even when the ‘fog’ of pain arrives. Could this help us to keep moving forward with more ease and less effort? Now surely that is worth creating a daily somatic practice for.

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