Somatic Movement and Pilates

In a recent Pilates Report featuring Allie Greene and Gia Calhoun, they discussed Somatic Movement and how it relates to Pilates.

What is the Definition of Somatic Movement?

In Greek, soma is "the body" and Somatization means "body-based". Somatics is relating to or affecting the body, as opposed to the mind, so while it is a body-based practice, it is heavily sensory. It is also about perceiving what is being sensed.

In Somatic Movement, there are many different methods such as the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Nano Somatics, etc. This practice of body-mind centering is a field of work that is constantly evolving.

What is Somatic Movement and How Does it Relate to Pilates?

Allie started noticing in her own practice that, when practicing Pilates, and incorporating Somatic Movement, it is a more sensory experience rather than mechanical repetition of a traditional Pilates exercise. This practice highlights how much the mind affects how we feel, as well as how the mind-body connection comes to play in Pilates practice and also in daily life.

Allie started paying more attention to how she was feeling when moving, but realized that this is not easy for everyone to do. Many people tend to not be “in” their bodies. To bridge that, she began creating more practices that involved sensory experience and less of the directive teaching that she was originally trained in. Allie began adding creative movement and would cue her clients to notice the sensation, connecting the relationship to their body with the space around them. Starting with this at the beginning of practice, it helped her clients connect with their inner selves and they responded very well to this approach.

Motivated by the positive reaction, Allie pursued further information and signed up for a Body-Mind Centering (BMC) class with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. This education included the study of all the body systems from an embryological and developmental perspective, which helped her clients have different experiences in their bodies and with their movement.

At this time, she was also introduced to working with infants and people with various neurological conditions. Her education focused on the fluids, the organs, the nervous system, muscles, the skeleton, the endocrine system, and also included the study of reflexes. It created an understanding that everything came from the same place and there is a consciousness to each of these systems. She felt the way this was taught and the way the community interacted with each other was extremely trauma-informed and embracing.

Armed with this knowledge, Allie focused on bringing her clients into themselves first before going into exercise, which had the same effect of empowerment on her clients as she experienced herself. They felt seen and heard. This simple change made a big difference. She found that sometimes her clients just yearned to feel more at home in their bodies. The work is so deeply about the individual.

It is also important to note that not everyone going through it will have the same experience or the same truth. There is no hierarchy in Somatic Movement, it has the same value to a new starter in this practice as a teacher of 20 years. In this community, everyone is learning from each other and embracing each other. It is not only an incredibly potent, special, movement experience, but almost a call to how we should live our lives. Given the confidence and freedom to be able to insert yourself a little deeper is a very meaningful experience when you practice it.

What is Embodiment?

Allie mentioned that embodiment can be a bit of a tricky place. The fact that you have a body doesn’t mean you are embodied. Somatic Practice is the doorway to conscious embodiment. It becomes a moment-to-moment experience of ourselves and how we inhabit ourselves. So many people are disconnected from that, and they do not really feel themselves. The practice brings to the consciousness that which was unconscious. It helps us feel and sense and then make decisions based on what we feel and sense. Once you are in tune with exactly what you are feeling you can make decisions based on that information.

To illustrate how this works, Allie mentioned she’d start by asking her clients to lie down and be aware of their bodies on the floor. Then, she would ask them to move their awareness to their stomach and ask how their stomach feels. Let’s say they are gripping or holding their stomach in. Once the awareness of that action is there, you can make a decision like, maybe to let go. Or, alternatively, maybe it makes you feel safe, and you can decide to stay like that.

The important thing is the awareness of what the body does and what you decide to do next. That decision literally ends up changing your physiology and when you change that, you also change your emotions.

This practice affects thoughts and perceptions. Perception usually comes from the outside. It lets you ask how you are perceiving something and whether you believe it. Do you (perhaps unconsciously) think you are uncoordinated or clumsy? Is that your perception of yourself? Do you believe it?

For example, someone might believe she was really bad at rotating. However, rotation is a movement, so it is impossible to be bad at it. Instead, she wants people to realize that movement is a process, and they are somewhere along in that process. So ultimately it is not a bad movement, it is just where you are in your process with it. With Somatic Movement you become aware and pay more attention to it. Once you start doing this, you might find that your perception of how you move changes, and that, in turn, changes how you show up, whether in Pilates class or in life.

To sum it up, the definition of embodiment is the moment-to-moment inhabiting ourselves. The more we practice sensory-based, body-based movement, the more consciously embodied we become. Ultimately, Somatic Practice is the gateway to that embodiment.

How are Somatic Principles Incorporated in Practice?

A usual start to Pilates or Yoga classes is arriving (starting on a Mat, for example). Allie mentioned the importance of bonding with the earth. Some call this grounding. She reminded us that even before birth, we are in relationship with four things: Gravity, Space, Breath, and Body.

We live in a fast-paced world and are traditionally bad at resting. This leads to high tone, whether in the nervous system, muscles, or even the whole body. When you start the practice with arriving or grounding, you are bringing yourself back into relationship with the ground.

This practice also brings you back into relationship with gravity (the force pulling your body down into the ground as you lie there), which then brings you into a relationship with space and with your breath. Arriving is practiced on all sides of the body to ultimately create a more balanced postural tone, which underlies alignment. This means you are manipulating a motor pattern you are currently in and re-patterning. Ultimately, arriving helps to create balance and it happens in the cells and in the fluids.

After grounding, she would take the client through developmental patterning. There are basic patterns of yield push; and reach pull, similarly in Pilates movements and exercises. Yield push relates to the ground and reach pull relates to the space you are in.

Allie’s approach to teaching uses invitational language to cue clients to embody their practice. She uses terms like “I invite you to…” or “When you are ready”. This is very helpful in a group class setting where not everyone is physically capable of doing the same movements. Sometimes the cue is no cue at all to allow space for each person to move in the way they feel comfortable.

Each client is on their own developmental journey, and she asks questions to bring their attention to certain things, such as what is supporting them. For example, are they standing on the ground or are they on a Reformer? What is their relationship to that support? She does this so clients can awaken their whole sensory palette. She loves to see people become empowered and take ownership of their practice.

Who can benefit from Somatic Movement?

That is the physical part of the practice, but there is also the nervous system component – helping to create more balance in the nervous system. Combining self-agency and confidence with a more balanced nervous system is a crucial element of this practice in the way it helps people deal with persistent pain or illness.

It is very beneficial for anyone who has an autoimmune disease, for example. The session can be specifically customized where someone can work deeply within themselves, but that doesn’t mean it has to always be these big physical movements that can be tiring or painful if someone is ill or injured.

A lot of the healing process is a mental journey. Physical pain will most often create a mental (negative reaction). Doing Somatic movement in addition to Pilates or Yoga exercises and combining it with affirmation is a good process to help people get to better health.

As people go through this practice, they get to know developmentally and embryologically the different parts of their body; from their feet to their shoulders. She helps them focus on where they are balancing their body. Allie tries to use visualizations and metaphors that are easy to follow, like the movement of giant kelp under the ocean so that the client can visualize and feel the movement. Sometimes people will ask if they are doing it right, and she would just respond that they just need to know that it is happening. It is okay not to know exactly what you are feeling. Sometimes if you don’t understand the visualization queues, it becomes distracting instead of being helpful. Then just settle in the awareness. The step before somatization is visualization. After that there is realization. We find ourselves in flow, and that is where we feel embodied – the conscious embodiment of oneself. Visualizations are developmental, so images of that pattern or stage that we are in are very helpful. But awareness of whatever you feel is the goal.

Marchel Ackler
About the Author

Marchel Ackler

Marchel Ackler is a Marketing Associate at Pilates Anytime. She lives in Knightdale, NC. She enjoys cooking with loved ones, crocheting, and gardening, is currently learning how to play pool (billiards), and loves going on adventures with her husband and puppy.


1 person likes this.
Wow this is really cool. I am currently reading "The Emotion Code" maybe you have heard of it? But the point is that people need to be healed in way that traditional methods are not addressing. People are searching. To be able to apply my Pilates knowledge to search out stuck emotions that are causing harm to one's body is a real blessing. And my goal is to become an emotional code healer. Love this and thanks for sharing!
I agree. I've been working on this for 20 years, and most recently have noticed a huge increase in awareness and interest. In fact, I'm doing seminars and workshops on this subject.
Thank you for your reply
1 person likes this.
I am a firm believer that our minds have immense power and can affect our physical outcomes. Love this article! I will most definitely put this to use! Thanks!
Thanks for sharing! I really would like to learn more about this! Like Lisa I believe that the mind can be a wonderful healer.
Any reading suggestions to learn more?
Hi Claudia! Pick up a copy of Louise Hay Heal Your Body.
Also, watch for more workshops my studio is doing on the subject. Thank you for your comment!
Thanks a lot Risa! For sure I will read this book.
Maybe there will be this kind of workshop on Pilates Anytime?
Hope so Claudia! Thank you again.
1 person likes this.
Marchel, thank you so much for this wonderful blog. It expresses my conversation with Gia so beautifully! 
Carla Mullins
good article, So important for us to allow people to invite themselves into their own body and experience. It is amazing how often we are removed from our personal space and place by the expectations of performance
Denee D Hi! I'm so happy these blogs/info resonates with you. I have a series on PA in the Mindful Movement section called Move into Ease. You can just look up my name under teachers to find it. I think you will appreciate the psycho-physical lens. I also do a lot of work with the organs and have workshops on that too. That aligns with the book you mentioned. We are human beings not bodies. Everything we are grows together and we express ourself holistically. I'm offering a workshop virtually July 9th called Exploring Support. Recording available if you can't make it. You can find the details on my website Thank you for reading this and being a light in the world! 
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