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“Movement never lies.”
This phrase, uttered famously and often by the late, great dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, is one that carries tremendous depth of meaning in three short words. She once followed them with the following statement: “It (movement) is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.”
For those who come to the practices of yoga and meditation after a period of pain, immobility, or physical stress, such a notion makes perfect sense. We can measure our progress through increased flexibility, mobility, and ease of movement; greater fluidity can indicate better health, just as increased range of motion, balance, and the ability to be still can show us how far we’ve come from where we once were.
Further, wellness experts are combining both hard and holistic medicine to lead to better physical health and emotional well-being. The two go in hand-hand-in, a symbiotic relationship in which one is a dead giveaway of the other—whether we realize it or not.
Uncovering New Truths
From stressed-out executives to wounded combat veterans, a wide range of clients have come to Roman Torgovitsky, Ph.D., the Harvard-educated founder of an integrative self-bodywork practice and line of products called Soma System. At once a biomedical scientist, structural bodyworker and internal martial arts practitioner, Torgovitsky is also an activist and social entrepreneur who founded Wounded Warrior Ukraine (WWU), an organization providing psychological rehabilitation services to Ukrainians affected by war. Knowing the ravages of physical and emotional trauma and the ways in which they can intersect and exacerbate one another, both the Soma and WWU teams work to educate people about the intricate connection between body and mind, as well as methods to bring about a greater state of well-being in each through the other.
As the provider of bodywork tools used at Wanderlust Festivals, Soma focuses on myofascial release, trigger point therapy, and mindfulness meditation. Its founder explains how those methodologies can make us feel better both physically and mentally.
“When we were kids,” Torgovitsky says, “We had very high variability in movement. Just look at how 4-year old is playing, turning around, jumping and stretching in the process. As we grow older, we gradually reduce these great repertoire of movement to primarily flexing and some rotation, (like) turning to look left to make sure there is no incoming car when crossing a street.”
As the movement repertoire and variability are reduced, adjacent layers of fascia… get glued together. This makes it harder for blood and nutrients to get to these tissues, and for by by-products of cellular metabolism to move from cells back to blood.
“Extracellular space becomes more acidic, pro-inflammatory substances accumulate and this results in painful sensations,” he continues. “Neural receptors living within the muscle tissue register these changes and send signals of distress to the central nervous system as a request for help.”
The problem, Torgovitsky continues, is that we tend to ignore these signals.This results in two downstream effects. On one hand, constant barrage of SOS signals from the receptors over-stimulates the nervous system.
“On the other hand, ignoring these SOS signals consumes our energy,” he says. “This results in reduced efficiency of sleep, (and) we get more agitated and less focused.”
Learning to Let Go
To address the host of issues that arise when the body’s stressors are left unchecked and its stress responses aren’t wholly tended to, Soma brings with it a signature series of rollers, balls, mats ,and belts, all of which pave the way for increased circulation, energy, flexibility, range of motion ,and overall body awareness.
At the same time, its tools work to decrease muscle spasms, inflammation, tissue adhesion, and general stress. As a result, the system’s clients enjoy improved posture, sleep, respiration, mobility, balance, range of movement and even, in some cases, athletic performance.
Torgovitsky proudly shares the stories of his clients whose lives have been changed by their experiences with self-bodywork under his guidance, from executives struggling to achieve work-life balance to combat veterans working to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. And for those who wish to become certified Soma trainers themselves, there’s a body-mind training intensive available for yoga instructors to learn self-palpation and self-bodywork for individual muscles, a series of special bodywork exercises, and lessons in working with clients to guide them toward better sleep, posture and foundational psychological functions.
The idea, he explains, is to responsibly share the methodologies with as many people as possible since the more widespread they become, the more humanity can benefit from them both individually and collectively.
The Proof Within the Practice
“Many people in our culture get used to the fact that gradually declining sleep quality, gradually reducing range of motions and ever increasing number of painful areas in the body is absolutely normal — that we view this process as natural aging,” he says. “In reality, this process of gradually declining health has nothing to do with healthy aging; on the contrary, it is simply a sign of our body mind gradual decline as a result of our lifestyle.”
Our widespread addiction to laptops, cell phones, and long patches of time spent in sedentary states throughout the day are much to blame for our poor posture, he says. He also points to psychological trauma and emotional stress as root causes for a great deal of pain and discomfort that builds up over time. Without attention, these pain points can “overstimulate (the) nervous system, reduce sleep efficiency, negatively affect our mood, energy level and motivation,” Torgovitsky says. “And they do all of these while we are not even aware of their existence!”
That’s why one of the primary goals of Soma System, he says, is “to help (the) individual to discover these hidden spots, map out their location all over the body and learn to release them.” Because as external movement can tell the truth—whether we like it or not—about our internal state of being, it’s up to us to change our stories and perhaps even allow ourselves an alternate ending that may or may not involve the ability to truly dance.
Amy Wilde is a writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. She covers places that inspire conversation, products that spark curiosity, projects that stimulate progress, and people who move the world forward. Her work has appeared on Lonely Planet, Refinery29, Brit + Co, The Hairpin, Collective Quarterly and more. Follow her on Squarespace or Twitter.