The chaos of work and domestic life often makes people ignore their physical and mental well-being. Sometimes, we forget that bridging the gap between mind and body is essential for living a peaceful life. A smooth connection between mind and body is a blessing for those who have it.
Somatic yoga is one of the best techniques for establishing this connection. It can train your body to have a strong mind-body connection. It does this by increasing awareness of bodily sensations and strengthening the connection between your mind and body while you practice somatic yoga. Outwardly, your body moves, while inwardly, your mind feels it from within.
Keep reading this article to learn the art of somatic yoga and get some tips on how to add it to your routine.
What is Somatic Yoga?
Soma is a Greek word that means ‘body’ and somatic means ‘of or relating to the living body’ (3). Somatic yoga is based on the principles of somatics, yoga, neuroscience (particularly the somatic nervous system), applied psychophysiology, and psychology, and integrates traditional yoga poses to enhance body awareness and strengthen the mind-body connection.
It differs from other types of yoga as it mainly emphasizes how physical movement is felt internally rather than how it is seen from the outside (13). It includes guided breathing, meditation, positive affirmations, and moments of relaxation. Moving your body emotionlessly as a means of achieving something or getting somewhere is not the goal. Instead, the aim of somatic yoga is to awaken your body and make it capable of being conscious of your inner sensation.
Enhancing awareness of bodily sensations is a principle of somatic yoga. It is focused on promoting self-awareness and mindfulness in your body. Stability, mobility, and strength are all required for a balanced and functional body that is well connected with the mind. From the perspective of emotional well-being, somatic yoga serves its purpose by building up a sense of inner harmony. It should be noted that somatic yoga should be practiced with a certified yoga teacher.
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What Are the Benefits of Somatic Yoga?
Somatic yoga provides plenty of perks. Its physical and mental benefits are a blessing for practitioners. As with all other forms of yoga, it can enhance flexibility and mobility. It nourishes your joints and tissues. As a result, the range of motion in your body will improve (14).
Somatic yoga includes mindfulness techniques. These practices focus on enhancing your body awareness (16). Some therapists also use it as a form of pain relief (6). Chronic pain conditions such as headaches, neck pain, back pain, and joint discomfort are quite common worldwide. Even youngsters now suffer from these ailments and end up with a disrupted lifestyle.
Somatic yoga benefits such people by releasing muscle tension, awakening sensory motor amnesia, and eliminating these conditions (5) (14). This form of yoga can also release stress and help you feel at ease. Somatic yoga therapy induces relaxation, which helps minimize tension. At times, somatic yoga can be integrated with other somatic therapies to mitigate symptoms.
Are Somatic Exercises the Same as Yoga?
Somatic exercises and yoga both involve mindful movement and body awareness, but they differ widely in origin, techniques, practice, and goals.
While yoga is an ancient practice that is rooted in Indian philosophy, somatic yoga stems from somatic education, a modern approach that was pioneered in the 20th century by Thomas Hanna and Moshe Feldenkrais (9). Traditional yoga has more of a spiritual and philosophical element, while somatic yoga is mainly focused on improving sensory awareness and re-educating the nervous system.
Regular yoga uses various physical postures and breathing techniques for achieving fitness goals and improving general well-being. It is also considered to be a meditative practice. At the same time, somatic yoga techniques include slow, gentle movements that aim to increase the awareness of sensory perception and release any tension.
To summarize, although there are many similarities between somatic exercises and yoga, their methods and the purpose they serve differ. This shows that one practice cannot replace the other.
What Are Some Common Somatic Exercises?
When starting with somatic exercise for the first time, you should have a clear purpose in your mind to keep you going. Enrolling in any somatic exercise/yoga program can also provide you with the motivation you need. These training sessions can help improve body awareness and declutter your mind, which will help you devise a somatic routine.
The protocols may slightly differ if you perform somatic exercises at home. For example, you should find a comfortable corner. It should be a space without distractions. You should also wear comfortable attire that doesn’t disrupt your routine. This will also help your mind to calm down and concentrate. Remember to go easy on yourself and start with easy somatic exercises for beginners when doing it for the first time.
You should create a plan beforehand to perform somatic exercises in a more disciplined and organized way and produce better results. Start by determining a time to carry out this activity daily.
Drawing up a somatic exercise sequence is also preferable. You should select exercises according to your health and purpose. As you progress, you can modify your sequence according to your ability and include more advanced routines once you have mastered the easy exercises.
Here are some examples of somatic exercises that can help you get started. These exercises may help in somatic release if they are performed correctly. You should also be aware of your internal senses when performing these exercises:
Pelvic tilts can activate your core muscles, which are involved in most physical movements. To perform a pelvic tilt (10):
- Lie flat on the floor or a soft carpet/mat with your knees bent
- Inhale and gently bend your pelvis, arching your lower back
- Hold this position for up to 10 seconds
- Slowly flatten your back, tilting your pelvis backward
- Repeat this movement, feeling the motion of your back and pelvis
This can be one of the easiest parts of your somatic routine. To perform a side bend bodily exercise:
- Lie on your right side with your right arm comfortably under your head
- Place the fingers of your left hand on the left side of your waist
- After getting into position, slightly raise your left foot, keeping your knees together and feeling the contraction in your right hip
- Bring your foot downwards and relax
- Repeat this movement, then repeat the exercise lying on your left side
Neck and Shoulder Release
This is a gentle way of releasing tension in your neck and shoulders. To perform a neck and shoulder release:
- Sit on the floor crossed-legged or in a comfortable seated position and take deep breaths
- Raise your hands straight upwards, and bring your right palm to the left side and vice versa
- Both palms should be facing each other and you should interlace your fingers
- Inhale and straighten your hands
- Exhale and bend your elbows
- Repeat this exercise several times
After this, return to your starting position, keeping your hands on your thighs, and perform the following:
- Keep your head straight, looking forward
- Tilt your head as far to the right as possible, bringing your ear towards your shoulder, and take a deep breath
- Gently straighten your head
- Repeat this movement with the left side and perform it several times
- During the entire process, try to feel the movements of your body parts and the contraction relaxation of your muscles and joints
These exercises can help relieve shoulder and neck pain. They can also increase flexibility and make your neck less stiff.
As previously mentioned, somatic yoga includes some traditional yoga poses. The trump card for these exercises is that they are easy and gentle and can be done conveniently while sitting on a chair. However, they yield the same benefits as other yoga routines, such as improved strength, better mood, and improved concentration. Some somatic movement practices are as follows:
- Sit straight on a chair with your back and spinal cord up
- Bend your right knee so that your right ankle is placed on your left knee and maintain this posture with as much stretch as possible in your right knee
- Sit up straight and breathe deeply as you feel the stretch in the muscles and joints of your right leg
- Stay this way for three to five deep breaths
- Repeat the exercise with the left knee
Seated Cat Cow
This exercise can also be considered chair yoga for stress relief as it helps stretch muscles and relieve stress. It is a convenient stress-relieving exercise as it does not require a special posture and can easily be performed on an office chair during work (2). To perform this routine:
- Sit up tall on a chair with your hands on your thighs
- Inhale and push your belly outwards, arching your back inwards
- Tilt your back as far as possible (look up to the ceiling or parallel your head to the floor). – this is the cow position
- Return to the starting position
- Exhale, leaning forward with your chin towards your chest
- Maintain this posture with a round upper back – this is the cat position
- Repeat the cat-cow poses several times
This pose can help relieve neck and upper-body pain. It also gives you a refreshing sensation (12). To perform a chair twist:
- Sit up straight in your chair
- Place your left hand on your right knee
- With your right hand, hold the backrest or back of your seat
- Take a deep breath and lengthen your spine
- Gently twist your upper torso to the right, looking over your right shoulder as much as possible
- Maintain this position for three to five breaths and feel the twist in your spine
- Return to your original position in the center
- Repeat the same movement with the other side
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Is Somatic Therapy and Somatic Yoga Similar?
Somatic therapy and somatic yoga share the same essence as they both are ‘bottom-up’ processing with the aim of enhancing awareness of bodily sensations and improving mind-body connection. However, they have some purpose differences and are practiced in different settings. Somatic therapy and somatic yoga can be used together for addressing and healing emotional issues that are trapped in the body. Somatic therapy can include somatic experiencing (SE) therapy, sensorimotor therapy, and neurosomatic therapy.
In addition to yoga movement, somatic yoga can be combined with meditation and breath work as a means of promoting healing and well-being (6). A somatic therapist helps clients explore and release tension in the body’s muscles and tissues that are caused by ‘trapped’ emotions linked to stress or the experience of a traumatic event (15).
How Does Somatic Yoga Work?
Somatic yoga combines somatic movement principles (feeling movement from within) and traditional yoga. It can improve body awareness, release chronic muscle tension, and promote well-being (13).
During somatic yoga, you feel all your movements from within, which heightens body awareness. It is a key aspect of the practice as it allows you to notice and address the parts of the body that contain tension. Somatic yoga movements are slow, deliberate, and mindful, focusing fully on quality, breath, and sensations. Therefore, in this way, somatic yoga prioritizes internal awareness and comfort.
In somatic yoga, you will be guided to explore different movements and positions as a means of discovering tension and discomfort. You will feel all the relaxing and contracting of your muscles or muscle group to reset their length and functions. This can release stress and improve muscle coordination (1).
Somatic yoga can help you discover comfortable poses. You can use this practice to improve your posture and movements. In addition to physical impact, this practice stimulates a strong mind-body connection. As your mind becomes more aware of your body’s sensations and movements, you will better understand how your physical sensations connect to your mind. This creates harmony and balance in the body.
People of various fitness levels and physical abilities can practice somatic yoga. It can also be a perfect component for those who are undergoing pain treatment or trauma therapy. However, this should be advised and guided by a trained therapist.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, somatic yoga is an entirely holistic approach that is based on the principles of body awareness, sensory exploration, and mindful movements. It concerns an individual’s well-being from every perspective and provides countless benefits. This practice emphasizes internal sensation and comfort over achieving specific poses or outward appearance. This unique practice boosts the mind-body connection, making both capable of working simultaneously. Once it is learned from a certified yoga teacher, it can be used as a self-practice for promoting physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Practicing somatic yoga is easy for people of every fitness level, but those with underlying medical conditions should consult their physician beforehand. Some of the somatic exercises such as grounding and breathwork can be availed effortlessly through the incorporation of easy and gentle exercises in your daily routine. Whether you’re a newbie or a professional yogi, somatic yoga can be an avenue for improving your bodily awareness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is Pilates a somatic practice?
The Pilates method is known for increasing strength and flexibility. It is not typically categorized as a somatic practice, but it holds some common principles and characteristics with somatic approaches and it can be practiced with somatic awareness.
What are the side effects of somatic exercises?
At times, somatic exercises can have side effects or risks. For example, these exercises may sometimes cause temporary muscle soreness, fatigue, or a feeling of being off balance. These effects are typically mild and short-lasting, but you should consult a healthcare professional immediately if discomfort persists.
Occasionally, somatic exercises that are meant for stress relief or trauma management may cause a rush of emotions/memories that can lead to you feeling overwhelmed or re-traumatized (7). You should have a trained therapist or healthcare consultant on board from the start in such cases.
What are some somatic exercises you can do at home?
Most somatic exercises do not require any special equipment and can be performed in smaller places. They are easy and can feasibly be performed at home. Some such exercises include neck stretches, pelvic tilt, neck and shoulder release, shoulder rolls, breath awareness, spinal roll down, and ankle rolls.
What is the difference between yoga and somatic movement?
Yoga is an ancient practice with a spiritual foundation that includes physical postures and meditation. At the same time, somatic movement is a relatively modern approach that conceptualizes the body as an entry point to the mind and therefore focuses more on developing the connection between body and mind. Unlike yoga, it does not have any spiritual element or meditative impact.
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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