Spiritual and Somatic Learning

In many of the European and North American cultures, a great emphasis in formal education is placed on the intellect to the exclusion of somatic or spiritual learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Those two are left to be addressed by the individual away from the formal education setting with varying degrees of success. Is that a mistake or is that prudent in a society in which spiritual perspectives are as varied as the religions people gather them from?


Somatic learning or embodiment can range from stress reactions to going through a certain ritual before starting an activity to a heightened sense of location in an environment (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Our bodies can provide us with information others might not perceive. For example, I knew someone with epilepsy who reacted badly to flashing lights. She could notice the faintest flicker in lighting, and no one else in the group would even be aware of it. For her, it was a safety issue, and her hypersensitivity to that factor of the environment saved her from trouble more than once.


Spirituality is not the same as religion, but many people draw their spiritual perspectives from their religion (Tisdell, 2008). As a part of my religion, I have had many spiritual experiences. I have prayed and upon occasion perceived an immediate answer, which gave me the assurance that God truly is there. I have been through crises and, in retrospect, saw the hand of God directing the events, which drew me closer to Him. I have studied the details of nature and been in awe about how carefully balanced the creation really is.

Their Place in Adult Education

Should somatic and spiritual learning happen in adult education classrooms as a standard procedure? I do not think that question can be answered once for all cases. The issue should be addressed for each individual course and probably even for each individual class. Some aspects such as journaling or questions calling upon the experience of the learner might be usable in any case. Other techniques like visualization, yoga, tai chi, and other similar ideas (Tisdell, 2008, Freiler, 2008) are against the religious beliefs of some people. Out of respect for them, those should be avoided or options should be available.

As recently as last week, I thought that maybe the failure to address somatic and spiritual learning contributed to the sorry state of the public education system in the United States, but this week’s readings suggest that a syncretistic approach is the way to go, and now I am less certain. Many of the suggested practices for engaging somatic and spiritual learning are labeled as unwise or even dangerous in my faith, regardless of whether the name of a deity is attached. Fortunately, there are other options for engaging those other types of learning, so perhaps all is not lost.


Freiler, T. J. (2008). Learning through the body. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 119(3), 37–47. doi: 10.1002/ace

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tisdell, E. J. (2008). Spirituality and adult learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 119(3), 27-36. doi: 10.1002/ace


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s