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Eleanor Crisswell Hanna and the Myth of Ageing

Discovering Eleanor’s Magic

We were preparing for a Lumiere Learning Monday session by Ramesh Lakshman. I got interested in the subject and attended a session by Eleanor Crisswell Hanna, his teacher of Somatic Yoga. After the event I spoke to Ramesh about trying Somatics for my frozen shoulder. I had taken a few physiotherapy sessions by then but was not taking any medication.

I attended an 8-week program called “Myth of Ageing” with Ramesh Lakshman and invited friends in my yoga and fitness communities. The Eleanor Criswell Experience became a gift idea. And my 85 year-old father, long time stroke survivor, and my sister got a session each with Eleanor and Ramesh. When I invited Eleanor to speak at our Lumiere Learning Monday, she accepted immediately.

Physically and mentally in top form, easy smile, sharp mind, twinkling eyes, and warm, calm, easy, content. This is how Lumiere ought to be at 80. We opened season 3 with Eleanor, timed at our Lumiere 25th birthday.

Education and work

Eleanor studied psychology in the University of Kentucky and discovered. education as a ‘contributing force to human development’. Her early work as an elementary school teacher for three years got her interested in developmental psychology. Eleanor took up postgraduate studies in Guidance and Counselling.

Passionate about helping people develop themselves effectively, Elenor says, “I am a humanistic psychologist. And that means that I’m interested in the development of human beings, the actualisation of their potential in their lifetime. And so that was the theme in my masters work.”

Finding Yoga

Eleanor moved to University of Florida where she found a book by Dr. Rammurti S. Mishra, MD, a physician who devoted his life to Yoga.  Also known as Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, he was a highly respected spiritual teacher for countless students and devotees from all walks of life. A prolific author on the science and philosophy of Yoga-Vedanta, he combined the universal message of these teachings with his deep knowledge of both Eastern and Western medicine and psychology. His areas of specialty ranged from Ayurveda to modern psychiatry and neurosurgery.

Eleanor started liking the effects of the postures that she learnt from his book “The Fundamentals of Yoga” and began sharing her insights with her classmates. Soon she found herself conducting classes and teaching yoga to her classmates. This was at a time when there weren’t many yoga training programs available in the United States. By 1968 Eleanor started teaching the psychology of yoga through a balance of theory and practice at Sonoma State University.  Interestingly Eleanor was a long time meditator, even before she discovered Asana.

“Thousands of students went through those classes. Over and over many of them, it became part of their lives, and they continued with it, the rest of their lives. And of course, most of them are still living. They’re still doing it. And I’ve run into them once in a while here and they tell me, “I’m still doing my yoga.” 

eleanor criswell hanna

A Learner joins the Dots

During her education at University of Florida, Eleanor met Dr. Thomas Hanna, professor of existentialism and phenomenology there. Fascinated by his work, she persuaded him to write more books and publish them. Together, they began complementing each other through their respective fields of philosophy and psychology which spawned the writing titled “Bodies in Revolt: a Primer on Somatic Thinking” in 1974. 

They attended a seminar by Moshe Feldenkrais who was working in the field of what is now recognised as Somatic Education. Dr. Hanna was particularly inspired by Moshé’s work with an individual from Ireland who was somatically compromised. They decided to bring him to the USA, where Moshe designed a one-of-its-kind training program through which he became a functional practitioner.  

After the seminar with Moshé Feldenkrais, Eleanor included some of his principles and floor exercises in her training module to facilitate a modernised practice of Yoga. Eventually she realised the need to find a better term for this practice because it was not accurate to simply call it Yoga. She went on to write the book “How Yoga Works” as an introduction to ‘Somatic Yoga’. 

“I’ve been involved with it (Somatics) since the beginning. Thomas decided to name it Somatics from the Greek word “soma”. Used as an adjective and then as a noun. You add an ‘s’ to it, you have a noun, and that is the name. It’s an umbrella term for all of the mind-body disciplines”

eLeanor crisswell hanna

Somatic Yoga

“We use an understanding of the physiology of yoga, while doing our yoga, including awareness, and working within what your body can do easily. It is using your brain to do your yoga, rather than using your body to make your body do yoga. So it comes from a first person perspective, that’s one of the hallmarks of Somatics rather than somebody else telling you what to do, or you telling yourself what to do, like treating yourself, like another person, it’s coming from within you. So the teacher of somatic yoga does not demonstrate postures. You’re talked (into and) you’re guided into them. So you can find them within your own body. And you stay within your comfort zone and you’re not stretching anything, you’re contracting certain muscle groups, and then slow the contracting. And so it makes yoga very accessible. And we say a lot about that nowadays. Training and accessible Yoga is very accessible because you’re doing it within the possible possibilities of your body. And you’re listening to your body.” 

Eleanor Crisswell Hanna

Healing through Somatics

Eleanor clarifies that the practice of Somatic Yoga predominantly awakens the right side of the brain due to it’s non-verbal nature. It creates body awareness. She adds, “We are focusing on our bodies, and the right hemisphere is very much involved with the body with the sensations of the body. So you’re asking the part of the brain that does that and it helps you get in touch with that part of you, which is very powerful. It’s actually the right hemisphere, which was neglected for many, many, years. It is actually brilliant. It’s fast, it’s global. It’s intuitive, yet, it is impactful. And so you can feel more empathy for yourself, as you’re doing this, you are moving through life in the very best way.” 

“We’re not transcending our bodies, we’re getting into our bodies, which also leads toward enlightenment itself”.

ELEANOR CRISSWELL HANNA

Somatic Yoga is for everyone – babies, children, adolescents, adults and older adults. She explains that when one somatically works on the traumas of their life, they begin to help resolve these traumas. She specifically points to the current situation of COVID 19 pandemic and its implications on people’s health, wellbeing and their stress levels. According to her, somatic therapy can prove to be an effective technique that can help people cope with such stressful times. Eleanor works somatically with clients suffering from more severe conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, stroke rehabilitation, and repetitive or chronic stress. 

Somatic Healing for Animals

Eleanor calls herself a horse lover for life. Even though her family could not afford a horse, Eleanor grew up drawing, painting and sculpting horses. She collected photographs of horses and at times, even pretended to be one! Eleanor got her first horse in 1975.

Eleanor was approached by a natural horseman, one who does not use domination as a form of training. He and his riders wanted to learn to train horses the somatic way. Eleanor at that point, though uncertain of the feasibility, went home to do the research and returned to the ranch in good faith. They started with a horse named Tristan at the Dennis ranch. To their excitement, Tristan responded instantaneously by dramatically relaxing himself. It was then that Eleanor realised the magnificent potential of her training program and decided to expand her practice to horses and canines. It is much like the human approach except with the challenge of working with gravity because she cannot be there to provide resistance. She has to work from a distance because the horses tend to move away. 

With the benefit of advanced video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Eleanor is accessible beyond the USA to South Africa, Scotland, Germany, and the British Isles for somatic help to horses. She conducts somatic workshops for canines once a year. 

“I must say that my heart belongs to horses. But I do love human beings. And I love them and all kinds of conditions. And I love seeing what they’re able to do. And every little change is so precious. Every little breakthrough, every little triumph.”

ELEANOR CRISSWELL HANNA

Hanna Somatics in India?

Ramesh Lakshman is trying to persuade Eleanor to start Hanna Somatic Education to India. He is three modules away from getting Hanna Somatic certified in March 2023. This can become a game-changer for children, people with cancer, athletes, seniors in India and all over the world.

There is an immediate opportunity for a patient-centric approach via collaboration with physiotherapists, geriatricians, paediatricians, oncologists. This is only the beginning, The opportunity is endless for people to reclaim their “soma”. A shift to what the patient experiences within.

A rich life of continuous impact. and inspiration. Learning, sharing and teaching.

Take a bow, Eleanor Criswell. You epitomise the myth of ageing.

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