The Anatomy of Self Awareness

Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica

(What follows is my current submission to the upcoming annual conference of the International Journal of Body Psychology.)


An Anatomical Description of Trauma Response: Three Bones Theory and the Sensory Stations of the Deep core.


Jim Freda is a structural bodyworker and somatic social theorist focusing on the historical and cultural determinants of anatomy.


The human body is self-reproducing, self-organizing, and self-healing, but not without self-awareness. My argument is that there is a simple and intimate anatomical system, called the deep core, that provides that self-awareness. In what follows, I unpack this new, integrative structure as a resource for trauma recovery and its involvement in both postural collapse and gentle, intentional somatic reactivation.


If trauma response is something we can learn from the behavior of animals, and if animals do it naturally (Levine, 2010; Tinbergen 1973), shouldn’t there be a body-wide anatomical system in humans that we could describe that would be similarly intuitive and when activated would have a similar effect? Anatomy is a powerful tool for self-understanding. We can use anatomy to understand and reconnect to our body. In my presentation I will offer an exposition of this richly somatic anatomy.

The instinctual defense cascade has at one end the phenomenon of collapse. This involves a variety of responses, including deafferentation, dissociation, atrophy, and dyskinesis. Essential to our understanding of somatic trauma, we can view this biomechanically as postural collapse and as such it is possible to describe the basic anatomy of this very predictable process.

Science in general and anatomy in particular has treated the body with a heavily mechanistic and reductionist bias. What Thomas Myers has criticized as “individual muscle theory” has been replaced by a much more integrative understanding of structure informed by the “rediscovery” of fascia as a source of mechanical and sensory feedback. There are many different approaches to this new structural, or “architectural” framing of anatomy, but Myers has identified twelve myofascial continuities or “anatomy trains.” These have demonstrated great utility in clinical applications, especially among bodyworkers and movement therapists.

As Beevor (1904) famously observed, “the brain knows the body through movements and not muscles.” We function in patterns of movement and these patterns can be maladaptive. The deep postural core is where traumatic memory is stored, and although the anatomy of the deep core, like the postural system itself, is largely unconscious, we can nevertheless access and activate it as a source of resilient self-awareness. The simple smile is a practical example of this somatic anatomy.

The deep core is an important anatomical discovery. It runs from the tongue to the big toe through our deepest center down along the anterior axial line, including the pericardium, diaphragm, psoas, and the muscles of the pelvic basin. This single system is highly innervated and includes our most sensitive areas, the body’s “sensory stations”, which invite awareness. Awareness, structure, and function are closely interrelated. The human body, like that of other animals, is designed to maintain itself and renegotiate many forms of trauma naturally from within.

In my presentation, I describe this anatomy in terms of its sensory-motor significance. The deep core itself is already well-understood, however my contribution is to take the basic myofascial anatomy and flesh it out functionally. Doing so we see that the deep core runs through each major juncture of the body, where it has an important organizing role. These junctures are at either end of the spine, where the deep core emerges to the surface like the navels of an orange. In addition to the groin and throat/face complex, an additional sensory station exists in the sensitive feet, where we connect to the ground.

Each of these highly complex areas is an excellent focus for body meditation but each is also a major articulation centered on a prominent bone. These three bones are the jaw, the pubic bone, and the hallux, or big toe. Each of these bones is of great significance to movement but each has been profoundly stressed in modern culture, resulting in atrophy, deafferentation, and collapse. Bony dysfunction accompanies chronic somatic collapse but in turn we can use these simple anatomical levers in gentle, natural movements to recover our vitality and awareness.

Beevor, C. (1904). The Croonian Lectures on The Muscular Movements and Their Representations in the Central Nervous System. Adlard and Son.

Levine, P. (2010) In An Unspoken Voice. North Atlantic Books.

Myers, T. (2014). Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, 3rd Edition. Elsevier.

Tinbergen, N. (1973). Ethology and Stress Disease. Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine.



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