A Beginner's Guide to Somatics
Somatics is a buzzy word in the wellness world. But what exactly does it mean and what’s it for?
Well, first it might be helpful to know that “soma” is the Greek word for the living body. Certified breathwork facilitator and somatic life coach, Kiesha Yokers of Lindywell, tells SheKnows she describes it to people this way: “Our soma is our first-person experience and intelligence of our body. It’s what we experience from within, from sensations to emotions; your soma holds your thoughts, emotions, and expression.”
Somatics, then, is the study and practice of soma through a growing internal awareness. Used in dance, movement, body rehabilitation, therapy, and more, somatics is “a mind-body practice encompassing bodywork, movement, and mindful strategies that call you into experiencing what it’s like to be in your body,” Yokers explained. “Somatics is also awareness. One crucial key to somatics is awareness of the internal body (interoception) and awareness of how the body moves in space (proprioception).”
Why is this important? Yokers refers to “embodiment,” which is another term you hear a lot these days.
“Embodiment is about living in your own skin and letting that aliveness be fully expressed in how you talk, move, act, respond, and take up space,” she says. “To embody something means that your entire self takes on that shape. Your thoughts, actions, and feelings are expressed through your body and, thus, display a certain quality (like confidence or power).”
So why would we need to practice somatics?
For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they can’t control. Yokers calls it “antithetical” to embodiment since dissociation is an involuntary detachment from reality, one of the ways your brain protects you from chronic stress or reliving a traumatic event.
“When I think back to the height of the pandemic, I recall my sense of self disappearing as I spent endless hours vacillating between the latest news and Netflix,” Yokers shares. “I needed a break from feeling the chronic stress and anxiety that overwhelmed my senses in the haze of this new reality. While dissociation can be a protective measure when trauma occurs; however, after the event has subsided, Yokers says it can become a danger to ourselves when lived in a perpetual state. This is where somatics comes in.
Who is somatics for?
According to Yokers, somatics is for everyone. If you are someone who has dealt with trauma, she explains that a trauma-informed practitioner will titrate a client’s experience to slowly move them through this work so as not to flood or overwhelm the nervous system.
“Titration is the most essential somatic-related skill,” Yokers says. “Once a person becomes aware of their trauma or how they carry stress in their body, they want to rush to find the quickest way to heal. This anxious pace can be re-traumatizing to the body and create more damage. Titration is a slowly paced approach that gives agency to the person’s healing, doesn’t overwhelm the nervous system when activated or aroused, and supports spaciousness, settling, and integration of healing.”
What are examples of somatics?
Somatics can be found in movement exercises such as pilates, dance, and yoga. However, as Yokers points out, trauma-informed/therapeutic yoga differs from going to your favorite yoga studio. “It is a therapy that reinforces postural movement to prevent, reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, and emotional suffering or limitations,” she explains.
Additionally, you can find somatics in psychology and psychotherapy. Therapists use these evidence-based practices like traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), neuroscience, body-based modalities like Hakomi, meditation, breathwork, or Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing (a method that aims to resolve shock or trauma that’s held in the body) to help client’s heal. “There are many tools that therapists can use to help people experience wholeness and healing in the mind and body,” Yokers says.
She adds that somatic therapy can be used to heal biomechanically and physiologically. “After my own catastrophic medical trauma, my team of physical, occupational, and speech therapists used somatics therapy to help my body repair and integrate healing through a variety of tools such as yoga, bodywork, movement therapy, and breathing that focused on regulating my nervous system (a key component of somatics).”
What makes somatic therapy different from other modalities?
While many other modalities have a singular focus, like clearing the mind, alleviating pain, and addressing one issue at a time, Yokers says somatics helps us to reintegrate into whole living, experiencing our body and responding to it in new ways. “Many of us ignore basic bodily cues, from going to the bathroom to drinking water, and we shut them off because we are ‘too busy’ to address our needs. Somatics teaches us to pay attention to our body and respond to its needs to sleep, rest, nourishment, support, connection, pleasure, and movement.”
What are the benefits of somatics?
Yokers says she tells her clients that the most significant benefit of somatics is meeting their bodies (many of them for the first time). “The relationship with ourselves is the longest relationship we will ever have,” she explains. “Do you know what your internal voice sounds like? Your intuition? Your boundaries? When have you had enough or too much of something? When your system is flooded or heads into a shut-down mode? Somatics gets us into our body in a safe and titrated experience to deepen our relationship with our body.”
Another function of somatics is the awareness and care of our nervous system, which is responsible for so much of our day-to-day existence. This work, says Yokeres, can help rewire the nervous system to respond and react in ways that support our health.
What is a somatic exercise that people can start with?
Standing awareness is a beautiful way to experience your soma, where you root your feet into the floor in a grounded stance and scan your body, starting at one end to the other,” Yokers says. ”Notice how your feet feel connected to the floor, where you may be holding tension, the cadence, and the rhythm of your breath as your belly and chest rise and fall.
You must bring mindfulness to this practice (observation without judgment) and a curiously gentle attitude as you discover new parts of yourself.”
Before you go, check out the mental health apps we love to encourage a little more mindfulness in our lives:
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