somatic yoga

You may have seen or heard the word “somatic yoga” on the internet lately and have been thinking ….”what on earth does that mean?!” or “is this a new kind of yoga class?”. 

Short answer, no it’s not. Somatics is its own physical practice that’s been around for a while now, but something that when combined with yoga, will totally take your yoga practice to the next level! 

I call this “Embodied Yoga.” Read on to learn more about somatic yoga.

What Is Somatic Yoga?

Somatic yoga is a transformative practice that invites you into a deeper connection with your body, melding movement with mindfulness to unlock a profound sense of awareness and healing. At its heart, it’s about tuning into the body’s innate wisdom, allowing you to release tension, restore balance, and move with greater ease and intention. By prioritizing internal experience over external appearance, somatic yoga empowers you to nurture your well-being from the inside out, embodying the Uplifted philosophy of holistic health and mindful living.

A Little History On Somatics

Let’s start with defining this new healthcare buzzword “somatics.” 

According to Encyclopedia.com somatics is defined as: “Somatics, from soma, a Greek word for living body, is a movement therapy that employs mind-body training to manage muscular pain and spasticity, improve balance and posture, and increase ease of motion.” 

It goes on to explain that Somatic Therapy is a safe and informed practice founded by Thomas Hanna in the 1970s. Hanna believed that the body responds to stress and trauma from everyday life with specific muscular reflexes which lead to involuntary and habitual contractions or movement that create stiffness and pain. 

somatic yoga

In my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I call this “habitual bracing patterns.” You can find more info in this module on the fascia and inter-connective tissue. As these habitual contractions get worse, a person can develop sensory-motor amnesia (SMA), a loss of connection to how muscles feel and how to control them.

Somatic Therapy takes an experiential approach to correct and “unlearn” these bodily responses. But how can that work with practicing yoga asana?

How Somatics & Yoga Come Together

In what I call “embodied yoga,” the poses are not the “be all and end all” but a jumping off point for your own exploration. The goal is to rediscover parts of your body you may have been disconnected from and safely reintegrate them. The aim is to soothe your nervous system and improve your mental health.

Traditional yoga styles and practices prioritize external alignment. A somatic or “embodied yoga” approach encourages you to explore and transform your body from within.

Here’s how I break it down in my Somatic Yoga Certification Manual:

Traditional Yoga (Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga) strengthens and stretches the physical body, striving to tame the mind with the goal of achieving a state of otherworldly enlightenment (samadhi). In contrast…

Somatic Yoga strives to turn OFF the “thinking” mind by activating your innate, primal healing capacity with the goal of healing yourself from past bracing patterns or trauma, with the body being seen as an essential tool.

Traditional Yoga uses common physical shapes (asana) and alignment rules in repeated patterns or flows. In contrast…

Somatic Yoga uses the shapes of nature (circles, shaking and waves), in non-linear and non-habitual movements to create new neural pathways in the brain. 

Traditional Yoga strives to tame the mind through meditation, mantras and structured movements. In contrast…

Somatic Yoga aims to bypasses the linear “thinking” mind and turn up the volume on felt sensation and depth of feeling.

Big picture, Traditional Yoga aims to transcend the body through a process of movement, meditation, and disciplined concentration. The body is seen as an obstacle to overcome. This could not be more different than Somatic Yoga, in which the goal is to feel to heal and become more connected to your earthly body.

Traditional Yoga vs Embodied Yoga
Image by: brettlarkin.com

Somatic coaching focuses on cultivating a deep awareness of the body and its sensations. You pay attention to your internal experience. You connect with yourself, leading to a profound understanding of your body’s movement patterns, tensions, and imbalances. 

Basically, you get to explore your body with curiosity. You move to the beat of your own drum to release stuck or stagnant emotions or energy, all while getting more in touch with your body. You uncover your true wants and your needs and may have been buried. This leads you to feel more centered and aligned. 

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The Benefits Of Somatic Yoga

woman demonstrating somatic coaching stretches

Somatic Yoga offers a wide range of benefits that will positively impact not just your physical body, but your emotional and energetic bodies as well. 

Here are some of the key Somatic Yoga benefits:

1. Improved Body Awareness: When incorporating somatic exercises into your yoga practice, you’ll cultivate an enhanced sense of body awareness, allowing you a deeper and better understanding of your movement patterns, tensions, and imbalances.

2. Stress Reduction: The slow, mindful movements and focus on breath help activate the body’s relaxation response, leading to reduced stress and anxiety levels thus improving overall mental health.

3. Pain Relief: A somatic practice can help relieve chronic muscle tension and alleviate chronic pain caused by poor posture, repetitive movements, or injuries by releasing muscles and correcting obstructive movements.

4. Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility: By addressing muscle tension and promoting balanced movement, Somatic Yoga can lead to improved flexibility and overall mobility.

5. Mind-Body Connection: This practice fosters a strong connection between your mind and body, enabling you to recognize and address emotional and mental states through physical sensations and move through those sensations with more ease.

6. Neuroplasticity: Somatic Yoga leverages the brain and nervous system’s ability to rewire itself, promoting the development of healthier movement patterns and habits. Your body has so much to teach you!

7. Increased Relaxation: The focus on gentle, flowing movements and relaxation techniques can induce a deep sense of calm and relaxation. Who doesn’t want that?!

8. Emotional Release: Somatic Yoga can bring about emotional release as you begin to confront and release stored emotions and tension held in the body. This can feel liberating.

9. Postural Awareness: You’ll become more attuned to your postural habits and can work towards improving alignment and balance.

10. Enhanced Breath Awareness: Somatic Yoga emphasizes breath awareness, which can lead to improved respiratory function and increased oxygenation of the body.

11. Self-Compassion: The non-judgmental attitude encouraged in Somatic Yoga practice fosters self-compassion and self-acceptance. It’s an amazing compliment to talk therapy or many other modalities you may be exploring.

12. Trauma Healing: Somatic practices can be gentle and nurturing for individuals who have experienced trauma, providing a safe space for healing trauma response, and releasing stored tension.

13. Mindfulness: This is a mindfulness practice, encouraging you to be fully present in each movement and sensation.

14. Improved Body Function: By addressing movement imbalances and tensions, you enhance overall body function and prevent future injuries.

15. Better Sleep: When stress is reduced and relaxation is increased your sleep patterns will improve as well leading to better overall wellness.

16. Energy Flow: The practice of Somatic Yoga helps unblock and facilitate the flow of energy throughout the body. Because you’re turning inward and listening to how you want to truly move: You practice personal agency.

17. Holistic Well-being: Somatic Yoga supports holistic well-being by integrating physical, mental, and emotional aspects of health with a focus on YOU being the expert of your own living body.

18. Empowerment: Through self-exploration and self-discovery, you’ll notice your sense of empowerment and agency over your own well-being increases. You stop giving your power away to other people or even teachers.

19. Joyful Movement: Somatic Yoga can be fun and encourages playful movement. Explore your body and get reacquainted with it like you would as a child! It takes concepts like “love” from being abstract, to having a felt sense in the body.

20. Long-Term Benefits: The benefits of Somatic Yoga often extend beyond the mat, enhancing overall quality of life and promoting a sustainable, mindful approach to movement and self-care.

It’s important to note that everyone will have a different experience when practicing somatic yoga. Because it’s a practice of paying attention to YOURSELF. Don’t judge yourself. Try to practice this body mind centering a little bit each day. A consistent practice over time tends to yield more profound results.

To sum it up, Somatic or “Embodied” Yoga will make you more intuitive, more IN your own body, and less in your head. In today’s world, we all need to get out of our heads a bit. You’ll direct your focus on your breath down into your body. You’ll tune into your own energy, feel your emotions, and get grounded in your true feelings and desires. Which, as a yogi you already know, is going to have a plethora of benefits in your life.

Give it a try for yourself with one of these practices:

YouTube video
YouTube video

Tips to Make Your Yoga Practice a Somatic Experience

Here’s my quick list of somatic exercises you can start incorporating into your yoga practice NOW. You can start doing these today to make any traditional yoga you’re doing more embodied.

Say a feeling word aloud before you start practicing. I like to do this with one hand on my heart and one hand on my belly. Check in with yourself before deciding how and what to practice.

Incorporate touch: Our culture sees touch as sexual or taboo. The reality is that there are many kinds of touch and self-touch is incredibly soothing for the nervous system. Stroke your thighs as you sit on your heels while doing a Spinal Flex, for example (I show this in the video below).

Spiral: Your hips, wrists, ankles. You can even spiral your head and neck (gently!). Lead with your chin and think of exposing the throat.

Clench and unclench: Your fists, feet, and legs to bring more sensation down into your body.

Follow what feels pleasurable: Use traditional yoga postures for inspiration but don’t be limited by them. Think of “widening” and “softening.” Let these be guiding words.

Undulate: I love to do this seated in Spinal Flex, in Cat/Cow and in a Wide Leg Forward Fold. Think of moving like an ocean wave.

Make Noise: Your voice is uniquely healing for you. Sounding aids in emotional processing and helps discharge energy from the body. Sing, chant, scream, hum or growl.🦁

Shake your limbs and your whole body at the beginning or end of a movement session.

Make it dark: Turn off the lights so you can go inward. I love to blindfold myself. Make sure you have privacy

If you want to experience many of these somatic exercises, join me for this short beginner-friendly class:

YouTube video

Somatic Yoga Poses

Brett Larkin on the mat

Somatic Yoga is about using yoga poses as inspiration, but then connecting with your body and moving intuitively. My Somatic Yoga pose manual centers on yoga asana that best serve as a bridge to intuitive movement. Here is an examples of some poses that are especially well-suited to this sense of introspection.

  • Cat / Cow
  • Moving Bridge
  • Supine Twist
  • Sufi Grind from the Kundalini Yoga tradition
  • Wide Leg Fold (add undulations!)
  • Sundial
  • Spinal Flex
  • Aura Painting
  • Funky Cat, “the Jump Rope” and biomorphic movements from inside my fascial fitness program

Somatic Yoga Philosophy And Principles

To get a better idea of what embodied yoga is and how it might help you on your healing journey, let’s go over some of the philosophy and principles behind this practice.

Philosophy Behind Somatic Yoga

Somatic Yoga is rooted in several key philosophies and principles:

1. Embodiment: Humans are dynamic organisms and the idea is that our bodies hold wisdom and are a gateway to self-discovery. This practice encourages you to develop a mindful and intimate relationship with your body, fostering a deeper connection between mind, body, and spirit.

2. Mind-Body Connection: Central to Somatic Yoga is the understanding that the mind and body are intricately linked. Through mindful movement, breath awareness, and introspection, you gain insight into your mental and emotional states as they are reflected in your physical sensations.

3. Neuroplasticity: As you know the brain has the ability to rewire itself through repetitive movement and focused attention. By practicing mindful, intentional movements, you’ll facilitate the rewiring of your brain and nervous system through neural pathways, leading to improved movement patterns and increased body awareness. Listen to Episode 300 of my Uplifted Yoga podcast for more information about this within the context of managing chronic pain.

4. Release and Healing: Embodied Yoga focuses on releasing chronic muscle tension and patterns of holding that may have developed due to stress, trauma, or repetitive movements. By addressing these physical imbalances, you can experience both physical and emotional healing (because, as we all know, you store your emotions within your body 😉)

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Principles of Somatic Yoga

Principles of Somatic Yoga

1. Sensory Awareness: How does your body feel? Acknowledging any areas of tension, discomfort, or ease. This heightened awareness forms the foundation of a Somatic Yoga practice.

2. Slow and Mindful Movement: Somatic practices involve slow, deliberate movements that prioritize internal sensing over external appearance. Each movement brings you into the present moment and is an opportunity for exploration and self-discovery.

3. Breath-Centered Practice: Your breath is your power. Conscious breathing deepens awareness, releases tension, and facilitates the integration of mind and body.

4. Non-Judgmental Observation: Observe your sensations without judgment or the need to push yourself into any specific shape or pose, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!!! This attitude of non-judgment fosters self-compassion and reduces your risk of injury.

5. Exploration and Playfulness: Somatic movement encourages an attitude of curiosity and playfulness. This mindset encourages you to make your own choices of movement and rediscover your bodies’ potential. Think about the way children move their bodies whether for fun or in frustration. They explore the movements that can be made and let the energy flow how it wants to through their bodies. 

6. Integration into Daily Life: The insights gained through a somatic approach to yoga can be applied beyond the mat. Bring mindfulness practices and body awareness into your everyday activities, and harnessing this mind body connection enhances overall well-being. This is a similar concept to what I will coach you through in my Yoga For Self Mastery course.

A lot of time in traditional yoga you’re concerned about liberation. About raising Shakti UP to meet Shiva. You want to move beyond the physical body and reach Samadhi. 

When you add somatic cues into your yoga practice you are focusing on the current of manifestation, bringing energy and awareness down and in (rather than up and out) to connect with your emotions fully. You’re doing this in order to fully feel and integrate it, rather than transcend it. The goal is to live life as you were born too, pleasurably.

example of somatic coaching techniques

What is Somatic Yoga Therapy?

You know how yoga is all about moving your body, finding peace, and feeling good, right? Well, think of somatic yoga therapy as a super personalized version of that. It’s like yoga’s wise older cousin that’s all about really understanding your body and feelings.

In regular yoga classes you often follow poses and focus on how things look on the outside. But somatic yoga therapy, with the help of a certified therapist, dives much deeper. It’s like taking a journey inside your body and mind. Instead of just going through the motions, you’re paying close attention to how your body feels on the inside, the sensations and tensions you’re holding onto.

Imagine if your body had secret messages it’s been trying to tell you – like maybe some areas feel tense because of stress or old habits. Somatic yoga therapy helps you decode these messages. It’s like having a heart-to-heart chat with your own body.

Now, here’s the cool part. Somatic yoga therapy is all about slow, gentle movements. You’re not trying to touch your toes or twist into pretzel shapes. You’re moving in ways that feel good and natural for you. It’s like your body is leading the way, and you’re listening closely.

And guess what? This kind of embodied yoga practice isn’t just for physical stuff. It’s like magic for your mind too. Remember those times when stress was giving you headaches or emotions were making your shoulders tense? Somatic yoga therapy can help with that. By moving and breathing mindfully, you release these built-up tensions and emotions. It’s like giving your body a big, warm hug and saying, “Hey, I’m here for you.”

So, to sum it up, somatic yoga therapy is like a special yoga class that’s all about tuning in to what your body and mind are saying. It’s about moving with intention, finding peace from the inside out, and making friends with every little part of yourself. It’s like your personal journey to feeling better, both physically and emotionally. How cool is that?

Somatic Yoga FAQ

Here are five frequently asked questions about somatic yoga along with their answers:

1. What makes somatic yoga different from traditional yoga?

Somatic yoga differs from traditional yoga by placing a stronger emphasis on internal awareness and sensations. While traditional yoga often focuses on external alignment and achieving specific poses, somatic yoga prioritizes exploring and understanding how your body moves from within. It’s like a journey of self-discovery, using slow, mindful movements to release tension and create a deeper mind-body connection. Somatics and yoga may differ but they compliment each other very well.

2. Can anyone practice somatic yoga, regardless of their age or fitness level?

Absolutely! Somatic yoga is accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. In fact, it’s particularly beneficial for those who might have limitations or challenges because it’s gentle and adaptable. You don’t need to be super flexible or experienced to start; it’s more about tuning into your body’s unique sensations and working with them in a way that feels comfortable and safe.

3. How can somatic yoga help with stress and anxiety?

Somatic yoga can be a powerful tool for managing stress and anxiety. By moving slowly and mindfully, and by focusing on your breath, you activate your body’s relaxation response. This helps calm the nervous system and reduces the levels of stress hormones. Plus, as you release physical tension through the practice, it often leads to a release of emotional tension as well, bringing a sense of calm and balance to your mind and body.

4. Is somatic yoga a form of therapy, and can it help with trauma recovery?

While not a replacement for professional therapy, a somatic approach is a trauma sensitive yoga and does have therapeutic benefits. It can be a gentle way to work through stored tension and emotions, including trauma. The slow, mindful movements and emphasis on self-awareness create a safe space for processing and healing. If you’re dealing with trauma, it’s recommended to work with a certified somatic yoga therapist who’s trained to provide appropriate guidance and support.

5. How soon can I expect to see results from practicing somatic yoga?

The benefits of somatic yoga can be felt even after just a few sessions, but like any practice, consistency is key. Some people experience immediate improvements in relaxation and body awareness, while others notice changes over a few weeks or months. The more you commit to the practice, the deeper and more lasting the results tend to be. Remember, it’s not just about achieving certain poses; it’s about the journey of getting to know your body and yourself better over time.

NOTE: These answers are meant to provide a general overview. As always, if someone is interested in pursuing somatic yoga, they should consider consulting a qualified instructor or therapist who can offer personalized guidance based on their individual needs and goals. 

If you are interested in trying something like the Alexander Technique you can find practitioners and more information about that here. Or you can go on websites of popular somatic schools like RadixInstitute or The Hakomi Institute to find somatic practitioners in your area to give you methods to incorporate into your yoga practice.

Another great resource on other movement modalities and movement therapy is Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. She is an expert in the field and movement educator with numerous books on the subject.

Final Thoughts

By integrating the principles of Somatic Yoga into your practice, yoga teachers and individuals can embark on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and personal growth that extends far beyond the physical aspects of yoga. This is where true healing occurs and you can start living in your highest expression. 

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