I’m glad you asked this question, as a regular somatic release practice can be very beneficial for your mental and physical health. 😊
What is a Somatic Release Practice?
Somatic therapy is an alternative to talk therapy, which releases the emotional and physical tension stored in your body due to trauma, stress, or negative experiences. A somatic release practice can help you heal from the effects of trauma, such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
There are different types of somatic release practices, but they all share some common elements:
- They involve developing more awareness of your body and its sensations
- They use breathing, movement or touch to help you access and express your emotions
- They allow you to regulate your nervous system and calm yourself down
- They support you to reframe your beliefs and narratives about yourself and your trauma
Why Do I Need Somatic Release?
Think you don’t have trauma? Think again. While you might not have experienced a significant traumatic event like war, assault, or a near-death experience, almost all adults have experienced multiple forms of so-called “lesser” traumas. A growing number are being diagnosed with CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), which occurs when essentially your whole life is a series of “lesser” traumas. Don’t let the “lesser” part fool you. Their impact can be just as debilitating.
You may think of traumatic experiences as directly threatening your life or safety. The truth is that anything that makes you feel emotionally overwhelmed or separated from everyone else can cause trauma responses, even if there is no threat of physical harm. There is no list of which events are traumatic and which are not. That is determined by how you experience and process the emotions related to the event. The more helpless, isolated, scared, or disturbed you feel, the more likely that event will cause problems later in life. Especially if you could not process the emotions it brought up during or immediately after the event.
Some examples of common traumatic life experiences, according to this article on HelpGuide.org, are as follows:
- A sudden event, particularly if unexpected, like a car accident, assault, significant injury, or severe illness.
- Chronic stress, such as being bullied, neglected, belittled, battling a chronic illness, living in an unstable environment, living at or below the poverty level, and even being socially isolated like many of us experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Often unrecognized causes, such as pregnancy and childbirth (even when successful), surgery or invasive medical procedures (especially as a young child), the death of a loved one, the end of a significant friendship or relationship, any humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, surviving a natural or manmade disaster. It can even be witnessing someone else experience a trauma, such as seeing a fatal accident, watching a sibling go through chemotherapy, seeing your mother have pregnancy or labor complications, or even being bombarded by these stories on the local news.
So, now that you’ve admitted that you’ve experienced some trauma in your life let’s move on to how a somatic release practice can help you overcome it.
Examples of Somatic Release Practices
Some examples of somatic release techniques are:
- Somatic therapy: This form of psychotherapy uses body-oriented approaches to help you heal from trauma. Somatic therapy can include mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, music, and movement practices to help the body and mind express and release emotions.
- Somatic experiencing: This is a specific somatic release practice developed by Peter Levine. It focuses on resolving the physiological effects of trauma by helping you complete the natural responses interrupted or suppressed during the traumatic event. Somatic experiencing does not require you to recall or re-enact the trauma but rather to follow the sensations and impulses that arise in your body.
- Somatic exercises: These physical activities can help you release tension, increase flexibility, and improve your posture. They can include dance, yoga, vocal work, massage, breathwork, or physical therapy. Somatic exercises can also help you reconnect with your body and enhance your self-esteem.
You can try grounding, resourcing, self-regulation, and body scans at home to learn more about somatic release practices. Search for a qualified somatic therapist or practitioner for professional guidance.
Finding a Qualified Somatic Release Practitioner
Finding a well-qualified somatic release practitioner near you can be challenging, especially if you live in a more rural area. Still, there are some resources and tips that can help you. Here are some steps you can follow:
- First, you must decide what type of somatic release practice interests you. There are different modalities, such as somatic therapy, somatic experiencing, somatic exercises, and breathwork. Each has its own benefits and methods, so you should research or try them out before choosing one.
- Second, you should seek a qualified, experienced practitioner with relevant training and credentials. You can use online directories or websites to find somatic therapists or practitioners near you. For example, you can use Psychology Today to find a somatic therapist, SE International to find a somatic experiencing practitioner or IBF to find a breathwork practitioner. You can also request referrals from your doctor, friends, or family members who have tried somatic release practices.
- Third, you need to contact potential practitioners and ask them questions to see if they are a good fit for you. Ask about their background, education, certification, experience, approach, fees, availability, and cancellation policy. How do they handle touch, consent, boundaries, and safety in their sessions? You can also request a consultation or a trial session to get a sense of their style and build rapport.
- Fourth, you must trust your intuition and feelings when choosing a practitioner. This is the most crucial part. You want to find someone who makes you feel comfortable, respected, and supported. You also want to find someone who listens to your needs and goals and helps you achieve them. You should feel free to express your emotions and sensations without judgment or pressure. Anything less, and the healing process will be delayed or sabotaged entirely. You need to feel safe before your body lets you let go of the trauma it holds onto.
These steps will help you find the ideal somatic release practitioner for you, near you. Somatic release practices can be a powerful way to heal from trauma and stress and improve your well-being.
Can I Practice Somatic Release at Home?
Yes, you can do some somatic release exercises independently without a practitioner. However, it is essential to note that doing somatic release alone may not be as effective or safe as doing it with a trained professional. A practitioner can guide you through the process, monitor your reactions, and provide support and feedback. They can also help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as retraumatization, dissociation, or overwhelm. However, if you are on a tight budget or have a nightmare schedule, DIY somatic release practices are an excellent place to start.
Suppose you decide to start a somatic release practice on your own. In that case, you should start with simple, gentle exercises that help you develop more awareness of your body and its sensations. You should also practice self-care and seek help if you experience any distress or discomfort. This is not a “no pain, no gain” scenario.
Some examples of somatic release exercises that you can do on your own are:
- Self-regulation: This somatic release practice helps you manage your emotional and physiological arousal and calm yourself down when you feel stressed or triggered. You can self-regulate by using breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or other methods that work for you.
- Body scans: This technique helps you scan your body for any sensations, feelings, or tensions that may indicate unresolved trauma. You can do a body scan by lying down or sitting comfortably and slowly moving your attention from one part of your body to another. You can notice your feelings in each area without judging or trying to change them. You can also gently release any tension or pain by breathing through it or shaking it off.
- Grounding: This technique helps you connect with the present moment and feel more stable and secure. You can ground yourself by focusing on physical contact with the earth, such as your feet on the floor, your hands on a table, or your back on a chair. You can also use your senses to notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch around you.
- Resourcing and visualization: This practice helps you access positive emotions and memories that can counteract the adverse effects of trauma. You can resource yourself by thinking of a place, animal, object, or activity that makes you feel calm, safe, happy, or empowered. You can also visualize yourself in a peaceful or pleasant scenario that soothes you. My favorite resourcing visualization goes like this:
My Favorite Resourcefulness Visualization
- Put on some soothing music and picture yourself in a physical environment (not tied to any particular person or memory – neutrality is crucial) that makes you feel safe, secure, and peaceful. For me, this is often a beach on the edge of a forest that I’ve never been to in real life but wish I had.
- Now, call up an icon or entity (not a specific person – again, neutrality) that embodies nurturing qualities. I see a woman with the body of a tree, hair that is a waterfall of flowers and streams, and eyes like stars. I call her Gaia. Have yours join you in your safe place.
- Next, invite in an entity or icon that represents to you the spirit of wisdom. Some examples are a wise old good witch in the woods, that know-it-all cartoon owl Archimedes, or the wizard Merlin from Disney’s The Sword and The Stone. Allow this wise entity to join you in your safe space.
- The last iconic figure to invite into your safe space is something that represents protection. Mine is a gigantic, sleek black panther that is a fierce protector but acts like a cuddly kitten when there is no threat to fight off.
- Sit with these beings in your safe space, and ask them to provide you with any insights, knowledge, or downloads you need now.
YouTube has many videos demonstrating how to do these somatic release practices, which you can watch here.
There are many books and resources on somatic release practices that you can explore to learn more about this topic. Here are some examples:
- The Somatic Therapy Workbook: This book by Livia Shapiro offers stress-relieving exercises for strengthening the mind-body connection and sparking emotional and physical healing. It includes journal exercises, body-centered prompts, movement exercises, and real-life experiments. You can find it on Amazon.
- Somatic Experiencing Therapy: This website by Positive Psychology provides the ten best exercises and examples of somatic experiencing, a specific type of somatic therapy developed by Peter Levine. It explains the theory and practice of somatic experiencing and how it can help with trauma recovery. You can visit the website here.
- At-Home Somatic Therapy Practices for Trauma Recovery: This is an article by Psych Central that describes four simple and gentle somatic therapy exercises that you can do at home, such as grounding, resourcing and visualization, self-regulation, and body scans. It also provides some tips and precautions for doing a somatic release practice on your own. You can read the article here.
Next week, I’ll be back with one more article in this somatic release series, deep-diving into a specific somatic release practice that my friends on healing journeys have been raving about. Make sure you are on my weekly email list so you don’t miss it!
And if you have any questions about the benefits of a somatic release practice, please email me and ask away!