The Soma means the body and so somatic awareness is awareness through the body. This is something that grows by degrees as we stretch out and gather back in, tilt, wobble and center ourselves again. It is the beginnings of playful enquiry. To enter this arena of play we need a reliable environment. The surface of the ground and the atmosphere of the air in which we find ourselves, creates a kind of echo out of how we use it. It lets us feel our body; its traction and relaxation and creates this reverberation that encourages us to test the ground and air and see just what it is about and just what we are about in the process. For infants and young children, the adult Carer is their first environment. They are the one that creates warming contact; a soft landing place or a little resistance and bounce for the child and this enables the child to experiment with momentum and flow out of simple and at first unintentional movements. Gradually the child comes to pattern these movements and to learn to make, replicate and modify them and in this way to create personal ways of being in the world.
As Daniel Stern says, the mother or primary Carer is the child's "First relationship". They mirror and elaborate not only movements but sounds too that the child makes and the child comes to know they are there when they see, hear and feel this returned version of themselves which gradually turns into a conversation between two. For a child with Special Needs who perhaps does not at present crawl, wobble, walk, fall or use gabbling words, the school Carer continues to be the primary environment to a greater or lesser extent when they are at school. In these early and later nurturing relationships there is this give and take; a little traction and a little release which is at the heart of how we grow; make our needs heard and work out ideas that matter to us amidst others. The Carer, by sensitizing themselves to these levels of somatic attunement both in themselves and in how the child engages and learns, are able to hear, see and feel these children at a deep level and so to hold them in heart and mind. When children feel met and cherished in this way their wish to reach out and explore increases so that they naturally find themselves involved in this way.
Seiki is a type of Therapuetic Touch which was developed by the Japanese teacher, Akinobu Kishi (1949-2012) who initially practised Shiatsu. He went on to teach widely in Europe in informal communities of Practitioners. These practitioners continue to meet and practice together under the guidance of his wife, Kyoko Kishi. Ruth Solomon, the Lead Practitioner of Hand and Sky project, is part of this learning community and takes her Shiatsu Training further through this on-going practice.
Seiki involves waiting and listening before acting so that the receiver is an involved part of the session.This has proved a sensitive and attuned model for creating meaningful dialogue with pre-verbal SEN children. It does this first by addressing areas of tension, discomfort or emotional/sensory unease. Touch occurs as the child lies or sits on a mat or moves around freely, coming and going. The child wears their normal school clothes for a session and sometimes plays with a selection of tactile and musical objects that are always available. Touch is a direct channel that reaches the child where they are by adapting to their breathing and muscular patterns. They sense they are being met in this very practical way as they experience the warmth of the hand. As much as creating moments of warmth, the Therapeutic Touch also creates a sense of spaciousness through the contrast of on-touch and off-touch and the rhythm of this light and sensitive connection. It is a human connection that each of us needs and each of us understands.
The main purpose of this touch is for the Practitioner to say "I am here" and "you are here" and this can be very helpful in orientating and settling a child who at times may seem to be disconnected as if floating above themselves. It is as if they are being called back to themselves before words at a very critical moment in their early development (whatever their chronological age might be). As the session progresses, the Therapeutic Touch helps the child to attend to patterns of action and rest in their body-mind so that gradually they begin to initiate and co-create these patterns into their own self-expression and unique personality. This is how the Therapeutic Touch begins to naturally evolve into voice and movement, songs and imaginative play. Patterns of release unfold as the Practitioner follows the breath of the child to give warmth where warmth is needed and space where space is needed. In the sessions we often see that the release of tension is directly linked to the growth of self-expression in a child and to their ability to remain in wakefulness without experiencing tension and fragmentation and to enter periods of rest in order to replenish.
"The Small Dance"
The work draws further on improvised dance practices, exploring our moving attention through breathing through every aspect of our body. Bringing a child's attention to this level of detail and integration in their body as an internal vitality that is already there, is at the heart of the Hand and Sky sessions.This vitality is growing and adapting from the inside out as an expression of every child's unique movement pattern. This movement as it is shown and shared is the root of communication and it evolves out of a safe environment and a creative atmosphere. Steve Paxton who initiated Contact Dance Improvisation in the 70's has called this barely discernible but deeply felt interior dance, the "Small Dance". We do not want to change this in the child; we want to witness it with them, join them here and support them in this dance.
Gradually the small dance may evolve into reaching out, curling back in, rocking from side to side, moving forwards, backwards, moving up and falling down again. If a child feels they will be truly met and held when they need to be, they can explore the full range of movement possibilities between these meetings. All together these basic movement patterns; whether they remain implicit or become explicit gestures and motor actions, give a child a sense of themselves as a dynamic rotational person with a back and a front. This increases their capacity for connection and interest in the world amidst others and begins to address patterns of fear and defensiveness that may build up in a child who appears rigid in their body movements and protective in their thoughts and habits because they do not know or cannot sense what is coming.
We see therefore a strong connection between an increased freedom of body movement and the freeing up of cognitive and emotional patterns of stress and closure. All this relates back to the simple rhythm of breathing in and out and so it is with the breath and this natural pulse of coming and going that Therapeutic Touch first engages and always returns."Hand and Sky: Magical Journeys", could be a simile for breathing and being at ease in this simple fact of life.