Cultural somatics

Our school’s approach to cultural somatics has one simple foundational concept: that cultures are bodies. We see collectives of beings as having invisible somas (bodies) and nervous systems that emerge from networks of complex relationships, which include humans as well as ancestors, animals, plants, natural elements, and other beings.

This shows us that individual and collective trauma transformation are inseparable – because oppression is trauma and trauma is oppression. When there is trauma from violence in our relationships, it becomes held in cultural somas as systemic oppression. And vice versa, when there is unaddressed systemic oppression held in cultural somas, it manifests as violence in our relationships.

Following this observation, we have stewarded cultural somatics as a meta-somatic framework, grounded in embodiment practices, neurobiology, and animist ritual, that allows us to seamlessly facilitate the co-healing of individual and collective bodies.

In application this may look like both:

  • 1-on-1 and group healing work that addresses oppressions such as white supremacy as trauma itself.
  • Social change work built upon the foundations of trauma-informed somatic healing, such as relationship building, unconditional positive regard, and titration (working gently and slowly in processing emotional material to avoid re-traumatization).

A note on our respect for the emergent nature of cultural somatics

We see cultural somatics as an emerging field of practice with an organic body of common knowledge and shared language developed by a community of colleagues – like a dance.

Other people who use the term cultural somatics to describe their work include Resmaa Menakem, a black somatic therapist and author, who does leading-edge work on healing racialized trauma in collective bodies and in fact had been independently using the term to describe his work a few years before us.

We also understand that many folks do cultural somatic work without explicitly using the term cultural somatics to describe their work.

Because of this, we are committed to maintaining the RAJ School as an education and research entity driven by public interest, rather than a gatekeeping institution.

Glossary of cultural somatic terms

Here are some terms and concepts that form the core of our articulation of cultural Somatics. Please feel free to refer to these terms we have stewarded along with attribution that you feel comfortable with:

Cultural soma
The invisible sensing, feeling, and thinking body that emerges out of networks of complex relationships.

Cultural nervous system
The nervous system of cultural somas.

Cultural attachment
The concept that we form attachment relationships with cultural somas. Cultural somas can also form attachment relationships with one anothe e.g. white culture has an attachment relationship to ancestral European cultures. Also independently termed by indigenous social worker Estelle Simard.

Cultural attachment pattern
Securities and insecurities in cultural attachment can manifest in patterns that parallel attachment patterns articulated in standard attachment theory. e.g. cultural appropriation can be seen as a behavior that arises from anxious cultural attachment.

Cultural somatic context
The cultural context of a body, impacted by everything from furniture, clothes, customs, medicine, and other key cultural factors.

Cultural posture
Even though cultural somas are invisible by nature, they can be understood to have postural qualities like rigid or supple, just like our fleshy local bodies.

Cultural dissociation (privilege)
Cultural somatics understands terms that describe systemic oppression through the language of neurology. In the case of privilege, it is understood as a dissociative mechanism in the cultural nervous system that protects privileged identities from processing trauma.

Trauma diversity

Trauma diversity refers to the phenomenon of how trauma held in cultural somas interact with our natural diversities in terms of race, culture, gender, neuro-divergence, and so on, to manifest diverse trauma experiences associated with different groups. It is similar to ideas originally explored through the idea of ‘intersectionality’ in social justice theory.