Mary Ellen Hannon, Movingness and somatic movement teacher

Minding the Gap: A Somatic Journey Through Snow and Memories

Mar 17, 2024

“By incorporating the SPA cycle into our practice, we can actively engage with the process of transforming our predictive brain, fostering greater presence, awareness, and adaptability in our somatic movement practice and daily life,” writes Mary Ellen Hannon. 


By Mary Ellen Hannon, Movingness and Somatic movement teacher

Recently, I had a personal experience where I could use the principles of Somatics and “minding the gap”. The principles helped me to connect with my past experiences and emotions related to snow.

As I watched the snow softly falling outside my home in Bend, Oregon, memories of “Snow Days” during my time in Chicago surfaced. I vividly remembered those unexpected days off from school and work, creating a sense of joy and respite.

I recognize that not everyone shares positive associations with snow, and it’s important to acknowledge that our experiences can vary greatly. Yet, by questioning the gap between our sensations and perceptions, we can choose more mindful actions, even when faced with experiences that may not initially seem pleasant.

In my case, allowing memories, both positive and negative, to flow and fade naturally, embodied the power of being present and aware.

Watching the snow and allowing my memories to flow and fade naturally...


Cultivating a dialogue

As Movingness teachers we guide individuals to tap into their felt sense, or the bodily sensations that arise from movement and touch, to deepen their understanding of their bodies and improve motor control, learning, and behavior. This approach is rooted in the concept of bottom-up processing, which emphasizes the importance of sensory input and embodied experiences in shaping perception and cognition.

In contrast to more traditional, top-down approaches that prioritize cognitive processing and instruction-based learning, somatic movement education focuses on cultivating a dialogue between the body and the brain. By engaging in sensing-to-perceiving practices, we can tap into the inherent wisdom of our bodies, fostering a deeper connection to our lived experiences and facilitating a more holistic, embodied understanding of movement and behavior.

This emphasis on the felt-experience of relating to one’s body is a defining characteristic of somatic movement education, setting it apart from other forms of movement training and highlighting the transformative potential of attuning to the body’s innate intelligence.


Noticing the gap

Movingness offers a unique approach to somatic movement education by interrupting habitual patterns and fostering a more present-centered awareness. By integrating meditative seeing, listening, and conscious touch into the practice, individuals can cultivate a deeper connection with their bodies and the environment, ultimately encouraging a more adaptive, responsive interaction with the world around them.

At the heart of this practice is the sensing-perceiving-acting cycle, a framework that highlights the dynamic interplay between sensation, perception, and action. This cycle serves as a guide for exploring the intricate relationships between the sensorimotor and neuromuscular systems and understanding how they influence movement and behavior.

Noticing the useful gap – as the Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa framed it – between our sensations and our actions is the key in this practice and a fundamental concept in many spiritual and somatic traditions. In his classic book Awareness through movementMoshe Feldenkrais stated  that “The delay between thought and action is the basis for awareness”.

Personally, I’ve found Kaila June Keliikuli’s framing of the Sensation-Perception-Action cycle (SPA) very beneficial. It helps me understand my interactions with the world around me. By slowing down and observing my environment, I can create space for implicit memories such as those “Snow Days” experiences to arise – whether positive or negative – and engage with them without becoming overwhelmed.

In the following, I will share some suggestions on how you can incorporate the SPA cycle into your own somatic movement practice and daily life, transforming your predictive brain through mindful awareness and intention. 

So as you immerse yourself in meditative seeing, listening, and conscious touch, you can mindfully implement the different parts of the SPA cycle in your experience:


1. Sensing

Begin by focusing on your sensory experiences as they arise in the moment. During meditative seeing, notice the visual sensations, colors, and patterns that appear in your awareness. In meditative listening, attune to the various sounds that arise without judgment. With conscious touch, allow yourself to explore the tactile sensations that emerge as you intuitively touch different parts of your body.

2. Perceiving

As you open yourself to these sensory experiences, practice observing them without immediately attaching meaning or interpretation. Simply allow the sensations to exist as they are, without trying to change or manipulate them. This non-judgmental, receptive stance can help you perceive your experiences more clearly, allowing you to fully inhabit the present moment.

3. Acting

In the context of somatic movement education, “acting” refers to the mindful, intentional responses that arise from the integration of your sensory and perceptive experiences. As you deepen your awareness of your body and environment through the SPA cycle, you can explore new movement patterns, refine existing ones, or simply allow your body to respond spontaneously, guided by the wisdom of your felt-sense.


Bringing it home

The beauty of the SPA cycle is that it can be applied not only to your somatic movement practice but also to various aspects of your daily life. By practicing mindful awareness and intention in your interactions, decisions, and emotional responses, you can cultivate a more adaptive, resilient mindset and a deeper sense of connection with the world around you.

As you progress in your practice, you may find that the SPA cycle becomes more fluid and seamless, allowing you to navigate your internal and external environments with greater ease and presence. This heightened awareness can lead to more refined movement patterns, improved proprioception, and a deeper understanding of your body’s needs and capabilities.

As I delved into the sensations, emotions, and memories that surfaced during my daydreaming, I discovered that embracing the SPA cycle allowed me to cultivate a deeper presence and intentionality. By incorporating this practice into my somatic movement journey, I was able to better understand the roots of my implicit memories and engage with them in a way that nurtured healing, integration, and personal growth.

It’s truly remarkable how a simple acronym can encapsulate such a rich, multifaceted practice that has the potential to enhance every aspect of our lives, from movement and self-expression to emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships.

Furthermore, the pause, or the Perceiving stage of the SPA cycle, is closely linked to the interplay between the brain’s Executive Control Network (ECN) and the Default Mode Network (DMN). During this stage, we temporarily suspend our automatic reactions, judgments, and goal-oriented thinking, allowing us to observe our experiences with greater clarity and openness.

As we shift into this more receptive, non-judgmental state of awareness, the activity in our ECN—which is typically associated with focused attention, cognitive control, and decision-making—tends to quiet down. Simultaneously, the DMN, which is involved in self-referential thinking, mind-wandering, and autobiographical memory, becomes more active.

This dynamic balance between the ECN and DMN is essential for engaging in mindful perception and reflection, enabling us to observe our thoughts, emotions, and sensations without being consumed by them. By cultivating this state of awareness through the SPA cycle, we can foster greater self-understanding, emotional resilience, and adaptive responses in our daily lives.

Cultivating an environment where growth and beauty can emerge.


“Seedlings long-sown burst open”

Our art, movement and lives all thrive when we embrace the SPA cycle, minding the gap between sensation and perception before acting. By observing without judgment, allowing space for change, and trusting the process, we create an environment where growth and beauty can emerge. The gap is where our expectations meet reality, and it’s in this space that we find opportunities for transformation.

My dear friend Hanna Hannah shared a Haiku with me:

Now in our plowed hearts
Seedlings long-sown burst open:
Age-old forests pray.

In the Haiku, she captured profound imagery in just a few simple lines. The phrase “plowed hearts” evoked in me a sense of vulnerability and openness, while “seedlings long-sown” suggests the potential for growth and renewal that has been waiting to emerge. The final line, “Age-old forests pray,” offers a sense of ancient wisdom and interconnectedness.

The sense of vulnerability, renewal and wisdom came alive for me as I read and pondered this haiku. Her choice of words helped me as I struggled to put into words what it feels like to be on a somatic path.

May I begin with emotions knowing the words will follow – bottom-up writing!

Mary Ellen Hannon

Mary Ellen Hannon is a Somatic movement teacher and practitioner in Bend, Oregon, US. She guides individuals in cultivating Embodied Aliveness through an integrative approach that draws on Movingness, Groundwork, and a range of other disciplines to promote vitality, awareness, and well-being. You can reach her at  

A deep somatic experience!

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