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Clinical Somatic Education: The Gift Of Thomas Hanna

Thomas Hanna's somatic insights are not only an inspiration to one of his students, but a breakthrough in somatic learning.

The genius of Thomas Hanna is displayed in his many articles, essays, and books. Yet, what history may find to be his greatest accomplishment will never be fully understood by reading alone, for it is somatic in nature and must be experienced to be completely appreciated. The crowning achievement of Thomas Hanna is his development of Clinical Somatic Education@ (CSE). CSE represents a major breakthrough in the field of somatic education. As such, it offers new insights, techniques, and theory to the somatic educator, while incorporating the best develop ments of past masters in the field.

Some of the characteristics of CSE make it a breakthrough system of somatic education.

CSE is the culmination of over twenty years of thought, research, and development by Thomas Hanna. In 1990, Thomas Hanna had sufficiently refined his thought and practice in somatic education to begin teaching others. This author, as a member of that training, was taken by the depth and wholeness of CSE and the size of the step Thomas Hanna took beyond other somatic educators. I would like to point out some of the character is tics of CSE that make it a breakthrough system of somatic education. (More details on CSE and its relationship to other somatic educational approaches can be found in Hanna's article, "Clinical Somatic Education."1).

Philosophy, Theory, and Practice

CSE is a system of sensory-motor education designed to overcome the problem of sensory-motor amnesia (SMA). (SMA is the loss of voluntary cortical control of part of a muscle's function.") It consists of a set of educational techniques as well as a supporting theory and philosophy. However, if only the techniques and theory are considered, a great portion of the essence and beauty of CSE is missed, for any system is only as strong as the foundation upon which it rests. The somatic philosophy developed by Thomas Hanna creates an entirely new paradigm within which the techniques and theory of CSE reside. It is this triad of practice, theory, and philosophy integrated so well together which make CSE such an effective system , Such an integration is unusual, but it is even rarer that the same person develops all three aspects of a system. The logic and integrity of a well-developed "triad system" (consisting of a philosophy, theory, and practice) are irresistible. All components are synergetically interconnected and interrelated: each part supporting the others and being supported by the others.

CSE is greater than the sum of the parts, and each part is impressive on its own.

CSE is greater than the sum of the parts, and in CSE each part (philosophy, theory, or practice) is impressive on its own. Let us briefly look at each of the three components which combine to form CSE: Philosophy, Theory, and Practice.


Thomas Hanna was a philosopher when he began his investigation of somatic education, and it is from his philosophical viewpoint that he made his great discoveries. Two essential concepts in the philosophy of Thomas Hanna are: (1) the human as a soma; and (2) freedom.

Thomas Hanna changed the world of "bodywork" when he introduced his somatic viewpoint in Bodies in Revolt.3 The somatic viewpoint implies that education is the manner in which a human can most effectively regain control of sensorimotor systems.1 However, there is even more to be gained from this viewpoint. All living beings are somas. Somas are self-moving and self-experiencing sensory-motor systems. Human somas have much in common with all somas, even with mircroscopic one-celled creatures.4 Realization of these commonalities had much to do with the ability of Thomas Hanna to develop his theories. Thomas Hanna viewed somas as the natural development of the universe.

Thomas Hanna viewed somas as the natural development of the universe.

Somas have many of the characteristics of the universe itself, and Thomas Hanna pointed out that only living somas can move independently of the universe. Thus, in some ways the universe mirrors itself in its evolution of somas.

In the evolution of life, it is not surprising that natural selection followed a path of greater and greater freedom to finally arrive at the human soma. As life evolved, fixed motor patterns gave way more and more to learned patterns. In humans this freedom reaches its apex. The fixed-motor patterns have given way, and the human soma stands helpless without its learning. But learning can go wrong and sensory-motor reeducation can be needed.

With CSE the mystery of "regional muscular illnesses" is gone.

When a person suffers from SMA, the lack of the ability to move comfortably is a lack of freedom. There was nothing so central to the being of Thomas Hanna as freedom. From his existential background he looked at freedom with a somatic eye and realized what was missing from the traditional viewpoint. In CSE, somatic education means somatic freedom. The connection between the philosophy and practice is that intimate.


One outstanding part of the theory of CSE is its diagnostic theory. Thomas Hanna discovered that most problems were created by the habituation of three reflex responses: the startle reflex, the Landau response, and the trauma reflex. 1,2 Understanding of the effects of these reflexes and their habituations gives valuable and essential insight into the cause of a "regional muscular illness."' The importance of this breakthrough to the field of somatic education cannot be overstated because it eliminates one of the great barriers to acceptance by the scientific community of somatic education. With CSE the mystery of "regional muscular illnesses" is gone. The cause of the problem is easily understood, the plan for the necessary sensory-motor education is straightforward, and finally the results are quite dependable.


Historically, Thomas Hanna first asked philosophical questions and then looked for practical answers. After having studied with Moshe Feldenkrais, Thomas Hanna established his private practice. Over the years the techniques of CSE evolved. As described in "Clinical Somatic Education," the prime sensory-motor educational technique of CSE involves the use of the pandicular response. This essential technique, though quite powerful, is overshadowed by the system within which it is used. The effectiveness of pandiculation is enhanced by working with sets of muscles which are related to a specific reflex response. When such a group of muscles is reeducated, then the habituated response of the entire system is deconditioned. To accentuate this learning, neurologically reinforcing movements are taught to a client. The result is that the typical pattern of clients feeling better for a short while and then returning to discomfort is not found in clients of CSE; instead, clients gain control over their systems and retain or even increase this control.

The genius of Thomas Hanna is embedded in CSE.


CSE is the next step forward in somatic education. To use the words of Thomas Hanna, "It is what is necessary if we are to begin constructing a positive science of human health and autonomy." The genius of Thomas Hanna is embedded in CSE and is carried on in this work. Its effectiveness will not be judged by words on a page, but by the free swing of human legs and arms moving gracefully through space.

Fortunately, CSE did not end with the death of Thomas Hanna. In the training which began in 1990 thirtyeight people learned the essence of CSE from Thomas Hanna. The training is continuing under the supervision of Eleanor Criswell Hanna. The work is continuing with the evolution of thirty-eight somas teaching themselves and others, using what they learned from Thomas Hanna.


  1. Hanna, Thomas. "Clinical Somatic Education," Somatics, Vol. VIII, No. 1.
  2. Hanna, Thomas. Somatics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., 1989.
  3. Hanna, Thomas. Bodies in Revolt. Freeperson Press, 1970.
  4. Hanna, Thomas. "What Is Somatics?" Somatics, Vol. V, No. 4; and Vol. VI, No's. 1,2,3.


When first reading the case studies in the book Somatics, I thought they were most likely exceptional cases which responded unusually quickly to somatic education. Now, a greater understanding of CSE reveals these case studies to be quite typical. Below is a brief description of a person with whom I worked. There is nothing special about this case except that this was the first person I worked with following the training.

One afternoon, shortly after the CSE training, I was studying at the Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training when a young woman, whom I'll call Susan, walked into the office and asked about somatic education. She had read Somatics and was wondering if she could be helped with the sciatic pain she had had the last ten years. I described CSE, and she made an appointment.

When Susan returned the next week, I found what I had suspected. Susan's back was tight especially on the right side, the side on which she had the sciatic pain. In addition, she had a slight tilt to the right. It was clear that Susan was suffering as a result of habituation of the Landau response, which gave her a tight back, and a trauma reflex, which caused her to tilt to the right. (Susan could remember no specific trauma to one side of her body; but this is not unusual, for the injury had to have occurred more than ten years in the past.)

Susan had tried various approaches over the years to find relief from her pain. She had worked with her own physician, a chiropractor, and a physical therapist at various times, and she still had sciatic pain.

I worked with Susan three times. I taught her to relax the paravertebral muscles of her back and the muscles on her right side. Her sciatic pain was gone after the second lesson and had not returned three months later. I was impressed then, and remain impressed: Not with myself or Susan, but with the gift I received from Thomas Hanna.

From Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1991, pp. 46-48.

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