For much of modern history, the mind and body were treated as two separate entities. At least, that’s largely been the case in the Western world.
But as research emerges and develops, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the two are inextricably linked.
Put simply: what affects the mind impacts the body, and vice versa.
And that has a lot of implications for how we treat the healing process, especially as it pertains to trauma.
One area where this link is being explored is the idea of the body storing trauma in its cells. (If this topic interests you, I highly recommend reading the book “It Didn’t Start With You.”)
The idea is that traumatic experiences don’t manifest solely in the brain. Instead, the trauma is fed to different parts of the body (i.e., the hips) and stored indefinitely. So, exercising and stretching these areas allows the individual to release that trauma and start the healing process.
This process is called somatic therapy, and, along with somatic coaching, it’s a growing field. But how does it work, and how can you test it for yourself?
Let’s break down the basics of somatic healing techniques and how you can practice some of them at home.
What is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic therapy is a body-centric approach to healing trauma and emotional pain.
Rather than focusing on the mental toll of trauma, somatic therapy helps release stored negative energy and helps individuals understand the link between physical and mental anxiety.
Although the idea of connecting the mental and physical body has been around for centuries, the idea of doing so scientifically dates back to Wilheim Reich’s book “Character Analysis,” which was published in 1933.
How Does Somatic Therapy Work?
The primary premise of somatic therapy is to help patients identify and explore the connection between mental trauma and physical responses.
For example, someone may get tense at a specific time of year or based on a specific trigger, but they can’t understand why.
The goal is to engage both the mental and physical parts of the body by combining physical therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). By merging the two, patients can better understand why they feel a specific way and how they can address the unresolved trauma.
That said, somatic therapy is a body-first approach. This means it focuses on where trauma responses are stored and how to release them via physical therapy.
5 Somatic Healing Exercises You Can Do at Home
If you think somatic therapy sounds appealing, why not give it a go?
While the best results come from a trained practitioner, there are so many exercises you can do at home.
Ideally, you can sample one or more of these somatic healing techniques to see if they produce any results. From there, you can determine how to seek professional assistance to dive even deeper.
Also, keep in mind that these exercises are not a substitute for professional somatic therapy. While they can help you feel better, it’s imperative to utilize a structured therapy process to ensure long-term healing, especially if you’re dealing with deep, complex trauma.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
How to Do It
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place one hand on the top of your stomach and the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose and see which hand moves the most. If it’s your chest, you’re taking shallow breaths. On the next breath, fill your stomach with air as you breathe in. Try not to move the chest at all.
Repeat as necessary until you feel calm and focused.
Why it Works
Breathing is something we all take for granted, but when you control your breathing, you can center your body and mind. This is one of the simplest and most effective somatic healing techniques because it grounds you. It’s helpful for anxiety or nervousness and can be a great lead-in to other somatic exercises.
2. Grounding Your Weight
How to Do It
This exercise is a bit more time-consuming and involves multiple steps. However, once you do the full set of exercises, you can pick and choose which methods work best for you and focus on those in the future.
For this exercise, it’s best to be barefoot because you’ll feel more connected to the ground. If possible, try to do this outside in the grass, as that connection to nature can help you feel much better.
There are several phases to this exercise. First, you’ll hop in place, taking deep breaths and letting your arms jiggle freely as you bounce. Steadily increase the intensity until you’re practically jumping off the ground. After a little while, stand in place and mentally feel each part of your body.
After the second step, you’ll start bouncing on the balls of your feet. However, each bounce is slow and deliberate, not fast like before. Drop your weight onto your heels with each bounce. Finally, do a slow walk forward and back, and then lift each leg and drop it quickly a few times.
Why It Works
Grounding is an essential part of somatic healing therapy as it helps you understand where your weight lies and where trauma may be stored. This practice can also help you recover from anxiety or panic attacks as it makes you more conscious of your physical self.
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
How to Do It
This exercise is straightforward, but it can have a lasting impact when done consistently over time. Simply start at one part of the body (i.e., your hands or toes). Clench those muscles as hard as you can for five seconds, and release. Focus your mind on the sensation of releasing and how it makes you feel. Doing this each time helps you recognize when you’re holding onto tension and how good it feels to release it.
Repeat these steps for every set of muscles in your body, including the arms, stomach, chest, legs, and feet.
Why It Works
This exercise essentially trains your brain to recognize tension and release it. The goal is to learn how tension manifests in different parts of the body, so you can focus on relieving that tension whenever it occurs. Doing this exercise several times per week can aid with stress, anxiety, and even your sleep pattern.
4. Somatic Walking Meditation
How to Do It
This exercise is simply walking and identifying how each part of your body feels as you walk. This particular technique is designed to help with dizziness, but it can also help with grounding or establishing the connections between your mind and body.
As with the grounding exercise above, try to do this outside with bare feet if possible. Otherwise, you can walk back and forth inside your home.
Start by standing in place and recognizing how your feet feel. Imagine them growing roots into the ground, holding you in place. Then, start walking slowly, paying attention to how your body moves and where any pressure or tension originates. Continue walking for about 10 minutes.
Why It Works
Walking is another practice we take for granted, so focusing on how you walk helps you recognize the mind/body connection. Plus, if you experience dizziness regularly, this exercise allows you to identify those symptoms in a safe environment. This way, you can recondition your brain to feel calmer and more relaxed when a bout of dizziness occurs.
5. The Voo Breath
How to Do It
This exercise is all about stimulating the vagus nerve, which is much easier than you might expect. Simply sit in a quiet, comfortable position, and take several deep (diaphragmatic) breaths. After a few times, say the word “Voo,” making sure to extend the vowel noise for as long as possible.
You’ll notice that the Voo sound creates vibrations in your head and neck. Repeat this process a few times for maximum effect.
Why It Works
The vagus nerve is the main nerve of your parasympathetic system, and it helps control and regulate various bodily functions. Stimulating this nerve can counteract a “fight or flight” response and help you calm down. This exercise is best done if you’re feeling anxious or tense.
Bottom Line on Somatic Healing Exercises
The great thing about somatic exercises is that they allow us to approach our bodies and trauma holistically. It’s not just our minds that need some TLC, but our bodies as well. Somatic therapy, with its emphasis on the physical manifestations of emotional pain, serves as a bridge between the psychological and the physiological.
Luckily, more people are adopting the idea that mind and body are intricately linked. It’s an important step toward more holistic healing modalities, and I’m 100% here for it!