The Somatic Enneagram™

Type is in the Body…

The body carries the structure — the architecture — of our type. The neuro-pathways of an Enneagram type are organized to communicate through preferred highways in the human body. This is not random, but highly organized and intelligent. It is inevitable that what comes onto our screen of awareness has its root in how the beginning of the foundational imprinting took place. The nervous system likes the repeat success and uses first what was successful before. It builds on past experience and learns what is safe and life-giving. Everything created in nature follows distinctive patterns. It is highly probable that in addition to the human body, human functioning and the human behavior arising from it, also has patterns.

The triune brain model recognizes a reptilian or instinctual, somatic brain, a limbic (emotional) brain, and a neocortex with a prefrontal cortex (reasoning). This corresponds largely with the function of these parts of the brain: physical, emotional and cognitive brain functions. This corresponds with the Enneagram and Gurdjieff’s three centers model (body, heart, and mind) of functioning.

Each type has a somatic profile with a first-responder preference of reactomg. based on the driving emotions of each center. These emotions are experienced in the body as sensate perceptions. Our language is rich in using descriptors, such as; “I have butterflies in my stomach”, ” He is a pain in the neck,” “I wish I could get him of my back,” “There is an elephant on my chest” or “I feel weak in the knees.”

There are early neuro-pathways in our development, that determined what instinctual reflex was needed to survive an overwhelming experience, and what core emotion belongs to this movement in the nervous system. This is all pointing to the type structure with its architecture being fully present in the body, early on.


How has body awareness been the missing piece of study for the Enneagram community?

​The Body Center has been the center that was not understood in relationship to the cognitive-emotional ​​map of the original teachings of the Enneagram system. When I first arrived in the teacher training program of the Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition, founded by Helen Palmer and David Daniels, MD,  I saw that the Body Center had just been referred to as “the instincts” and there were supposedly three different ways of expressing ourselves from these instincts, labeled “the subtypes.” It is an imperative to bring forth the information available and that I [Marion Gilbert] have garnered thanks to years invested as a physical therapist — a body of knowledge about the physicality of our human development, including the significance of the physical embodiment of our ideas and emotions as they are needed for conscious transformation.

Working with individuals in their healing process, it’s of particularly interest why some do not heal. It’s of great interest to focus on the resistance those individuals have to healing; what are the blocks ​​they create that resides in the need “to contain the charge” that comes with, is the residual of, overwhelming life experiences. Basically it works like this:  The central nervous system cannot conduct a charge that is too great for the available ​​neurotransmitters.

There is a fundamental need to return to and maintain a homeostasis​​, which allows the body to survive and thrive. This dynamic tension between two opposing forces allows for the spectrum and flexibility in the somatic reality.

To understand that the body ​​is always and constantly adjusting and balancing defined it as a self-corrective mechanism. ​​To not understand and appreciate that the body is actually our vessel, a constant companion and our advocate, even when it is in pain or is sick. ​

​We often take our bodies for granted and are annoyed when it begins to signal pain and discomfort. We resist and override the body’s signals with our cognitive-emotional habits.​ These habits have their root in the defensive ​​reflexes automatically operating the moment we perceive danger or the potential for harm.

It’s the recognition in and of itself, of these reflexes operating, that allows us to relax them. In the somatic aspect of our type structure, we experience three different ways we habitually resist discomfort or pain and this then,actually locks in the pain and becomes suffering.

In the Enneagram teachings, we describe nine different ways in which we organize ourselves to avoid the pain of life. From these established teachings, we can now begin to understand and turn to the root of our suffering, so in that we can free ourselves from it. ​

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