Becoming out of touch with who you are can happen more easily than many people might think. When you’re focused on outward appearances, the demands of daily life, and societal pressures, your inner self can be neglected. This is exactly what Thomas Hanna, a renowned somatic educator, highlighted when he said: “Soma is the living body experienced from within.”
Think of somatic practices as a way of reconnecting with your body and tapping into its innate wisdom. Somatic practices encompass a variety of techniques that involve mindful movement, breathwork, and body awareness.
Pioneers in the field came up with specific systems such as the Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, and body-mind centering, each of which offers a unique approach to somatic awareness and healing. By incorporating these practices into your wellness routine, you can cultivate a deeper sense of self-awareness, release muscle tension, improve posture, and alleviate chronic pain.
Here’s everything you need to know about somatic practices and how you can use them for wellness.
What are Somatic Practices?
Somatic practices are a group of body-centered activities that help individuals reconnect with their bodies to promote health, well-being, and body awareness.
These practices are based on the understanding that the mind and body are not separate entities but rather a unified system in which each part interacts with and influences the other in profound ways.
Somatic practices involve a variety of techniques and exercises that focus on internal physical perception and experience.
Rather than treating the body as an object that is to be trained or fixed, these practices encourage individuals to explore their internal sensations and movement patterns.
This involves tuning into the body’s signals, noticing areas of tension or discomfort, and using mindful movement and breathwork to release blockages and restore balance.
The ultimate goal is the cultivation of somatic awareness, which is a heightened consciousness of the physical body and its relationship with the mind, space, and the environment around it. Furthermore, it’s about recognizing the body as a source of wisdom and insight and a tool for personal growth and transformation.
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What Are The 4 Somatic Practices?
Somatic-based therapy, somatic bodywork, somatic movement, and somatic breathwork are four broad categories of somatic practices. In each of these categories, there are numerous specific practices and modalities.
Somatic-based therapy integrates both bodily and psychological processes. It recognizes that our physical bodies and our minds are intertwined, with each influencing the other.
This approach suggests that by connecting with our bodies, we can uncover deeper layers of our emotions, attitudes, and thoughts. Examples of somatic practices in this category include bioenergetics and Hakomi.
Bioenergetics (a therapeutic technique) involves integrating bodily functions to relieve physical tension linked to emotional distress. At the same time, Hakomi integrates principles of Eastern philosophy, primarily Buddhism and Taoism, and other body-centric concepts such as mindfulness that utilize body sensations, emotions, and thoughts to access and transform deeply ingrained, unconscious patterns.
Somatic bodywork encompasses a range of modalities that use hands-on techniques to improve bodily function and promote wellness. Techniques such as massage, touch, and manipulation are used for releasing tension, improving circulation, and restoring body balance.
Specific practices in this category include Rolfing, a form of deep tissue bodywork that realigns the body’s structural balance through muscle and fascia manipulation, and craniosacral therapy, which uses gentle touching to empower the client to recognize or release blockages or tension, particularly in the central nervous system, and improve overall health (24) (26).
Somatic bodywork can be particularly beneficial for stress management, with somatic exercises for stress being a key component.
Somatic movement involves practices that use movement and bodily sensation to foster bodily awareness, improve physical capacity, and release tension. These exercises are often used in dancing and performing arts for improving body flexibility, strength, and coordination.
Examples of somatic movement practices include the Feldenkrais method, which uses gentle movements to improve body function and ease of movement, and the Alexander technique, which can improve posture by focusing on sensory awareness, self-perception, and conscious movement, teaching people to move more efficiently.
Somatic breathwork refers to practices that use conscious and intentional control of breathing to induce relaxation, manage stress, and improve mental and physical health. Breathwork can have numerous health benefits, including lowering cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone (5).
Examples of somatic breathwork include holotropic breathwork (HB), which uses controlled rapid breathing to induce altered states of consciousness for self-exploration and healing, and transformational breathwork, which aims to integrate the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of individuals.
Incorporating these practices into your wellness routine can result in massive benefits. For those who are interested, an abundance of resources, including somatic exercises pdf, is available online to guide beginners through the process.
Read more: 28-Day Somatic Exercise for Trauma Relief
What Is an Example of a Somatic Practice Technique?
One example of a somatic practice technique is the fascial release technique (FRT). FRT involves using slow, gentle, and intentional movements to release tension in the body’s fascia or connective tissue to restore postural and functional integrity (19). This can help reduce pain and improve flexibility. It also helps activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which induces relaxation and reduces stress (13).
Let’s now take a look at other techniques that fall under the four categories discussed above.
Somatic-Based Therapy Practices
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
EFT, which is often referred to as “tapping”, involves self-stimulating certain acupressure points while thinking about sensations of the body or distressing thoughts/feelings. It was originated by Gary Craig in the 1990s and is believed to help reduce negative emotional responses and promote psychological healing.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987, EMDR is a psychotherapy that incorporates elements of somatic therapy. EMDR utilizes bilateral eye movement, touch, or auditory cues to help process and make sense of unresolved traumatic memories (9).
Focusing was introduced by Eugene Gendlin in the 1960s and is a person-centered therapy that involves paying attention to the “felt sense”, a bodily sensation that carries important information about our emotions and what we must do in order to heal (11).
Reichian Therapy/Orgone Therapy
This therapy was developed by Wilhelm Reich in the early 20th century and it focuses on releasing physical tensions that have been stored in the body and are believed to be blocking the natural flow of life energy, or “orgone” (23).
Created by Peter Levine, this body-mind approach aims to relieve and resolve the “trapped” emotions that are linked to experiencing a traumatic event by increasing internal awareness (interoceptive, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic sensations) and promoting overall well-being (13).
Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®)
TRE® was developed by David Berceli and is a mind-body therapy that utilizes a series of exercises that are designed to help the body release deep muscular patterns of stress and tension (27).
Somatic Bodywork Techniques
Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen founded this method that involves hands-on re-patterning of the body’s structure, in addition to movement exercises, as a means of promoting balance and facilitating a deeper understanding of the body-mind connection (20).
Bodywork and Somatic Education (BASE)™
BASE was developed by Dave Berger and is a hands-on approach that uses touch, awareness, and movement to create improved postural alignment and ease of motion. It can also be combined with psychotherapy for resolving traumatic memories (2).
Created by David Weinstock, neurokinetic therapy is a corrective movement system that addresses the causes of dysfunctional movement patterns (25).
Rolfing® Structural Integration
Developed by Ida P. Rolf in the 1940s, Rolfing is a form of hands-on bodywork and movement training that helps align the body’s structure and improve posture and movement through muscle and fascia manipulation (26).
Rosen Method Bodywork
This approach was founded by Marion Rosen and uses gentle, direct touch to identify muscle tension and promote relaxation and emotional awareness (3).
Somatic Movement and Dance Practices
Founded by Frederick Matthias Alexander in the late 19th century, this technique helps retrain habitual patterns of movement to improve posture, reduce muscular tension, and enhance overall well-being (10).
Functional Integration® (Feldenkrais Method®)
The Feldenkrais method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais in the mid-20th century with the aim of improving body-mind connection and overall human functioning by increasing self-awareness through graceful and efficient movement (14).
Awareness Through Movement® (Feldenkrais Method)
In this practice, students are guided through a sequence of movements to learn how their body moves and to improve overall function (11).
Developed in the 1970s by Steve Paxton and others, contact improvisation is a dance technique where points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation (22).
Continuum movement was founded by Emilie Conrad and is a dynamic form of meditation and movement therapy involving sound, breath, and movement explorations (12).
Developed by Thomas Hanna, this method involves slow, deliberate movements to increase body awareness, improve motor control, and redefine the sense of bodily self (6).
Skinner Releasing Technique™
This approach was created by Joan Skinner and combines imagery, movement, and hands-on partner studies to facilitate ease of movement, technical mastery, and creative expression (1).
Jamie McHugh developed this method that combines contemporary dance, bodywork, and mindfulness to cultivate body awareness and creativity (18).
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Somatic Breathwork Techniques
Conscious Connected Breathing (CCB)
This practice involves maintaining a conscious, continuous breath, typically in and out through the nose. The aim of this deep, rhythmic breathing technique is to cultivate awareness of the connection between the body and mind and to promote relaxation and emotional release (7).
Developed by Giten Tonkov, the biodynamic breathwork and trauma release system combines elements of breathing, movement, sound, touch, emotion, and meditation. It aims to release tension that is held in the body and help individuals reconnect with their true selves (4).
Founded by Leonard Orr, rebirthing breathwork involves connected and continuous breathing with no break between inhaling and exhaling. The aim of this is to release unconscious physical and emotional tension, which leads to an increased sense of well-being (15).
This therapeutic process uses breathing for accessing and exploring different states of consciousness.
It was developed by Jacqueline A. Small and integrates insights from modern consciousness research and transpersonal psychology. It can lead to deep emotional release and spiritual growth.
Pranayama (Yogic Breath)
This is an ancient Indian practice that is focused on controlling breathing to balance the body’s energy flows. Pranayama exercises can vary greatly in technique, but all of them aim to improve physical and mental well-being (8).
Wim Hof Method
Developed by Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman”, this method uses breathing, cold therapy, and commitment to help you connect more deeply with your body.
It includes a specific breathing technique—similar to tummo (inner fire) meditation and pranayama—that aims to stimulate the vagus nerve, increase oxygen in the blood and brain, reduce stress, and increase physical performance.
The Wim Hof method promotes resilience by intentionally challenging the body and mind to adapt to stressful stimuli (21).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is mindfulness a somatic practice?
Yes, mindfulness can be considered to be a somatic practice. It involves increasing awareness of the body, its sensations, and its movement, which are key aspects of somatic practices.
Is yoga a somatic therapy?
While yoga is not typically classified as a somatic therapy, it shares many characteristics with somatic practices. Yoga promotes body awareness, conscious movement, and the connection between mind and body. Some yoga practitioners also incorporate somatic elements in their approach.
What are the 5 channels of somatic experiencing?
Somatic experiencing® utilizes a ‘bottom-up’ approach by using five channels, or pathways, through which the body can release ‘trapped’ emotions that are linked to experiencing a traumatic event (17). These channels are sensation, imagery, behavior, affect, and meaning.
How do you release anxiety somatically?
Somatic practices for anxiety release include mindful breathing exercises, guided body scans, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and embodied movement practices such as yoga or tai chi. These practices help ground the individual, bring awareness to physical sensations, and regulate the nervous system.
The Bottom Line
Somatic practices are powerful tools for self-care, personal growth, and improved physical and mental well-being. Whether you are looking to improve your movement skills or simply reduce stress, there is a somatic practice that can help you achieve your goals.
With the right guidance from a qualified practitioner, these practices can be used to help you reach new heights of health and vitality
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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