The NLP Pattern of the Month: Somatic Syntax

by Robert Dilts.

"Knowledge is only rumor until it is in the muscle"
- New Guinea Proverb

"A recurrent emotional state always appears together with the attitude of the body and the vegetative state with which it was conditioned earlier. Therefore, when an individual emotional complex has been resolved, a specifically individual body habit is resolved simultaneously."
- Moshe Feldenkrais

"If I could say it I wouldn't have to dance it."
- Isadora Duncan

Somatic Syntax was developed by Judith DeLozier and Robert Dilts as a way to apply Noam Chomsky's theories of transformational grammar (1956, 1966) to a broader scope of representational systems. According to Chomsky, sensory and emotional experiences (deep structures) may be expressed through a variety of linguistic descriptions (surface structures). Deeper structures reach the surface after a series of 'transformations'. These transformations act as a type of filter on the experiential deep structures. According to Grinder and Bandler (1975) the movement from deep structure to surface structure necessarily involves the processes of deletion, generalization and distortion. Many important clues about the deep structure, however, are expressed and reflected in the verbal structure.

Somatic Syntax applies these principles of digital (verbal) language to analog (kinesthetic) expression. The term "somatic" comes from the Greek word "soma" which means "body". "Syntax" is a Greek word meaning "to put in order" or "arrange". Thus, Somatic Syntax has to do with the organization of physiology and 'body language'.

As an example of the relationship between 'deep structure' and 'surface structures', most of us learned to write using our right or left hand. Yet, once our hand has learned this skill, it can be immediately transferred to other parts of the body. For instance, we can easily write our name in sand with our left big toe or make letters by holding a pencil in our mouth, even though the physical structure of these parts of our bodies are completely different. The deep structure related to the form of the letters is not tied to any particular part of the body. It can be generalized to many surface structures.

Because Somatic Syntax is related to 'analog' expression, it is more systemic and not 'linear', and consequently often brings us closer to our experiential deep structures. One of the purposes of Somatic Syntax is to deepen and widen the 'attractor basin' of a particular internal state or resource. Somatic Syntax essentially uses the movement of the body as a way to strengthen, integrate and generalize deep level resources. By exploring the the physical form and organization of the movements associated with a particular state, we can learn to better express or manifest that state in more situations and increase our flexibility.

Somatic Syntax Exercises

Phase 1 Exploring the Landscape

  1. Identify a movement associated with a resource state (1st position present).
  2. Explore the 'organization' (deep structure) of the movement by changing different aspects of it (i.e., quality, speed, parts of the body involved, direction, etc.).
  3. Notice which changes
    1. Intensify/make more of the state.
    2. Dampen/make less of the state.
    3. Change the state to a different state.
  4. If a particular movement dampens the state or changes it to a different state, explore what changes you would have to make in other parts of your body in order to reaccess and maintain the original resource state.

Phase 2 Enriching the Deep Structure

Take the 'organization' associated with the movement identified in phase 1 to 3 other SOAR spaces (i.e., 1st position future, 2nd position present, 2nd position past, etc.). For each new space

  1. Associate into the new space. Fully adopt the physiology associated with that space.
  2. Return to 1st position present and re-access the resource state and movement.
  3. Bring the movement 'as is' into the new space.
  4. Adapt the resource movement to 'fit' that position most ecologically and elegantly.
  5. Return to your first position and notice how your experience of the resource has been deepened or enriched.

Phase 3 Widening the 'Basin'

Choose three common actions/'macro' behaviors (walking, carrying something, sitting, writing). For each action

  1. In first position present, start making the resource movement you have been exploring in phases 1 & 2.
  2. Begin the action and adapt the resource movement to fit that activity in the way that is most natural and preserves the full experience of the resource.

Phase 4 Adding to the Landscape

  1. From 1st position present, imitate the resource movement of another person (i.e., you doing the other person's movement).
  2. Go to 2nd position with the other person and do the movement (i.e., be the other person doing the movement).
  3. Go to 3rd position. What do you learn about yourself, the other person and the resource?
  4. Return to first position, taking with you some aspect of the other person's resource (deep structure and surface structure) that is both ecological and enriching to your landscape. Express it as a movement.

Phase 5 Sharing Landscapes

  1. Form groups of people of similar cultures (i.e., Brazilian, British, German, etc.)
  2. Identify a quality of movement that the group agrees is expressive of their cultural identity.
  3. Get together with people from other groups and repeat the steps of phase 4 with each other's movements.

Phase 6 Releasing the 'Wisdom of the Body' Through 'Somatic Syntax'

  1. Associate into the experience of a "symptom" i.e., a resistance, interference or 'stuck' state.
  2. Identify a significant movement associated with the experience of the symptom (1st position present) e.g., arm and finger pointing.
  3. Explore the 'organization' (deep structure) of the movement by changing different aspects of it (i.e., quality, speed, parts of the body involved, direction, etc.).
  4. Identify the minimum movement (e.g., slight rotation of pointing finger) that 'destabilizes' the symptom experience. The result should be a "transition state," as opposed to some other recognizable state.
  5. Continue to explore very small changes in physiology until you reach a state in which you feel "open to" something new.
  6. Continuing to make very slight changes, return to the "symptom" physiology from the "open" physiology.
  7. With the same quality of attention, go back to the "open" state. Repeat the cycle of shifting between the symptom and "open" states several times. Allow yourself to become aware of some feeling or part of your physiology that you have not previously noticed.
  8. Staying in the state of being "open to" something new, gently keep your attention on your new awareness and notice what resource organically emerges.
  9. Holding the state of "openness", the new awareness and resource, step back on to your health path.

The S.C.O.R.E. Model

Most NLP is oriented around defining a present state and a desired state, and then identifying and applying a technique that will hopefully help someone get to their desired state. The S.C.O.R.E. Model enriches that description by adding a few more simple distinctions. The letters stand for Symptoms, Causes, Outcomes, Resources and Effects. These elements represent the minimum amount of information that needs to be addressed by any process of change or healing.

  1. Symptoms are typically the most noticeable and conscious aspects of a presenting problem or problem state.
  2. Causes are the underlying elements responsible for creating and maintaining the symptoms. They are usually less obvious than the symptoms they produce.
  3. Outcomes are the particular goals or desired states that would take the place of the symptoms.
  4. Resources are the underlying elements responsible for removing the causes of the symptoms and for manifesting and maintaining the desired outcomes.
  5. Effects are the longer term results of achieving a particular outcome. Specific outcomes are generally stepping stones to get to a longer term effect.
    1. Positive effects are often the reason or motivation for establishing a particular outcome to begin with.
    2. Negative effects can create resistance or ecological problems.

Techniques are sequential structures for identifying, accessing and applying particular resources to a particular set of symptoms, causes and outcomes. A technique is not in and of itself a resource. A technique is only effective to the extent that it accesses and applies the resources which are appropriate to address the the whole system defined by the other S.C.O.R.E. elements.

'Dancing' S.C.O.R.E. Technique

  1. Think of a problem you are trying to solve.
  2. Lay out four locations in a sequence representing the cause, symptom, outcome and desired effect related to the problem.
  3. Physically associate into the experience and internal state related to each location. Pay special attention to the pattern of movement associated with each location.
  4. Starting in the 'cause' location, walk slowly through entire sequence. Repeat this process several times until there is a sense of a single movement from cause to effect.
  5. Go to a physical meta position and let your body lead you to a special movement representing the appropriate resource to bring into the S.C.O.R.E. sequence.
  6. Starting in the cause location, incorporate the resource movement into the other movement associated with that location. Walk through the other locations adding the resource movement to the other movements until you have reached the effect space.
  7. Repeat the movement through cause, symptom, outcome and effect until you have transformed it into a kind of 'dance'.

Also see the Article of the Month or the Archives if you are interested in checking out NLP in more depth.

For information on Robert Dilts’ products and services, please see Upcoming Seminars or Robert’s Product Page or return to Home Page. If you have problems or comments concerning our WWW service, please send e-mail to the following address:

This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1998 by Robert Dilts., Santa Cruz, CA.