Episode 85 Somatic Intelligence: Interview with Jen Degen

Oct 19, 2022

What is Somatic Intelligence and how are our psychological and spiritual experiences perceived by our body? Can knowing your body make you more mindful?

MEET Jen Degen

Hi, I’m Jennifer Degen. My work as a Somatic Therapist and Resiliency Coach draws on 30 years of eastern and western traditions. I will facilitate an experience that focuses on your needs:

-Nourishes your authentic desires

-Expands your creativity

-Sustains your life in a place of balance

All my offerings evoke alignment, embody mindfulness, and ignite self-leadership and growth. Prepare to gain greater insight, awareness, acceptance, and honor of comfortable change.

Mind Body Awareness is the intersection of somatic psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness, and personal growth.

Find out more about at Mind, Body & Awareness and connect with Jen on Facebook 


  • What is Sensory Motor Awareness? 8:35
  • Supporting your clients with Somatic awareness  14:35
  • What is Somatic Intelligence 17:14

What Is Sensory Motor Awareness?

  • What are the different ways we experience mobility?
  • Understanding how mobility integrates into so many practices
  • What is Somatic Yoga?
  • Examples of Somatic practices

Supporting Your Clients With Somatic Awareness

  • Using client feedback as a way to help them make the best decision for their health and wellness
  • Understanding how to invite the whole body into the somatic process

What Is Somatic Intelligence?

  • Understanding how or entire body interacts and works together
  • Connecting mind, body, and spirit
  • Teaching Somatic Intelligence to our clients
  • What is embodied mindfulness?

 Connect With Me

Instagram @holisticcounselingpodcast


Join the private Facebook group

Sign up for my free email course: www.holisticcounselingpodcast.com

Rate, review, and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

Resources Mentioned And Useful Links:

Find out more about Jen at Mind, Body & Awareness


Chris McDonald: Welcome to the Holistic Counseling Podcast, where you discover diverse wellness modalities, advice on growing your integrative practice, and grow confidence in being your unique self. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. I'm so glad you're here for the journey.

Welcome to today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. I am back. I took a break from recording episodes and just got back from my two week trip to Scotland and Ireland, which was amazing, and this allowed me some total disconnection and focus on self-care, which was much needed.

If you ever get a chance to visit these places, I highly recommend. And I wanna apologize ahead of time for my voice. Unfortunately, I took a souvenir I did not want, and that is Covid . So I'm recovering right now. Um, and my voice may fade in and out. We'll do our best today, so hopefully it, it will be okay.

And I, and I hope that you'll bear with me through this episode, cause I'm not at my a hundred percent. But I do wanna welcome new listeners to the podcast. I wanna say welcome as a listener. You have access to my free nine part email course, becoming a Holistic Counselor. In this course, you'll explore different holistic strategies, how to develop your skills as a holistic counselor, and how to manifest your holistic practice through journaling.

Go to www.holisticcounselingpodcast.com. Scroll down, enter your name and email address today. Today's guest is Jen Degan, her work as a somatic therapist and resiliency coach draws on 30 years of Eastern and western traditions. All of her offerings evoke alignment, body mindfulness. Ignite self leadership and growth.

She helps clients gain greater insight, awareness, acceptance, and honor, comfortable change. For her mind. Body awareness is the intersection of somatic psychology. Neuroscience, mindfulness and personal growth. Today she's here to talk about somatic intelligence, which I don't know much about , so I'm excited to learn more with you.

And a fun fact about her is she has an uncanny set of repetitive habits that maybe of interest twisted ankles and falls on her back . So I have to ask her about that. So welcome to the podcast.

Jen Degen: Thank you. So great to be here, Chris, and thank you for all the work you bring and bringing out these great. Um, yeah, thanks people

Chris McDonald: on to your show.

So tell me about the Twisted Ankles and Falls on your back.

Jen Degen: Yeah. Yeah. So I always thought it was kind of interesting that I would roll my ankle, like, I don't know, every three or four months. Oh no. Since I could remember, you know, I'd be walking along and my ankle would twist and I, you know, I'd kind of like.

Walk along and then trip, you know, And then I found it interesting when I was a young mother, I was, you know, I literally could count on like more than twice on, you know, two hands how many times I've fallen downstairs and fallen out my back. You know, part of my story actually was that I was taken out at the knees on the.

And I was, I slipped and fell on my back and I ended up having brain surgery. Oh my goodness. So I've been, you know, this embodied mindfulness practitioner and I've always kind of like wondered what is this all about? You know, because the universe is trying to tell me something that, you know. It stops me dead in my tracks, literally, right?

Yes, for sure. Until and when I was nine years old. I mean, I'm not kidding you, this did happen. I was in a trust fall experience. I was at a. A young day camp where, where these obviously the leaders were not paying good attention and it was this thing called the zipper line between these two trees and there were 10 of us and we were supposed to get over this line that was like a little bit above our heads between two trees.

Without touching the line and without touching the two trees. So everybody, like we, we bolstered everybody up and over through like more than 10 fingers without touching and somehow we got 'em onto the other side, but they saved me for last, cuz I was the youngest and I was also the. Lightest. And so they made like this net with their hands, 10 fingers, but it was like 10 fingers, 10 fingers, 10 fingers, you know, some big net net for me to stand on underneath the rope without touching it.

And then they went, 1, 2, 3, go. And they pushed me up and over the line, and I looked down at all these heads and they all run, ran an opposite directions, and I slammed on my back and I was taken off in a stretcher. I broke my back in three different places. Good Lord. Right. So that was like the trust fall that went south for really the rest of my life.

So I imagine, you know, as I wonder about this, I'm like, this has something to do with the twisted ankles and the, and the falling, right? Yeah. Something about. You know, and there's something about a wake up call, right? You get thrown on your back, right. Somehow it feels like. Yeah. So I've, I've always wondered about that.

And then later on in life I had brain surgery because I was taken out the knees at a skating party and my whole community was there cuz I was a guidance counselor at the time. And all the families that you know were. Parents, friends of mine and their kids were there to watch it and they were also my students in my classes.

It was like the most mortifying experience cuz someone took me out of the knees while I was teaching my daughter to skate. So I was skating backwards and the sound came out of my body that was like, I'd never experienced before. It was a roar, you know, it was like a scream because I hit my head. That, you know, was kind of the glimpse of like a bigger fall that changes the face of my life, and that's why it's important because it is like I learned from that point forward how our systems, that the medical systems, the psychological systems for mental health and the educational systems in lots of ways.

Are not, we're not supportive to me as a client needing those services. Yeah. Mm-hmm. , of course, I also learned at the same time, cuz this is the way life is, how loving and warm a community can be. So it was both of those things and you know, I welcome all of those experiences as. Being, you know, highly catapulting my growth and changing the way I operated as a mental health professional who had already 15 years of experience in working in schools teaching mental health.

You know, I had my own private practice at the time, so I, it was a gift and I, I feel like, you know, my answer today is what the twisted ankles and falls have to do with everything. And it really is like, it reminds me that we always have these, Wake up calls, but do we pay attention to them?

Chris McDonald: This is true.

So can you share more about your work, cuz I know you have multiple things that you offer.

Jen Degen: Yeah, sure. So I have, you know, my main practice is mind body awareness.net and the, the services I provide are individual therapy in the state of Vermont and coaching in other states, and then group coaching. But people work with me in a combined way.

They, they always receive the availability of group coaching. And I have an online platform called the Resilient Practitioner, which. Health professionals, doctors, people in the healthcare field, even natural pasts and such, come in to work together to increase their capacity to be more resilient through this, you know, this somatic lens of support.

As a somatic coach, I mirror them in the work that I do and in, you know, all the frameworks. Working together, whether it's in group or individual work. And then I have yoga retreats as well, and I teach yoga, and I've been doing that for about 12 years. And I have a big yoga retreat coming up in January, which will be in Costa Rica.

It's called Living in Balance. So a spirit wide journey and there'll be lots of women's circles and energy work and sort of the subtle body study of energy and creating a new vision for ourselves, which I don't know about you, but you know, that's an ongoing process, is revisioning our lives in a new form, moment to moment at different times in our

Chris McDonald: lives.

So I know on your website you mentioned sensory motor awareness. Can you share what that.

Jen Degen: Yeah, of course. So, you know, sensory motor work is really what it sounds like. The sense is right, the inner sensor sensors of our body. So the, the ways in which we, you know, experience, um, mobility, the ways in which we sense in the sort of visceral part of our body, and also the way that we move, right?

And there's a whole set of training that's just around sensory motor work because it really does help. Regulate occupational therapists often do sensory motor work to in schools with kids so that they can start to really feel these bottom up approaches of being in your body. Whether it's through dancing or moving or breathing, you start to sense the effects of your body more fully.

So that's what a sensory motor approach is. It's really movement, senses, and also kinesthetic awareness.

Chris McDonald: That sounds like that could be helpful with yoga as well. Yeah,

Jen Degen: I mean, some of these terms, some of them land better for some of us than others. And so, you know, I think one of the challenges with yoga in our western world is people have an idea that yoga.

Is, you know, what they see on the media or Instagram. Yeah, yeah. Instagram with some crazy poses.

Chris McDonald: Right, exactly.

Jen Degen: So I think it becomes a western sort of view of what aerobics was with Jane Fonda a long time ago. , Yes. It's like yoga is not the awesome enough. It's not the, you know, it's not. The speed of coming into a really fast paced class.

Although there's something fantastic about that for athletes and people who are working in type A jobs and they really just love to sweat and release and hopefully they also get the benefits of the release. Right? Shavasana the most important pose of all, so, So, yeah. So yoga, the term can be sometimes limiting for people because it isn't.

Just that. Right. It's all the limbs of yoga

Chris McDonald: for sure. And I think people forget that there's so many more parts to it. So do you use yoga with clients in session? Yeah. So

Jen Degen: that, you know, brings us to the word soma or somatic, you know, so, yeah. Mm-hmm. . So I, One of the ways I like to look at the lens of yoga is that it is an inquiry process and sometimes it's even spelt inquiry and that we're really fine tuning our awareness.

Of what it's like to be in our bodies. And when I first trained in Phoenix Rising Yoga, it was a therapeutic yoga training, and the Michael Lee had us come into a forward fold and asked the question while we kept our eyes closed. What's happening right now in your body? I don't know if this happened for you in.

School for counseling, but Carl Rogers, when he mirrored, we learned to mirror each other's words and feelings. You know, focus on the feelings. I remember going through that training and feeling so fully heard by someone, you know, when they would get the gist of what they heard. And you and I imagine you're feeling a particular way.

I mean, I guess that's more Gottman, but just to be heard. And reflected in the listening is what Rogers taught us. And when I went into a forward fold, that was the first time when Michael Lee said, Well, what's happening right now in your body? What do you notice? It was like me marrying me, but in my soma, which is my body, the somatic lens of my own experience right now.

And that felt really intimate. You know, like I could hold myself in a space and of wonder and notice what's really happening. And it felt very similar to that moment when somebody mirrored me, you know, in graduate school and. I felt heard there, but this was a different kind of herd. It was like being seen and known by myself that, of course, in the face of trauma or challenge, if we can hold ourselves kindly and compassionately at what's there, whether it's emotions or pain or a reaction or an image, it's, it can be quite intimate if we can hold the mirror of awareness.

What's happening inside the body? It's very different, isn't it? It's,

Chris McDonald: It is. It's a very, It's a different experience.

Jen Degen: Yeah. So I would say that, you know, when you ask the question, do I do it with clients? What I find effective is one shape at a time, but really letting them lead when they come into the office.

You know, what's your intention? Which is yoga too, right? It's like right from your heart, from your body awareness. What is your intention for your time today and how can I hold. True to that intention by whether it's Samir or reminding you that this is what you had asked for, or calling in collectively the same energy of, you know, love and compassion for whatever you're asking.

You know, so it's like I'm co, co supporting you in your intention, and so that takes creative form and I realize. If we do breathing, if we do meditation, if we do some movement, it really changes the nervous system so that the person can see and feel more clearly. Right. Absolutely, it settles things. So, you know, that leads us to this idea that bottom up approaches do work because they, they help us be more embodied than the nervous system says, Oh, it's safe enough now to let some of this down, let down sort of the guard of whatever, sort of in the way.

Me allowing myself to even notice what I feel. Oh, absolutely. So

Chris McDonald: true. I see that with clients a lot too. It's just starting sometimes. The session that way is just so profound. You can really just see the difference in their whole

Jen Degen: body.

Chris McDonald: And the way that they present themselves, it's, it's just like, to me it's magic

It is. See, it really is.

Jen Degen: Yeah. And what I've also noticed is in like being super supportive to their agency and asking the question afterwards, which is, do you notice that that made a difference? If so, how? Right? Mm-hmm. so they can, again, when they come into the session, be the agent of their own decision.

And be remembering internally that it, it made a difference to go into, let's say, Botta Cano first and open up their hips. That was the reason that the waterworks came so quickly. It is just

Chris McDonald: getting them back into their bodies and really tuning into those sensations. Cuz especially with trauma, there's a lot of disconnect.

Jen Degen: Yeah. So it brings us back into connection with. All the parts of our body that are somatically intelligent, they are the whole intelligence of our experience and that we're limited by the talking heads that we are that running around, you know? And if we invite the heart and the belly, you know, and the whole body's intelligence into the conversation, it's super interesting.

So like I have a client who has a, I've had many clients who have shoulder issue. And all of a sudden the shoulder melts and it's like not sure what exactly what that formula was, but from bottom up, up approaches. My understanding is it. A release of sort of the system's overall holding pattern. All of letting, just letting go and relaxing because it is safe enough now and that in these fight flight responses of our lives, whatever trauma was, we hold these patterns in a particular way where we're.

You know, rec recurring in a particular way, or we're defending in a particular way in the body. We don't know. We're unconsciously holding that through throughout our life. Like our shoulder is carrying it in a particular way. It's like a held frozen moment that patterns a new way forward. That was an adaptation to, you know, could have been a car, car accident, could have been even a moment of distress that was unexpected like mine, you know, where I was taken out at the knees.

You. And then being held for a long time and then eventually the shoulder says, Okay, it's safe enough, enough clunk. It's away from the ears now, . Right? Yeah. Cause


Chris McDonald: know you mentioned somatic intelligence. Can you talk a little bit more about that and what that is, and is that a certain way that you interact with clients?

Jen Degen: Well, it's just a recognition, first off, that our body, the soma, right, is this whole. System of support that we kind of don. Acknowledge. So somatic intelligence is, you know, this is my framework of using the term is like it's bringing into awareness. We have our whole bodies here to interact with and it's an intentional recognition that it even has a spiritual connection cuz our body is energy, it is love, it is union to connection to the, the nature around us.

So we, the more we talk to it, like, Oh, what does our foot have to say about that? Or shoulder, whatever. If it's calling, right, If it's, it's interfering with the conversation. It's like, You know, Oh, what's happening there? You know, if your eyes are, you know, jolting left and right, you know, the body has something to say.

It is intelligent. It has the capacity to assist us in our healing process. So it's all of those things. And, uh, Reginal Ray says it's, you know, the soma is also spirit, So it's, it's really. Mind, body, spirit, isn't it? It's the, yeah. Innate intelligence of who we are. And it's the recognition that we can call it in as part of the conversation.

And I think

Chris McDonald: that it just reminds me too of like brain spotting that I use with clients and I always teach them that your brain wants you to heal and our whole body, right? And our brain, everything, every part of us wants to heal and it, and it's going to bring us down that path, but we do have to listen and be open to it.

Jen Degen: Yeah, there's a, a need for open, spacious listening.

Chris McDonald: So is there other ways that you work with somatic intelligence with clients?

Jen Degen: Yeah, absolutely. You know, there's our breath. Mm-hmm. and there's specific. Ways of moving very slowly or specific ways of engaging, you know, the physical body so that we are engaging the strength of our core energy.

And then there's like the slow, really subtle movements that really help us sort of tune into the, I would say like the inner fabric of like our early memories of being like the, the brain and the spinal column. And sometimes, you know, When you're like rocking in happy baby on your back, that might be one way or rolling side to side can be really supportive to the kidney and the, the energy of the back body so that again, we feel more safe.

Yin practices where you're holding for a while and really focusing on your breathing slowly. While also allowing sort of a little bit more yielding to the earth and the fascia and the joints open up, which gives a little bit more water quality to the body. So usually, After being in a Y shape, if you come back to a place of neutral, lots of, you know, sensations integrate and something circulates in us, again, sometimes we might experience imagery, we might find a creative thought that really opens up for us.

So it's interesting, like if we can un pattern any kind of pattern in the body, um, not necessarily cuz we're forcing that un patterning, but we can kind of expect the unexpected. Un patterning that can occur or an unwinding that what I find is the metaphor of something else in life corresponds to that.

And so we become really curious again together, like, I'm not the teacher, you're the best teacher. I'm just guiding you to discover more about you and kind of start putting the pieces together like a little dotted line of. Things the client might experience and, and say, What do you make of, you know, the fact that you were feeling kind of like a butterfly, you know, your left ankle, um, started to relax and, um, now noticing your, you're crying, you know, and they're making that inner connection.

You know? Yes. Mm-hmm. to these different ways that the body speaks to us. And you know, Beth Little Vander Coke says, the body keeps the score and Amanda Blake says, The body is your brain. You know, it's like, like you said, you know, it's like the body itself is such a unique pattern and fabric of intricate forms that we can't even explain.

There's so much that. Still not understood that we can just wonder about Yeah, for

Chris McDonald: sure. What is embodied mindfulness? So

Jen Degen: for me, that's just paying attention. You know, mindfulness is paying attention on pur purpose is the present moment. Right. And embodying that just says feel it too. Like we're embodying what's happening right now.

Just let's include the senses of what's happening right now. So

Chris McDonald: fully including the body in that, and not just mentally saying, Oh, I'm being present .

Jen Degen: Yeah. Or, you know, I'm observing what's happening right now. It includes the whole body. It's embodying the whole of it. So what's a

Chris McDonald: holistic strategy that you like to use as part of your daily

Jen Degen: practice?

My daily practice is really having gratitude every single morning for waking up and this new day, you know, just counting. My gratitudes. Each one, like for today, what's happening and just kind of becoming aware of what's gonna be happening throughout the day and the things I'm grateful for, the people I'm gonna interact with and calling them in right as if they're part, already a part of what's happening.

You know, my, my dog, you know, the way my dog greets me, the sunshine. And that's, um, the surrounding nature that I live in and. And then the people I'm gonna interact with and the gratitude for, you know, the family members I'm gonna talk to and the clients I'm gonna work with. So gratitude is one. Yeah, it works for everybody.

It really changes the channel of our nervous system. It brings more oxytocin right into our bodies as we really feel into the gratitude. I think

Chris McDonald: gratitude is such a good reminder of all those things that we can blindly go through life and miss kind of puts that intention, you

Jen Degen: know? Yeah. It, it's a framework of, you know, Martin Seligman's work on optimism.

Like it helps. Yes, Grow and plant the seed that it's really what? Choose to place our attention on that will make the difference in our day to day life.

Chris McDonald: And what's a takeaway you could share today that could help listeners that might just be starting their holistic journey? You know,

Jen Degen: I'd like to go back, I guess to intention is everything.

Yes it is. Because it's a really easy thing for us all to do. You can choose. So intention is choosing from, I would say, your heart's calling. You know, what is it that you want to grow today? And plant that seed. I even like when I teach yoga, it's like plant the seed in your heart that it's already growing because you planted it.

So if my intention is to love more openly today, it's already happen. because I planted the awareness of that set of words. I'm feeling it, you know, I've got my thumbs pressed into my chest, my fingertips are in a prayer position, and there's a little bit of space that I'm opening up into for my intention, and it's, it's already being heard.

Like there's an awareness that just in the asking, it's there for me. And that doesn't require, you know, going to a yoga studio or even knowing how to do Warrior one or Warrior two. It's just a practice and if we add one practice at a time, we're habit stacking what ultimately becomes our life. And that's what the resilient practitioner is that I offer.

It's this, you know, set of ways that I've built in my life that have worked from my own traumas over 30 years of neuroscience and practicing and training put together. In this one program that allows us to have it stacked for us, what works in whatever order we need it to go in because we all start in different places.


Chris McDonald: and I'm just thinking what you said with planting a seed and it's, it's actually still starting to grow already.

Jen Degen: Yes, . Yeah. Right. It's

Chris McDonald: already, Cause I know everybody talks about planting seeds, but I never thought of it as it's already starting to grow. Cuz you planted it, . Yeah. I mean, that's powerful, right?

Yeah. Connecting with that and just knowing that, like you said, intention is just so powerful. We can't minimize that. And I, and I think too with clients in session too, just starting with what is your intention, Like you said, I think can, can really be a great way to, to really make your sessions more holistic too.

It's really allowing the client to lead and where do you wanna go? What do they hope to get out of the session that

Jen Degen: day? Yeah. I mean, and similarly at the end of the session, we leave seven minutes for integration. Okay. Which is weaving together what they notice bubbled up, not what I noticed, but what they found resourcing supportive, that bubbled up into their awareness.

Cuz you know, they walk off and their mind goes towards, they're processing something and if we let them walk off without. Having them make their own value based personal commitments to like share that part that's bubbling up. They kind of go off wander wandering into like that and they think about it, but it could just be let go or it could be an opportunity for them to weave together a little bit more about, Okay, yeah, I'm gonna digest this a little bit more.

And so then nurse stating another intention for themselves. Hmm. And that is a superpower. Yeah. Really helpful intention

Chris McDonald: is the superpower. Yeah. Yeah. How does that feel in your body? ? That's why I'm always using that question.

Jen Degen: Yeah, it does. It feels like alive in my hard face. Yeah.

Chris McDonald: Yeah. It does, doesn't it?

So what's the best way for listeners to find you and learn more about

Jen Degen: you? I would say go to mind body awareness.net. And if you are interested in retreats, there's a drop down menu for that. If you're in interested in working together, there's a little contact page up at the top right hand corner and you can have half hour with me and we can just see, you know, what your intentions are, where you wanna go, and whether there's a, a unique fit for us.

And if there isn't, then I can certainly. Other resources if there's something else that's more predominant for you, so never can hurt to disconnect to more people.

Chris McDonald: Absolutely. And we'll have all that information in the show notes on the website too so everybody can reach out to you. But I wanna thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Jen.

Well, thank you Chris,

Jen Degen: for all that you do to bring together more holistic practitioners so that more people can be served in this way, because it really is an important agency. We have to pick the, the people that we work with so that it really, at the right time, serves us.

Chris McDonald: Yes, and this has been a wonderful discussion.

I think that therapists listening are gonna get so much out of this. Well, thank you. I hope you feel better. Yeah, thank you, . I think I made it through. Yes, I'm on the path to recovery, so Awesome. But listeners, be sure to visit us@holisticcounselingpodcast.com to access our resource page, and you'll find holistic resources for your practices as well as some discount codes for other services of interest.

And again, this is Chris McDonald's sending each one of you much late in love. Till next time, take care. Thank you for listening and supporting the Holistic Counseling Podcast. If you're loving this podcast, please share with your colleagues so we can continue to grow our holistic community. Also, are you ready to take the next step to create an integrative counseling practice?

I invite you to sign up for my free nine part email course, Becoming a Holistic Counselor. In this course, you'll explore different holistic strategies, how to develop your skills as a holistic counselor, and. Manifest your dream practice. Go to www.holisticcounselingpodcast.com. Scroll down and enter your name and email address today.

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