If you’re into yoga, my guess is you’re devoted to living your best, most radiant life.
Maybe you’ve tried all the things: talk therapy, massage, reiki, acupuncture.
And while all those healing modalities have their place, I want to introduce you to one you might not have heard of:
This has been a game-changer for me and so many of my students.
If you’ve experienced physical symptoms, chronic pain, or mental health disorders, like post traumatic stress disorder, then somatic therapy can help.
It focuses on the link between your mind and body, just like yoga!
Let me introduce you to some life-changing somatic practices that improve mental health, relieve emotional stress, and help you show up in the present moment as your best self.
What Is Somatic Healing?
Somatic healing is a holistic approach that integrates the mind and body to address physical and emotional trauma, often using techniques that promote self-awareness and bodily sensations to facilitate healing and well-being.
Healing occurs when the physical body is brought into the conversation. That’s why so many people like to refer to it as body psychotherapy.
When physical symptoms, physical pain, and the body join in the process of addressing mental health conditions and emotional issues, then the healing can really begin.
There are many other forms of healing, but exploring somatic therapy is a great pairing with regular therapy sessions, physical therapy, and even online therapy. Mind and body working together can expedite your healing.
First, let’s talk about how somatic therapy works and its core principles.
What Is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic therapy (also known as somatic experiencing therapy) is an approach to psychotherapy that focuses on the connection between the body and the mind, focusing on physical sensations.
Unlike standard talk therapy, somatic therapy incorporates mind-body exercises like breathwork, dance, and meditation. Sometimes, you’ll hear somatic therapy called simply somatics or sensorimotor psychotherapy. It’s practiced all over the world, and is especially known for its use at the famous Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute.
This form of therapy focuses on improving mental health through body awareness. Somatic therapy practices are helpful to move past trauma, to soothe your nerves, and to release traumatic memories.
Here’s a few ways somatic therapy works:
Somatic Experiencing focuses on the way the body holds and processes overwhelming experiences. Traumatic events can lead to a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system, resulting in anxiety, physical tension, and emotional health challenges.
Somatic Experiencing works to restore a sense of safety and balance by guiding you to become more aware of bodily sensations and dealing with trauma responses. Through mind body techniques, you can release old energy associated with trauma and learn to regulate your moods. If you’re looking to explore somatic therapy, this is a great place to start.
Humans experience trauma and our bodies store memories and emotions in the body. This can show up as psychological symptoms, especially those associated with traumatic experiences. Somatic release is one way to start healing trauma by allowing the body to express and release the held energy and tension from a traumatic event through movement.
Think of this as a way to discharge the physiological responses that were activated during a traumatic event. Anyone dealing with post traumatic stress will especially benefit from somatic release.
Somatic bodywork techniques aim to release tension, promote relaxation, and enhance overall well-being. These physical therapies are grounded in the mind-body connection, meaning that experiences and emotions are stored not only in the mind but also in the body’s tissues, muscles, and nervous system.
Through hands-on touch, fascial release, and movement, somatic therapists help bring you back into balance.
Somatic awareness is the ability to be mindful and consciously perceive the physical sensations, movements, and overall felt experience of one’s own body. Compared to traditional talk therapy, somatic awareness is like body psychotherapy, where body awareness is the main focus.
Cultivating somatic awareness can lead to a deeper understanding of yourself, improved stress management, and enhanced mental health.
The key is being present to the physical sensations and responses that arise in the body in different situations, so you can begin to link mind and body. Chronic pain is easy to notice, but physical pain can be directly linked to mental health, so awareness is a cornerstone of somatic therapy.
Now that you know what somatic therapies are, it’s time to get into the juicy part: somatic therapy techniques.
Somatic Healing Techniques
Somatic therapy is rooted in the idea that what happens to you in your life is stored not only in your mind but also in your body.
By focusing on both the physical sensations in your body and talking about your problems, somatic therapies provide a comprehensive approach. Somatic therapy techniques include:
- Body movement and awareness
- Grounding techniques
- Emotional release
- Exploring and resolving trauma through physical sensations (somatic experiencing therapy)
- Body scan: noting sensations, tensions, or areas of comfort or discomfort
- Exploring how emotions and tension manifest through movement
- Hands-on techniques, such as massage or body manipulation
- Creating a safe and supportive environment for processing trauma
- Developing skills to create calm in the body
- Eye movement desensitization (EMDR)
- Sensorimotor therapy
- Creating stronger boundaries
So what does that actually look like? In my case, it includes lots of screaming into pillows and punching the mattress. 🙃
Here are some examples of other ways to practice somatics:
- Mindful Breathing: Sit or lie down comfortably. Take deep breaths, focusing on the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen. This helps in grounding and calming the nervous system.
- Body Scan Meditation: Close your eyes and mentally scan your body from head to toe. Note any sensations, tensions, or areas of comfort or discomfort. This promotes awareness of bodily sensations.
- Guided Movement: Put on some calming music and allow your body to move freely. Notice how different emotions might influence your movements.
- Grounding Techniques: Stand barefoot on grass or natural ground. Feel the earth beneath your feet and imagine roots extending from your feet into the earth, anchoring you.
- Somatic Journaling: After a somatic experiencing session, jot down how different parts of your body felt. Over time, this can help you identify patterns and triggers.
- Safe Space Visualization: Close your eyes and imagine a place where you feel completely safe and at peace. Engage all your senses in this visualization. This can be a tool for creating a supportive environment for processing trauma.
- Boundary Setting Exercise: Stand in a relaxed posture and imagine a bubble or shield around you. This represents your personal boundary. Practice saying “no” or “stop” to protect this boundary, reinforcing the idea of creating stronger personal boundaries.
What happens in a somatic therapy session?
In a typical somatic therapy session, the therapist may begin with a check-in, where you discuss your current challenges. Then, your somatic therapist will guide you in cultivating awareness, often through breathwork and mindful attention to sensations. You might try one of the somatic techniques to help you connect with and express stored emotions or tension in your body.
Somatic therapists are there to provide you with a supportive environment to explore and release bodily-held experiences. The goal in somatic psychotherapy is to promote your own self-discovery, emotional regulation, and overall well-being through mind body exercises.
Who can benefit from somatic therapy?
Anyone can try somatic therapy techniques as an alternative (or a compliment) to traditional talk therapy. Somatic experiencing therapy is used for a wide variety of mental and physical health issues.
Somatic therapy can help with the following issues:
- Chronic pain
- Stress and trauma stress
- Trauma, traumatic memory, and anyone who has been through a traumatic experience
- Posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders
- Issues with emotional regulation and trauma response
- Sexual dysfunction
- Digestive disorders
- Mental health issues
In one randomized controlled outcome study, somatic experiencing was found to help in reducing symptoms of PTSD among social service workers who experienced Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Because of its focus on grounding, mindfulness, and coping with trauma symptoms, this therapy can be effective for anyone who is simply looking to get more in touch with themselves.
What are the benefits of somatic therapy techniques?
Somatic therapy exercises help both physical and mental well-being through a focus on the mind-body connection. Some of the benefits include:
- Stress Reduction
- Emotional Regulation
- Trauma Healing
- Improved Body Awareness
- Enhanced Mind-Body Connection
- Pain Management
- Improved Posture and Movement
- Release of Tension
- Increased Resilience
- Mindfulness and Present-Moment Awareness
- Support for Anxiety and Depression
Things to Consider
It’s important to note that the benefits can vary from person to person, and the effectiveness often depends on the nature of the issues being addressed and the consistency of practice. Additionally, it’s advisable to engage in somatic exercises under the guidance of a qualified and experienced, licensed mental health professional.
Also, it’s important to practice somatic therapy when you’re ready to process and release heavy emotions.
What Is Somatic Release?
The highlight of somatic therapy is the release. Somatic release happens when long-held physical and emotional tension, stress, or trauma is released from the body. Sounds like a dream, right?
Well, it’s not so easy but it is worth it.
How does somatic release work?
Somatic release works by addressing stored tension, stress, and trauma within bodily tissues. The process begins with cultivating awareness of current bodily sensations. Then, therapists may use one of the techniques mentioned above to encourage the release of this held energy.
A safe and supportive therapeutic environment is crucial for you to explore and express these sensations, with no judgment. As the body releases tension, the process is often accompanied by increased awareness, emotional expression, and a sense of relief.
In the case of trauma, what happens is the body gets stuck and is unable to “complete” the stress cycle, allowing all that stress to get trapped in the body. Somatic release facilitates the completion of those interrupted physiological responses to traumatic experiences, supporting you in integrating these experiences for your improved well-being.
Where is trauma stored in the body?
The body has a physical response to trauma and often, trauma gets stored in a person’s nervous system. The body’s natural response to threat, the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response, can cause the nervous system to become dysregulated and sometimes, persistently activated.
Emotions associated with the trauma may be stored in muscular tension, patterns of movement, and in the body’s connective tissues, known as fascia.
Somatic therapy, including approaches like Somatic Experiencing, aims to address and release this stored trauma by renegotiating the body’s responses and supporting a more regulated nervous system.
The good news? These trapped emotions can be released through somatic experiencing therapy.
What are physical signs your body is releasing trauma?
Once you start your somatic psychology journey, you’ll start to notice shifts in your body and mind, and even your muscle tissue!
Here are a few signs your body is in the process of releasing trauma:
- Your gut muscles relax and unclench, and you have less digestive symptoms
- Your breathing patterns change, and you start having full, deep breathes
- Your shoulder, neck, jaw, and head muscles are engaged & upright, yet still relaxed
- Your heartbeat slows and your blood pressure decreases
- Your hands and feet are warmer
- You’re more present and at ease
- During a somatic session, you might experience shaking, crying, or a release of some kind. Don’t worry, this is totally normal!
Get Started With Somatic Healing
If you’re interested in getting started with somatic therapy, follow these steps.
Find a Therapist
The first step is to find a therapist near you. Or, if you prefer to see someone virtually, you can try online therapy. If you want an in-person experience because you want the benefits of touch-oriented treatments, read reviews in your area, ask friends for a referral, and do your research before you book an appointment. Look for a somatic therapist you connect and feel safe with and who is knowledgeable in trauma therapy, as well as other mental health conditions. Online therapy is just as useful as in-person, so don’t let that stop you.
Try Somatic Yoga
So many people ask me: “Can I do somatic therapy on myself?” The answer is yes, and I like to recommend somatic yoga, which I like to call “embodied yoga.”
The goal is to rediscover the parts of your body that you may have been disconnected from and safely reconnect with them. Embodied yoga will help you soothe your nervous system, improve your mental health, and explore physical sensation.
With somatic therapy, you can embark on a journey of healing, self-discovery, and personal growth that will benefit you for the rest of your life. True healing occurs in embodiment, and through somatics, you can start living from your highest essence.
If you want to go deeper, join the Uplifted Community or grab my new book YOGA LIFE to learn more.
- If you’re interested in practical kriya yoga as a way to improve your daily life and relationships, check out my Yoga for Self Mastery course.
- Explore my knowledge hub for How to Become a Yoga Teacher
- Check out my YouTube channel and find some yoga classes that you can try out for yourself!