Many of you know I am a massage therapist as well as a yoga teacher. While I have helped countless people with back problems… I can’t touch my own back. Nobody can touch their own back. Not in any useful therapeutic way, or not without multiple bolsters and blocks and rolled up mats carefully arranged. You can appreciate the sense of irony: a massage therapist who is dependent on others to work on her back. 🙂
Four years ago that all changed. I discovered a self-care tool called the Somat. People ask me what my favorite thing about the Somat is. My answer may change over time, but right now my answer is summed up in one word: Independence. This wonderful tool allows me to therapeutically access my own back, neck, and head. I know of no other tool that lets me access my entire back and neck at one time. If it is 8pm and I would like some work done on my back, I take my Somat off the hook on the wall, lay it down, and within a few minutes (literally) I am working on my own back. This is lovely as it can be quite difficult to find a chiropractor or massage practitioner at 8pm on a Sunday (trust me on this one!).
I was talking to a few friends about this sense of independence and they asked why there were Somat classes and workshops if it is a self-care tool. I think of it the same way as I think of a trip to the dentist. When I go to the dentist’s office I get some skilled, thorough focus on my teeth and gums. At the end of the visit, I go home with tools and instruction so that I can continue the self-care on my own. The majority of the care is delivered by… me. I won’t be seeing my dentist the next day. Or the day after that. You get the idea.
Just like flossing my teeth, the Somat is a regular part of my daily self care routine. I use it for five to ten minutes at the beginning of my yoga practice. There is something about gravity pulling my back and the whole weight of my body into the Somat’s not-hard surface that instantly brings awareness of my physical state to the moment. I start to breathe deeply. This is what I try to do for the first several minutes of a yoga class as a teacher – make sure that the students are connected to what their body is feeling before they do anything deeper. I often observe students coming to class looking uncomfortable in their bodies and absorbed in their thoughts. This can happen when we spend time at the computer or driving, not “really” being with ourselves in our bodies – our “home base”. The Somat reconnects us with this aspect of ourselves within a few minutes, and consistently. Laying on it creates the circumstance to relax the nervous system. It helps you interpret information coming from other systems – fascial, organs, etc. I suppose I could get the same effect by having a massage therapist with me at the beginning of my daily practice, but that could quickly get expensive!
Getting to know the Somat has been one of the most interesting experiences I have had in the past few years. I haven’t found anything quite like it. If you want to talk with me about it please feel free to stop me in the hall and ask, and by all means come and participate in the upcoming introductory workshop (April 12, 1-3pm) or 6-class series (either Mon or Tues eves, starting week of April 20). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and ‘floss’ my back with a Somat.