Keeping up with the pace of busy life these days can be pretty exhausting. Hectic work routines and tight schedules drain us and make us feel stressed and burnt out. If you constantly feel stressed, weary, and tired, it is time to rest and focus on the inside. Concentrate on what your body tells you, and calm your body with somatic exercises.
Now you may be wondering what somatic exercise is. If you are new to this concept or may have only heard it discussed, hang tight as we explain it in detail.
What Does Somatic Mean?
Somatic is derived from a Greek word, “Soma,” which means body. Somatic means “of or relating to the living body.” The term Somatic Education was first coined by movement theorist and educator Thomas Louis Hanna, who used the word Somatic for the first time in his book, Bodies in Revolt: A Primer on Somatic Thinking.
Somatic has since then been used to quote various practices, including somatic movement, somatic therapy, somatic relaxation, or somatic education (1). These approaches are categorized as bottom-up processing. These are based on the idea that we start perceiving items with sensations, unlike our conceptual thoughts.
For instance: Siegel (2012) explains an illustrative example of a person seeing a rose. The bottom-up experience senses the rose “as if it were the first time, “exciting curiosity. In contrast, the top-down experience recognizes it as a red flower. It identifies the rose according to the coalesced summary of previous experiences with roses (17).
According to Mr. Hanna, somatic movement helps our brain slow down and focus on what is happening in our bodies as we move. In his book, he emphasized how athletes watch slow-motion films during sports training to be more attentive and learn the techniques of each movement or strike.
This helps the brain to be more focused. He also explains that when we perform the activities slowly, our somatic brain takes over and helps us feel more calm and relaxed.
What is the Purpose of the Somatic Movement?
Somatic movement is performed consciously to focus on the internal senses and awareness of the movement rather than the external appearance or result. This may include stretching or bending down to tie a lace after waking up.
Over the years, our bodies have been conditioned to do these activities. We don’t feel the sensations of doing these movements. Somatic movement helps us slow down and focus on each movement. This way, we connect with our internal body and understand various signals our bodies may send (2).
What is Somatic Exercise?
Somatic exercises are exercises done to listen to your body’s internal signals. These may include gentle stretching or yoga. Compared to other traditional exercises focused on external benefits like weight loss or muscle gain, somatic hip exercises help you slow down and focus on each movement.
This will help you gain heightened awareness about your body. For instance, if you are under constant stress, performing somatic stress relief yoga may help you identify the root cause, and your body may alleviate stress rapidly.
What are Examples of Somatic Movement?
Somatic exercises typically emphasize mindful awareness, conscious movement, and a deep connection between the body and mind. The activities below may assist in reducing stress and are also beneficial for improving posture, increasing body awareness, enhancing movement efficiency, reducing tension and pain, increasing flexibility, and developing a deeper understanding of the mind-body connection (1).
These exercises should be practiced with the support or guidance of a trained practitioner.
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Rolfing, also known as Structural Integration, is a form of bodywork developed by Dr. Ida Rolf (3). It is a complementary therapy and falls outside of conventional medical practices to address physical and sometimes emotional issues through manual manipulation of the body’s fascia (connective tissue) and focused movement education. The idea behind Rolfing is that our bodies experience stress and discomfort when they are out of proportion or misaligned.
This makes us feel stressed and sluggish. Rolfing is a type of deep tissue manipulation where practitioners named rolfers manipulate fascia (the connective tissue surrounding our bones, organs, muscles, and nerves) and rectify structural imbalances within the body.
Rolfing is usually done in ten practical sessions, often known as the recipe, where rolfers indulge in manual therapies and massage the pain points throughout the body. Each session takes roughly 60 minutes (3).
The first three sessions focus on superficial tissues, the next four focus on deeper tissues, and the final three address the whole body.
According to the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute, Rolfing helps alleviate muscle tension, soreness, and chronic pain, improves posture, and negates stress (4).
Body-Mind Centering (BMC)
Body-mind centering is another excellent somatic exercise developed by movement expert Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (5). It is an integrated approach to enhancing our mind-body connection and helping us express ourselves better. BMC is an approach that fits within the realm of somatic therapy, as it involves experiential movement, touch, and awareness to facilitate a deeper understanding of the body-mind connection and promote mental and physical well-being.
Body-mind centering uses anatomy, physiology, psychology, and development principles and focuses on movement, touch, voice, and consciousness. The main purpose of BMC is to be more self-aware and focus on our bodies since they hold vast knowledge about our thoughts and emotions.
By doing BMC, we can tune into our internal selves, reshape our thinking, and improve our well-being. According to Miss Cohen, BMC helps people improve their posture and flexibility by releasing muscle tension (5).
Individuals in yoga, dance, psychotherapy, music, child development, and other body-related disciplines use BMC to enhance their experience.
If you suffer from poor posture, try the Alexander Technique. Developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, the Alexander Technique helps individuals alter their habits and free their bodies of unnecessary tension. The Alexander Technique aligns with somatic education principles by focusing on sensory awareness, self-perception, and conscious movement.
The basic idea is to do daily movements easily by exerting minimal effort and mitigating extra tensions we carry in our bodies all day. It is not a series of sessions but an active approach to learning the basics of fluid body movements. The technique emphasizes the integration of mind and body in everyday activities.
According to the Alexander Technique’s official website, this approach is particularly beneficial for individuals suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injuries, and discomfort after sitting for a long time (6).
It is also useful for singers, athletes, and performers facing issues with not performing at their best. The founder Frederick Matthias Alexander discovered this approach after he met the problem of voice loss during public speaking.
According to the UK National Health Service, Alexander Technique is useful for chronic back and neck pain and helps individuals cope with Parkinson’s disease (7).
The Feldenkrais Method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais and is used to improve body movements as it repairs the connections between the motor cortex and the body. This method aims to improve gait and body movements and increase the range of motion. The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics, and human development (8).
Feldenkrais Method is usually practiced in two ways, Awareness Through Movement (AMT) and Functional Integration. Awareness through Movement is taught in groups where individuals follow their teacher’s instructions through slow, gentle movements. In contrast, Functional Integration is a one-on-one lesson where the practitioner guides the student’s movements according to the individualized learning plan through soft, non-invasive touch.
Laban Movement Analysis (LMA)
Laban Movement Analysis or Barteniff Movement Analysis is an alternative medical method for observing, describing, and interpreting human movement. The technique was originally developed by Rudolf Laban and further developed by Lisa Ullmann, Warren Lamb, and Irmgard Barteniff (9).
Laban Movement Analysis is derived from anatomy, psychology, and kinesiology principles. Professionals like dancers, athletes, psychotherapists, occupational therapists, and musicians use LMA to improve their practice. It is also used in business consulting and leadership development as LMA’s emphasis on movement qualities, spatial relationships, and expressive gestures and can provide valuable insights into how individuals present themselves, collaborate, and engage with others in professional environments.
Rudolf Laban’s student Irmgard Barteniff further categorized LMA into four aspects, the Body, Shape, Space, and Effort, or the BESS.
This includes the interrelationships within the body and how the body moves. It also consists of the body shape, posture, and the way it takes up space. For example, a person might move by taking big steps or gliding with small, contained movements.
This includes the qualities of movement. For example, actions can be light or strong, free-flowing or tense, quick or sustained.
This refers to how the body changes shape and the motivations behind this. It also refers to the patterns that movements create in space. Movements can be linear, curved, twisting, or a combination of these shapes.
This refers to where the body is moving and how the movements relate to the surrounding area. It examines whether movements are directed forward, backward, upward, downward, or sideways, as well as how much space a person occupies with their movements.
Laban Movement Analysis may also include other categories like relationship and phrasing. Relationship refers to the interaction between people or an object within the context of movement. In comparison, phrasing refers to personal expression and timing of movement.
Laban Movement Analysis helps us gain insight into individuals’ intentions, emotions, and personality traits through their movements by observing and analyzing these components.
In addition to these, you can also perform somatic yoga. The basic difference between traditional and somatic yoga is the focus on body movements and breathwork. In somatic yoga, you focus inward and put your attention into feeling your body movements and sensations.
Somatic yoga should be practiced with a certified somatic yoga instructor with specific training. Somatic yoga strongly emphasizes internal sensations, proprioception, and the mind-body connection.
In somatic yoga, practitioners are encouraged to explore movements slowly and focus on how each movement feels instead of trying for a specific end posture. This approach allows individuals to release tension, improve flexibility, and enhance body awareness.
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What is An Example of Somatic Therapy?
Encountering a distressing event or struggling to manage the pressures of daily life and meet its demands can result in physical and psychological breakdowns. These unresolved emotional issues could be stored in the body. Somatic therapy recognizes that our physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts are all intertwined and that addressing bodily sensations can lead to emotional and psychological well-being.
Somatic therapy aims to rejuvenate the mind-body connection. A somatic therapist guides exercises to enhance the internal awareness of your body and its functions. They help to process stored unresolved conflicts and enhance self-regulation of emotions. This process leads to improved emotional health and builds resilience in the individual.
You may be interlinking somatic therapy with psychotherapy, but that is not the case. Psychotherapy only focuses on the mind, whereas somatic therapy focuses on the internal senses and the body primarily.
Experiencing a distressing event could lead the individual to store unresolved emotions in their bodies, which, if left unaddressed, could lead to somatization. Somatizationis expressing psychological distress or feelings through physical symptoms such as chronic back and neck pain. Research shows that most individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often face the issue of chronic pain (10).
Somatic therapists address these issues and work to relieve our bodies of stress. They often employ breathing techniques, meditation, and dance to relieve pent-up tension. Knowing why negative energy or emotions get trapped in our bodies is crucial when discussing trauma. When a disruptive event occurs, we may either fight or flee. We may also develop negative responses and emotions if this overwhelms our coping abilities. (11).
These negative events affect our mental well-being and make us fall victim to low self-esteem.
Listed below are some of the somatic exercises for adults (12):
In this technique, the individual is taught to identify areas of stress and tension in their body. They are then subjected to calming thoughts to ease their mind.
In this technique, the individual is guided to connect their body to the earth deeply. This exercise helps individuals to enhance internal awareness and be connected to the present moment. The therapist asks the individual to feel their feet on the ground and focus on their body movements.
As the name implies, the somatic therapist guides you to shift your focus away from the contraction (a state of uncomfortable physical sensations linked to the trauma) to calm. This alternating movement allows the nervous system to regulate itself, preventing overwhelming feelings and promoting safety. Pendulation helps clients build resilience by gradually releasing stored tension and promoting a balanced experience of their physical and emotional states.
You may feel a bit anxious during pendulation, but the therapist will guide you gradually as you learn to get into the relaxed state completely.
During titration, the therapist will guide the client through the distressing event. You will also be asked to observe body changes and witness any new thing happening. If you experience any physical reactions, your therapist will guide you to address them.
The therapist will guide you to pay attention to the tension leaving your body. You will feel different sensations of tension, such as your chest tightening during this stage. One by one, you will feel the pressure releasing from your body.
You will be asked to remember good memories that make you happy and loved, including your relationships and good times. The good memories will help you feel calm and relaxed.
What Are the Benefits of Somatic Exercises?
Somatic exercises benefit many people by improving their mental and physical well-being. Some of the most considerable somatic exercise benefits are:
Chronic Pain Relief
Somatic exercises focus on the signals your body may send regarding discomfort, pain, or tension. When you fully concentrate on your body, you can identify the root causes behind your pain and mitigate pain by changing your body movement or posture.
Improves Emotional Awareness
Somatic exercises also help improve your emotional well-being. A study found that Laban Movement Analysis helped individuals nurture resilience and equip them with tools for self-efficacy by enhancing their ability to emotionally adapt to challenges by regulating their movement responses (15).
Somatic exercises also benefit individuals with mobility issues. According to a 2017 study, individuals who practiced the Feldenkrais Method experienced a significant improvement in their mobility after 12 lessons (16).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is meditation a somatic exercise?
Meditation has a somatic element if you pay attention to your inner body. Its anchors could be your breath or the sensation of blood flowing throughout your body. Some forms of meditation, like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) and Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT), integrate somatic principles to create a more holistic approach to help achieve mental well-being.
Is Tai Chi a somatic practice?
Tai Chi is considered a somatic element as it involves a rigid mind-body connection. It requires taking slow movements, controlling breathing, and performing the procedure meditatively. All of these factors make Tai Chi a somatic type of activity.
Is dancing somatic therapy?
Dance is somatic only if you focus on your body and perform small and gentle movements. Mostly, dancing is external, and we aren’t paying much attention to our bodies.
Dance movement therapy (DMT), in the realm of somatics, can help individuals to feel themselves and deal with their emotional turmoil. Remember that a trained therapist should guide these movements.
In a nutshell, somatic exercise offers a powerful gateway to rediscovering our bodies’ potential to improve mental and physical well-being. It encourages us to be present, listen to our bodies, and embrace our movements’ subtle nuance.
We hope you got the answers to your queries regarding what somatic exercise is. These exercises routinely will help you combat years of muscle tension and soreness. Remember to consult your physician before exercising, especially if you have any medical condition. Also, consult a somatic therapist or expert before beginning this journey to avoid mishaps.
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!
- A Brief Intro to the World of Somatics (2020, healthline.com)
- What Is Somatic Stretching? How It Works, Benefits, and Stretches for Beginners (2022, everydayhealth.com)
- Rolfing therapy: Technique, benefits, and more (2022, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What is Rolfing? (n.d., rolf.org)
- BODY-MIND CENTERING (n.d., bonniebainbridgecohen.com)
- What is the Alexander Technique? (n.d., alexandertechnique.com)
- Evidence for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in medical and health-related conditions: a systematic review (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Feldenkrais Method (2007, sciencedirect.com)
- Laban movement analysis (n.d., wikipedia.org)
- Chronic pain in refugees with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- All About Somatic Therapy (2021, psychcentral.com)
- Better or Worse: a Study of Day-to-Day Changes over Five Months of Rosen Method Bodywork Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Improved interoceptive awareness in chronic low back pain (2016,
- A Somatic Movement Approach to Fostering Emotional Resiliency through Laban Movement Analysis (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Feldenkrais Movement Lessons Improve Older Adults’ Awareness, Comfort, and Function (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Pause, Breathe, and Feel (n.d., ibpj.org)