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somaesthetics of bodily disturbances

You’ve arrived to the online exposition of the project ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’.

‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ is an inquiry to the possibilities of wearable interactive textiles to facilitate somaesthetic awareness through movement-based bodily engagements. The project utilizes bodily disturbances as a design material for the bodily engagements, specifically, pain is adopted as a bodily disturbance in this design case. 

‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ is the name of the interactive wearable artifact that externalizes pain by mimicking its qualities. Throughout this online exposition ‘soma extension’ will be used to refer to this interactive wearable artifact. The research question of the project is:

How pain can be externalized through interactive textiles and how interactive textiles that externalize pain can augment somaesthetic awareness?

In this exposition, I will walk you through the research and design process, and findings of this study.

︎ soma: sensory body, the living bodyaesthetics/aesthesis: sensory appreciation, sensory perception

Somaesthetics is a branch of philosophy established by Richard Shusterman [1]. It simply concerns appreciating sensory aesthetic qualities of humans and offers to cultivate somatic knowledge to enhance our bodily (aesthetic) perception and performance.

︎ This project adopts soma design [2] approach which provides an embodied design quideline, a framework for designing bodily interactions with somaesthetic concerns. Within that framework, I employed first and second person perspectives to conduct my design research.

︎ The embodied design research journery unfolds in three phases. The first phase is an exploaration of first-person somatic experience of the designer to generate design ideas. The second phase consists of a participant study to cultivate second-person somatic experience. Finally, the third phase finalizes the study by testing the soma extension through first-person experience of the designer.

PHASE 1: designer’s first-person somatic exploration

This phase is conducted to provide a context for the study, and to generate design ideas and visuals for the soma extension.

When the project begun, I was experiencing an upper back pain. With this disturbing pain, it was impossible to focus on any other things. Hence, to start the first-person somatic exploration, I created a yoga sequence that helped me to relieve the pain.

I practiced this sequence daily for three weeks and I wrote about my somatic experience of pain to my journal after each practice.


After completing the three weeks of practice, I read my journal starting from the day one and highlighted the repeated reflections to make sense of my experience to translate them in design ideas for the soma extension.

For instance, one of the repeated aspects of my experience was the sound of the pain which is translated into the design of the soma extension. On Novemeber 22, I wrote:
“Practice is much easier now, the sound coming from my body decreased and this makes me feel more positive. Sounds were extremely disturbing; I was feeling as an old wooden house which squeaks all the time.”

Now, take your time to explore the somatic experience  map. Here I illustrated the repeated aspects of my movement experiement that I extracted from the journal. These aspects were translated into design pricnciples; some of them shaped the visual form of the soma extension, some informed the interaction of it.

‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ generates sound after worn and there is no way to turning the sound off, but it is possible to keep the volume down through moving and moving slowly. As explained above the sound was an essential aspect during the movement experiment and this sound was like a sound of a squeaky wood, and it was not pleasant at all. Despite of the annoying sound the motivation to move arose to get rid of the sound through moving. 

︎Play the track to listen the sound that is generated by ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’

Photos of the first iteration of ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ ︎

PHASE 2: participant study and their lived experience

This phase is conducted to verify the influence of the soma extension on other people with chronic pain and to inform by their lived experience with ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ to get inspired for the second design iteration.

Three participants involved in the study in one-on-one sessions which consisted of four stages. These stages are: 1) in-depth interviews and body maps; 2) guided movement and breathing; 3) non-guided movement with the soma extension; 4) in-depth interview and body maps.

Below you will see and listen* their statements and their body map drawings from the second interview which was conducted after they wear the soma extension

*Participant interviews were voice recorded but due to privacy reasons below given statements were recorded again with different people for exhibition purpose.

︎Participant 1

“Louder sound [is] what I feel, what I feel inside. [It is] like my migraine and cervical pain.”

“[…] some parts I felt relax and tr[ied]y to concentrate on [my] breathing. Sometimes the feeling was natural and comfortable. [The] tension on [my] shoulder was going down but sometimes it was going up. […] I wanted the sound [to] stay in a less loud[er] [level] but I did not understand that it was connected to my movements.”  

︎Participant 2

“Where it [the soma extension] touches to my body there was a feeling of pulling, I identify this feeling with the pain experience.“

“I focused on the extension and the sound to understand the working principles”

︎Participant 3

“Sounds [were] like squeaky trees and it was like [the feeling of] stuck, like your joints are cracking. It was like [my] body is talking to me. […….] I [was] curious about the sound. It symbolizes stiffness like pain.”  

“It works more on the positive side regarding reminding pain, the dense and stiffness of it. It creates [an] urge for movement. When I have pain very intensely, I feel very stiff. And this experience took away the attention from the pain and carry it to the movement.”  

︎Participant 1

Body Map 1

Body Map 2

︎Participant 2

Body Map 1

Body Map 2
︎Participant 3

Body Map 1

Body Map 2

Participants filled the first body map during the first interview to reflect their bodily experience when pain is active. They, then. filled the second body map after engaged with ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ that mimics the pain to reflect their experience with it.

Influenced by the tactile qualities of the soma extension, Participant 1 and Participant 2 highlighted the points that the artefact touches their bodies. Whereas, Participant 3 reported that the experience with ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ influence her whole body; thus, her second body map represent this feeling of 


︎When studied carefully, the somatic knowledge gained via first-person exploration can facilitate design ideas that can be also influential on other people.

︎The study showed promising potential of utilizing bodily disturbances for designing somaesthetic awareness. Yet, the somaesthetic qualities of the artefact require enhancements.

︎Cultivating second-person perspective can provide an in-depth insight on sensory bodies in the given context. Lived experience of the participants inform the study to how to develop the second design iteration.

PHASE 3: returning to the designer’s first-person experience

This phase is conducted to test the somaesthetics qualities of the second iteration of ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’. The test is conducted own the designer’s body.

Initially, I aim to promote somaesthetic awareness with interactive textiles by using bodily disturbances as a material to design. To do this, in the first design iteration, I reflected the painfulness in the design of the soma extension translating disturbing qualities of my pain experience.

Yet the participant study revealed that combining pleasant sound feedback with the disturbing one can enhance the somaesthetic qualities of the soma extension. Two of the participants reported during the interview that when engaging with ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ for a while they thought they heard sound of a sea. Due to this mishearing, they felt the pain was gone and it was time to relax.

Considering this reflection, in the second iteration of the soma extension, I decided to combine pleasant and disturbing feedback to enhance the somaesthetic qualities of ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’.

︎Play the track to hear the pleasant sound feedback that is combined with the disturbing squeaky sound of the pain.

Akin to the first iteration of the soma extension, in this second iteration interaction is also based on sound and movement. In this version, total sound-movement interaction lasts nine minutes. The first seven minutes is same as the first one mediating unpleasant squeaky wood sound and to keep the volume down the body needs to move slowly. In the last two minutes the relaxing atmospheric sound starts and this time the volume is down; thus, to hear the relaxing sound the body needs to move again and move slowly.

Below you can see the moving images of me from extracted the video that was recorded when I was testing the second iteration of ‘SQUEAKY/PAIN’ on my body.


The sound was like coming from my body, from my movements and it felt like movement and sound was effecting each other. For example, the feeling of the first part was stiffness, so it led my body to perform more forward bend positions and the second part oriented me to the direction where I wanted to open my chest, arms, legs etc. I wanted to close and get smaller in the first part where the second promoted openness.
(self-report, Interview 2)



︎First-person bodily experience of designer (especially, when the designer and users share the same bodily disturbances) can extensively inform the design of the bodily engagements. However, second-person’s point of view should be taken under consideration to gain broader perspective on the studied phenomenon.

︎Bodily disturbances can be employed to mediate somaesthetic awareness but the balance between disturbing and pleasant qualities of bodily interactions should be considered.

If you have any questions or need further information,  feel free to contact me.