Why Somatics?

Abhyas Somatics Training
Navtej Johar

What is somatics and why somatics? “Somatics is the field which studies the soma: namely the body as perceived from within by first-person perception” (Thomas Hanna, 1995). Of course it is much more than that, but let us just stick to this definition for now as it is highly pertinent.  One of the main reasons that I have been invested in devising and now propose to offer an Indian somatic practice is because I strongly feel that the self has been systematically evicted out of our embodied practices of yoga and dance (I here refer to what I know best, i.e. classical dance). Both the practices have been categorically cleansed and reconstructed as per the norms of Victorian morality as well as acquired modernity not more than a century ago; and subliminally invested with an “idea” of India that is “imagined” and moralistically-spiritual, as opposed to being paradoxically or amorally spiritual.

Dance of course became far more entrenched in this mechanism of nation-building as it became India’s prime object of cultural exhibition. And today yoga is following suit! If a dancer is dancing with the self-consciousness of being a cultural ambassador of India or upholding the lost laurels of an imagined/fabricated past, then the centre-of-her-initiative is already prescribed and even open to cultural policing. However, the very idea of an embodied practice such as yoga or dances such as Bharatanatyam (or Sadir as it was called earlier), in my view, is autonomy, if not fierce autonomy, to occupy the centre in order to self-regulate, calibrate and distil the materiality of the body to arrive at essence or spirit, which is, i.e. sat, and which is not an idea.

In our post-industrial societies, there is a certain mechanism that operates with clockwork precision, which is forever inventing new ways of making the body available to a variety of machinations; within more upwardly-mobile societies or social circles, these also include a variety of machinations of self-improvement that range from grooming to spiritual self-care. Unfortunately, our embodied practices of both dance and yoga have fully lent themselves to these machinations. The modern day delusion of independence, freedom and neo- spirituality actually robs the body of autonomy and distorts the body’s ability and right to rely upon itself.  Thus, the very practices that are designed to instil fierce autonomy become agencies and tools of taming, domesticating and dociling the body.   Both the BARPS method of asana practice and the Somatics practice being offered at Studio Abhyas attempt to challenge this mechanism through the sheer technique of practice.  

The somatic practice at Abhyas draws from the dual practices of yoga and Bharatanatyam. It involves methods of scanning and mapping the body in a finely detailed manner, that is, understanding the physical structure of the skeleton, the size, shape and weight of the bones, the contours and range of the joints, the elasticity of the ligaments, the strength, tautness and slackness of the muscles, the nature of bodily substances, fluids and the airs that pervade the body, and finally a sophisticated understanding of dynamics. The inherent emotionality of the material body lies at the core of this practice. The approach is fundamentally volitional and views the materiality of the body as not only intelligent but also endowed with autonomous will, tendencies, intention and feeling.    

The Abhyas Model:
The Abhyas somatic technique models itself upon the yogic vision of the body, a body made up of and subject to the properties of the five elements, i.e. the panchabhootas, and the respective proclivities of the gunas, doshas, vayus, and energies that comprise the subtle and the gross body. But most of all, it draws its foundational inspiration from the component of sukha or pleasurable repose that can be methodically orchestrated and subsequently allowed to pervade the body in savasana at the end of an asana routine. It relies on this self-regulated condition of sukha to accord the mind the repose to unhurriedly attend upon and register the subtle sensory responses of the body. Onto sukha then it adds the component of rasa, the aesthetically pleasurable emotional-juiciness (also within the body) that is the mainstay of Indian theories of aesthetics and poetics.  

How does a practitioner benefit from the somatic practice?
Keeping movement autonomy central to the practice, the idea is to effectively disable the conditioning that views the body from a third-person perspective and effectively install the first-person prerogative in its place. Instead of making the performers/practitioners subject to the dictates of form and the conventions of social behaviour and aesthetics, the somatic practice aims to make the performative body thrive on its own sensitivity. With the hope that this self-reliance will foster a “sensory authority” and in turn prompt movement autonomy in the mover!

The Somatics training will also include a choreography component, and is open to performers and non-performers alike.