The term psychosomatic still remains somewhat of an enigma, as a large portion of the allopathic community has either rejected or failed to correctly understand the enormous influence the mind has over the body. The term’s prefix, psycho-, of course refers to the conscious and subconscious elements of the human mind. The suffix, –somatics, pertains to the soma, or the “living body” . The soma might be more clearly defined as the entirety of the physical body (excluding the germ cells) distinct from the psyche, as one would perceive their own body . Therefore, psychosomatics is used to represent a class of physical disorders, states, or symptoms whose origin stems from the activity of psychological or emotional dissonance or discord.
Now let’s specifically explore how one’s mental and emotional status can affect the physical body. As the human mind is constantly marauded with stressors from one source or another, each element of the psyche (the ego, superego, and id) handles such stressors differently. The self-centered id largely serves as the seat for instinctual drives and only cares for the satisfaction of its demands to be comforted. On the other hand, the superego largely provides for one’s moral standards and often devises a need for perfection and “righteousness.” The ego essentially operates as the mediator between the demands of the id and the superego. As the desires of the id and superego battle for satisfaction, the unrest can conjure an emotional response in the subconscious, often in the form of anger or sadness which may grow cumulatively in strength as the stressor is reinforced. As Dr. John Sarno explains, if one’s ego ultimately perceives an imminent, conscious experiencing of this emotion (which the ego views as an immense threat to the individual), an immediate plan to barricade the “dangerous” emotion within the subconscious can be enacted.
The chief mechanism by which the ego ensures that the emotion does not rise to conscious awareness consists of the invoking of various physical symptoms for the purpose of distracting the conscious mind, thereby preventing the true bearing of the emotional “threat.” This mechanism can lead to the manifestation of a wide variety of symptoms or conditions from spastic colitis to migraine headaches . Please note that I am not implying psychosomatic mechanisms underlie all disease or dysfunction, I’m merely stating there is often a causal or influential link between one’s psychological and physiological state. However, whatever symptom the subconscious mind decides to invoke is mostly irrelevant, as the symptom or ailment will serve to distract the conscious mind regardless. Although, frequently chosen is a site of previous injury or a place in time in which the appearance of any symptoms would reasonably indicate the suffering of physical trauma as the source of any pain or dysfunction, when in fact the pain or dysfunction is psychogenic in origin.
If whatever ailment an individual suffers from truly stems from psychological dissonance, then the underlying emotional conflict is what must be resolved. Any physiological change that is misdiagnosed as the causal culprit will prevent an accurate identification of the change as merely a symptom induced by one’s subconscious emotional state. Additionally, any palliative treatment of such a symptom will only result in the creation a new symptom to replace it as the ego continues to manifest problems in order to keep the conscious mind distracted. As Dr. Douglas Hoffman explains, successful treatment of psychophysiologic disorders (PPD) requires that the individual completely accept the origin of their symptoms and comprehend the subconscious ploy used to “protect” them from emotional danger . Also, gaining a stronger degree of self-acceptance and self-love can be very helpful in correcting psychological discord and in preventing its appearance in the first place.
Furthermore, in order to effectively remove the ego’s desire to repress any emotional content and continue to distract the conscious mind, a deep reconnection with one’s physical body can be immensely beneficial. Such a reconnection can be achieved through the employment of a variety of somatic exercises or movements – including the specific employment of a few different Yogic asanas. Accordingly, below is a collection of Yogic asanas which have been selected and organized into a sequence which has been designed (by myself) to foster the following objectives :
– shift the individual into a state of parasympathetic dominance and help “re-set” their myofascial tone,
– facilitate the development of one’s somatic awareness (or their ability to properly utilize sensory information and kinesthesia),
– support a complete return to one’s present reality and a position of mindfulness, and
– furnish a psychological state in which the individual is open to and accepting of holistic healing.
This psychosomatic asana program is intended to be completed in the order in which the following asanas are listed:
– Modified half lord of the fishes
– Modified cobbler or bound angle pose
– Boat pose
– Squat pose
– Modified locust pose
– Upward-facing dog pose
– Child’s pose
– Bow pose
– Downward-facing dog pose
– Warrior I
– Warrior II
– Triangle pose
– Warrior III
– King of the dancers pose
– Tree pose
– Corpse pose
I hope this article was helpful for you and I wish you the best in all of your wellness pursuits!
Denton Coleman is an Exercise Physiologist and is the founder of Satori Institute, an online holistic health, wellness, and fitness academy. You may visit the Institute at www.satoriinstitute.info or if you’d like more information on how the system of Yoga may be used in healing I would invite you to explore Satori Institute’s introductory text on Yoga (available here) or the Institute’s advanced treatise on Yoga (available here).
- Hanna, T. (1988). Somatics: reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility, and health. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, p.20.
- Soma. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/soma.
- Sarno, J. E. (2006). The divided mind: the epidemic of mindbody disorders. New York: ReganBooks, p.14.
- Sarno, J. E. (2006). The divided mind: the epidemic of mindbody disorders. New York: ReganBooks, p.328.
- Coleman, D. (2014). Alchemical Yoga: Exploring yoga’s transformative potential (p.36).