Kinepschychology – Somatics – Positive Psychology 

Hi Claire…I must say that one of the main reasons for having this interview is me being intrigued by the field of “kinepschychology” which as a word, it does give me a context but I guess, both I and our readers would like to know a lot more about it. You did mention the word “somatics”… What are “somatics” all about and how are they connected to “kinepschology” ?

Somatics is a field that is largely attributed to the work of Thomas Hanna, who was a philosopher and movement theorist. He coined the term in 1976 and began educating people on building better movement habits to promote ease in body and overall quality of life during the ageing process (Hannah, 1988). His work inspired many others and new theories on somatics have also evolved. For example, Moshe Feldenkrais’ mindful movement-based system (named after him) and Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s concept of Somatic Leadership (Heckler, 2007).

Somatics as a field typically orients itself to embodiment and the regulation of the nervous system through breathing, consciousness, and gentle movement practices. I personally crossed paths with it in 2007, when I was training as a yoga teacher. Through teaching yoga in places of war and conflict to students who, like myself, had been exposed to and/or experienced trauma (I was a humanitarian practitioner at the time), I became fascinated with movement and its role in healing. That led me to explore Dance Movement Psychotherapy, which you could say is a branch of Kinepsychology. It isn’t usually referred to like that. In fact, Kinepsychology is a term that myself and another researcher, Reece Coker (who founded the Positive Psychology Guild) coined in 2021 to refer to our area of research on Movement Psychology (kine means “movement” or “motion”).

For me, somatics-based practices form the foundation of movement and well-being. Learning how to breathe and be mindful as we move is essential to acquiring and developing more complex motor skills, as well as leading a more balanced life and managing stressful experiences. When we don’t breathe well and aren’t present, we often don’t feel well or move well. Stress and trauma can adversely affect the nervous system and through mindful movement, we can potentially “undo” these effects, although I admit sometimes this can involve plenty of practice and personal growth, as it often involves changing other habits and behaviours that may be perpetuating the stress cycle.

My thinking here is influenced by a life-long study of Japanese martial arts where mindfulness is a core component of our training (some claim this is an influence of the relationship between these martial arts and the religious practice of Zen). Absolute concentration is required to master more complex movements, which may be executed under some kind of physical pressure (e.g. an attack). Social and cultural contexts can also bring to the surface a deeper energy that lies within. Researcher-practitioner, Einat Bar-on Cohen, has suggested that we do this by forming and tapping into “somatic codes”, which verbalize interior body dynamics (Bar-on Cohen, 2006), influencing how and when we make decisions in movement, particularly in response to our social environment.

I’m also influenced by my own research. To answer questions I’ve had around healing and mastering movement, I’ve trained in multiple movement systems, from yoga, dance, and martial arts to fitness, self-defence, and personal training. My interest in this link between movement, emotion, and mind led me to study a Masters degree in Exercise and Sport Psychology. There, I studied links between Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, and Neuroscience in movement, exercise, and sport. I then brought these insights back into my studies and research on Positive Psychology, which is essentially the science and philosophy of character and well-being, with the intention of furthering research in this field on Somatics and Kinaesthetics.


We know that you are one of the main coordinators and tutors in the Positive Psychology Guild. How can we connect positive psychology to the psychology of movement?

I’m the COO and Director of Education at the Positive Psychology Guild. Within my education role, I run our Positive Psychology Academy (where we deliver courses) and Positive Psychology Centre (where we conduct research). I also coordinate and develop our courses, tutor students in Positive Psychology Fundamentals, and train students as Positive Psychology Practitioners.

One of the things I enjoy most about this work is the opportunity I have to research topics that may be of relevance to our ongoing course development. Here, I find myself reflecting on my own journey and interests as a student, as well as the feedback and ideas our students share. What I notice is an increasing interest amongst us all to bring Positive Psychology to life as a lived experience.

Positive Psychology is in many ways a science and philosophy with personal, interpersonal, community, and systemic applications. It is an exciting time to be involved in this field and explore multi-disciplinary links for research and practice, with each one driving the other forwards. An early thinker in the area of Somatics and Positive Psychology is Kate Hefferon (2013), who authored the book, Positive Psychology and the Body: The Somatopsychic Side to Flourishing.

One of the specific ways I see Positive Psychology evolving further is in the incorporation of its concepts and theories into Exercise and Sport Psychology. As a course provider, we have already brought some elements of Exercise and Sport Psychology into our teaching material (for example, theories on motivation and movement-based practices to shift emotional states).

I’ve met other athletes and movement practitioners like myself who see the limitations of current approaches to Exercise and Sport Psychology when it comes to athlete or movement practitioner well-being. Some excellent research has been done over the past few decades; however, times are changing and sport and movement-based cultures are becoming much more aware of and sensitive to the need to care for athlete and movement practitioner mental health and well-being. My concern though is that while some may experience poorer states of mental health (over-training and competition dynamics can contribute to this), the conversation is lopsided. We should also be talking about movement, exercise and sport within the context of cultivating well-being and flourishing and asking hard questions such as, Why do many athletes compete under so much mental pressure, and is it possible for them to strive to be their best and feel their best at the same time? Or is this simply naïve?

Positive Psychology can offer plenty of fresh insights here, particularly on the relationship between character development and how character, context, and environment influence our subjective states of well-being. For example, balancing the intensity of competition or high performance, which typically require the overuse of the character strength, perseverance, with softer character strengths such as love, kindness, and the appreciation of beauty. Particularly with regard to themselves. Competitors and high performers can be awfully hard on themselves. Perhaps they feel they need to in order to achieve something worthy of excellence.

Having said that, my personal area of interest is in researching the intersection of character, cognition, and emotion within movement contexts.  I’m in the midst of a 12-month qualitative research study on what motivates people to practice a form of movement, exercise, and/or sport and how this changes over time. My research participants are mostly advanced in their chosen practice/s and the findings so far are fascinating. There is a potential finding that engagement in a practice that is personally meaningful can contribute to self-actualization and self-transcendence over time (Higgins, 2021).


Would you see any, if not all, of the aforementioned ideas as an integrated part of basic, primary and secondary education ? How could teachers and students benefit from it?

I must admit that my thoughts here aren’t very well-developed. My primary audience of interest is adults. However, you raise an excellent point. Many somatic educators begin with movement pattern analysis starting in utero and the birthing process all the way up through early childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Some even look at animal movement patterns. A good resource here is the work of Linda Hartley, who is known for developing the Authentic Movement (Hartley, 1995).

Based on personal experience, I think Physical Education is the best place to start. It is already part of many school curriculums. These curriculums typically focus on play (early years) and sport (later years). If the curriculum could expand to include movement and well-being practices, particularly for the later years (e.g. teenagers), I think this would be an excellent start. Beyond this, parents can play a role in encouraging movement outside of school. The most important thing, however, is to help young people find the type of movement that they enjoy most, be this in a social or solo capacity.


You are a most accomplished person and a source of motivation and inspiration for many people. Where can people see or read your work, let us know other activities you deal with and maybe a hint about your plans for the future?

They are welcome to visit my online research hub, Inner Athletics (



Bar-on Cohen, E. (2006). Kime and the Moving Body: Somatic Codes in Japanese Martial Arts. Body & Society, 12(14), 73-93.

Feldenkrais, M. (2010). Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais. Edited by Elizabeth Beringer. North Atlantic Books.

Hanna, T. (1988). Somatics: Re-awakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health. Da Capo Press.

Hartley, L. (1995). Wisdom of the Body Moving: An Introduction to Body-Mind Centering. North Atlantic Books.

Hefferon, K. (2013). Positive Psychology and the Body: The Somatopsychic Side to Flourishing. Open University Press.

Higgins, C. (2021). Practice as an Identity Marker and Personal Construct. Inner Athletics.

Strozzi-Heckler, R. (2007). The Leadership Dojo: Build Yourself as an Exemplary Leader. Frog Books.



Claire Higgins works as a qualitative researcher, interested in motivation and the relationship between movement, character, cognition, and emotion. Her current research is exploring the motivation to practice and how this changes over time. It suggests that love of movement could be a character strength while maintaining a movement practice over time is linked to self-actualization and self-transcendence. Her research interest areas  also link to Positive Psychology and Exercise & Sport Psychology. and how both of these areas of psychology have emerged and intersect. She also coaches, trains, and facilitates people and organizations on Positive Psychology.