SOMA - An anarchist therapy

Soma is a libertarian experience using playful games to develop cooperation. Created in Brazil as an anarchist therapy, by Roberto Freire, Soma is a space for social experimentation despite capitalist formulas of life. It brings out the micro-political through our bodies' response to certain physical exercises, to challenge the authoritarian or submissive behaviour that we discover in our daily lives. Soma encourages perception of how this behaviour reproduces political system and aims to extend this awareness to other areas of our lives, to challange hierarchy and social injustice.



In 2003, Nick Cooper, a 38-year-old independent journalist and activist based in Houston, came across an intriguing T-shirt in Brazil. It featured the anarchy symbol and an image of a capoeirista -- a player of capoeira Angola, an Afro-Brazilian art form developed by slaves that combines music, dancing and fighting. The T-shirt vendors explained it is for a practice called Soma, a kind of therapy that embraces anarchist politics as a way to achieve mental and physical health.

Beginning in the mid-1960s during Brazil's military regime, dissidents were disappeared and tortured. Psychologist Roberto Freire -- blind in one eye after being tortured by the military -- found that in a climate of mistrust, violence and paranoia, his fellow comrades were unlikely to seek out therapeutic help. Freire responded by abandoning psychoanalysis and inventing Soma, a therapy for revolutionaries that he calls "fast, efficient and liberating."

Soma is a group therapy where people come together for about 18 months to do physical exercises and engage in personal and political discussion. It combines ideas from Austrian Jewish psychologist Wilhelm Reich, capoeira Angola, and anarchism. And unlike traditional psychotherapy, Soma rejects the authority of the therapist: during a session, a therapist is present, but he or she participates equally with the other members of the group and does not draw conclusions or make analysis. There is an emphasis on pleasure and physical release. The documentary shows Soma groups deep in physical play, doing theater and movement exercises. Participants call the work difficult but "delicious."

A great part of Soma's power comes from the collective nature of the
experience, Cooper says. Rather than a miserable process of dredging up the horrors in your life, through group interaction, touch and play, Soma becomes a therapy that is a pleasure, something to enjoy that will keep you in the present.


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