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Somatic Comparisons

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This method can be used to explore and anchor participants’ understanding of an issue, moving from intellectual to full-body knowing.


The method asks participants to physically embody two different paradigms or contrasting ideas related to sustainability. This gives them an opportunity to reflect and learn from the different physical feelings and emotional responses that may arise. It can open up new dimensions for dialogue and root the new concepts via the embodied experience


  1. Introduce the topic briefly and inform people that you are going to lead them in a short somatic exercise intended to move a concept from our heads to a full body experience;
  2. Ask everyone to stand up and create some space around themselves;
  3. Invite them to physically embody or demonstrate the first idea (In Variation 1: getting as small as possible to reduce one’s ecological footprint. In Variation 2: feeling the burden of changing the world and “saving the planet”, as a crushing weight on one’s shoulders);
  4. Ask everyone to shake it off and (optionally) share one word with someone next to them about how it felt;
  5. Next, invite everyone to embody or demonstrate the second idea (In Variation 1: expanding one’s impact on the world and maximizing positive footprint. In Variation 2: removing the burden from one’s shoulders by taking
    it in your hands, sharing it with another person, and embodying a sense of collaborative or collective care and responsibility with others);
  6. Again, ask people to share a word or short sentence about their experience with a neighbour.

Variation 1: Sustainable vs. Regenerative

This variation physically demonstrates the difference between a sustainability narrative that emphasizes ‘reducing harm’ and one that celebrates our ability to have a positive impact on the world around us. The term sustainability is often understood only as the need to reduce our ecological footprint, or, in a metaphorical sense, to get as small as possible. While this narrative is not wrong, it can feel restrictive and off-putting. The core narrative of the ‘regenerative paradigm’, on the other hand, emphasizes the possibility for humans to have a positive impact on the ability of social and ecological systems to thrive, encouraging us to be as big as possible through virtuous acts.

Variation 2: Burden of (individual) responsibility for the planet VS (collective) Freedom of caring

This variation invites people to re-frame their feeling of responsibility towards the environment from a sense of solitary guilt or burden to a sense of collective freedom and caring connection. Alone, the effort of caring for the environment can seem overwhelming and heavy. When we recognize that we are interdependent parts of nature and society, we can share the work of caring in a way that brings joy.

Place on U
2-5 minutes
Materials Needed

Images on a presentation slide that depict the paradigm shift can reinforce the objective of the exercise (optional).

Emotional Intelligence
Online Engagement
Ecological Mindsets
Care & Empathy
Movement and Somatics
Tip and Experiences

Explain the idea of somatic knowing or exploration: clarifying the purpose of the exercise can put people more at ease with doing something outside their comfort zone.

Relevant References & Resources

Embodied Learning: Evans, Davies & Rich (2009). The Body Made Flesh: Embodied Learning and the Corporeal Device.
Regenerative Paradigm: Reed (2007) Shifting from ‘Sustainability’ to Regeneration.
Burden of Care: Pulcini (2010). The Responsible Subject in the Global Age.

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