What is Somatic Learning?

By Maeve Hendrix LPCA, RYT

What is Somatic Learning?

I get this question a lot. Somatic Learning is the practice of embodied mindfulness and offers tools for engaging in a friendly and reverent relationship with the intelligence your body.

The word somatic is derived from the Greek word Somatikos: Of the body.


“Somatic Learning provides a discipline for a new participation in life. It is a practice for awakening to who we are by receiving the gift of our embodiment - not what we mistake for our “body” as “object”, but as the embodiment of spaciousness in the actual blooming of life, in the here and now.” Risa Kaparo

I remember the first time I read this quote from Risa Kaparo ten years ago, something in me lit up with curiosity and interest AND I also felt a lot of resistance and fear. I could feel my body saying “YES” through the tingling sensation in my arms, legs and fluttering heart. I felt the fear and resistance as a queasiness in my stomach and a voice in my head saying, “What does that even mean? Embodiment of spaciousness in the blooming of life???!” Even though my mind was pounding me with skepticism, I decided to take a risk and follow the YES I was also experiencing. I read on, and became intrigued by the shift from Old Paradigm to New Paradigm Approach to embodiment that Kaparo was proposing.

“Old Paradigm: … Most of our of our programming arises from collective beliefs of what we might call consensual reality (what we agree within a given paradigm to accept as “real”). Here are a few of the beliefs of the prevailing old paradigm that may still be unconsciously informing our mind/body relationship.

We function as relatively fixed objects.

We are separate from everything else.

Gravity is a force that needs to be overcome by effort.

These beliefs are based on the reductionism, materialism, and determinism of the socially prevailing scientific paradigm arising from Aristotelian thinking and Newtonian physics. However, in the latter half of the twentieth century, scientists and philosophers postulated a new paradigm, articulated in quantum physics and a philosophy of holism.

New Paradigm - These beliefs may be more relevant and empowering than those of the old paradigm.

We function as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing energy beings.

We are interconnected with all that is.

Gravity provides an opportunity to send and liberate us from our patterns of habitual tension.”

-Risa Kaparo

Relating to my body as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing, rather than as a relatively fixed object was completely revolutionary for me. I had been practicing meditation and mindfulness for a few years but was still unaware of the type of relationship I had with my body. In that moment I realized that I had been relating to my body as a tool that was here to be wielded and forced into action, rather than a highly intelligent organism that is self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing.


As I look back over the last ten years, I see from a birds eye view how I have been slowly Living Into this new way of relating to my body/mind.

Over time, I have cultivated a much more friendly and reverent relationship with my body, honoring its vast intelligence and wisdom. Additionally, my relationship with gravity has changed dramatically. Rather than always struggling against gravity or taking it for granted, I am learning to play and experiment with receiving gravity as a gift. As a result, I have become more effortless in breathing and movement. Learning to be in a friendly relationship with gravity is a huge part of my embodied mindfulness practice. It is a daily practice that I can engage with anytime, anywhere and will never stop teaching me new lessons.

One practice that has been very helpful with my experimentation with gravity is “Differentiation”, as taught by Risa Kaparo.

Differentiation: The practice and processes of noticing change or movement.

Risa Kaparo says, “When you differentiate awareness, what you experienced previously as solid and relatively fixed, like “the body” or “the ground”, will now reveal itself as ever-changing, movement within movement… the ground keeps opening itself to you.”

Differentiation Exercise: Set a timer for 3-5 minutes or put on a song you enjoy that is 3-5 minutes long. Begin by standing with your knees slightly bent, shifting your weight more from one foot to the other. Tune into your breath, feeling the texture and temperature and movement of your breath. Feel the weight of gravity pouring down one leg and then the other. Invite your shoulders and arms to dangle heavily. Receive the weight of gravity as a helpful energy that allows you to feel the ground beneath you and feel your body suspended in space. Notice how everything is changing in each moment. Let your body be moved by an inner curiosity… an inner longing. Feel the ground rising up to meet your body and the air touching your skin as alive with consciousness. Continue this exploration until the timer goes off or the song ends. Afterwards: notice how you feel and how your relationship to the ground, the air and your body feels. Journal about this experience.


I would love to hear about your experience with this practice! Feel free to write in the comments below or send me an email with any questions or reflections you have!

> maevehendrix@gmail.com

To learn more about Risa Kaparo’s work, check out her book “Awakening Somatic Intelligence”