Somatic Therapy: Release Trauma on a Physical Level

After going through a few hard months, I've recently been able to really focus on looking within and getting myself back to balance. I of course went for my go-to methods of relaxation and energy healing; meditation and yoga, but I also came across something called somatic therapy, which really piqued my interest.

Somatic therapy is a ground-breaking method of releasing pent-up stress and trauma memories in the body. It's modeled after the way that animals in the wild process stress. After, say, an antelope gets chased down by a tiger, the antelope will go into a "freeze" mode. You might have experienced this when you were told shocking news or felt like your life was at risk. Your entire body freezes up and gets ready for whatever danger is coming at it. The whole lesson in the experience of the antelope is that after this traumatic experience, he/she then "shakes" it off. You might have seen your dog or cat give a little shimmy or a wiggle out of the blue. That's the stress being released from the muscles, giving the animal the cue that it's ok to return to its original, neutral, relaxed state. Unfortunately, we humans don't quite "get" that way of thinking. We don’t allow our body to shake off the stress and it just keeps snowballing from there.

One of the first somatic therapy exercises I tried was to simply breathe while relaxing my body. Sounds simple enough...but it made me realize how tight my chest and stomach are on a moment-to-moment basis. I actively tried to relax my stomach muscles as well as my chest and even up to my throat. I took a few breaths and was shocked at how much oxygen I've been depriving myself of when I breathe like I have been for all these years. 

Though somatic therapy is highly individualized based on what the person has gone through and what kind of tension is present in the body, it's a pretty simple concept when you look at it. 

Instead of trying to think relaxing thoughts to relax your body, why not relax your body to then think relaxing thoughts? Makes sense to me. Here are a few other exercises to try at home:

1. Sensory Tracking

"Tracking" can be done at any time and in any place although it's most beneficial when done in privacy. It’s quite simply the act of noticing what's going on in your body. We seldom ever take the time to notice the stress, tension, or tightness going on and by actively looking for and feeling blockages in your body, it's that much easier to release them. All you need to do for this exercise is sit or lie down in a comfortable position and just "observe" your body. Some areas will feel heavy, or hot or cold or more relaxed than others. Just observe without judgment and take note.

2. Resourcing

After going through a difficult or traumatic experience, we can get stuck in those scared or anxious feelings indefinitely if we don't give ourselves the chance to let them go. Resourcing reminds ourselves what it's like to maybe feel ok and safe in the world and is as simple as looking at a picture of someone we love or remembering an experience that brought us immense joy and feelings of safety. The key is to really feel these experiences again in the fullest capacity. Don't worry; no one can see you. You might notice a softening in the eyes and face as you remember bringing a new puppy home from the pet store or when you first told your partner you loved them. Revel in that feeling for as long as possible and keep those experiences in the back of your mind for when you need a pick-me-up. 

3. Stretchy Breathing

For this exercise you'll need an elastic band or something stretchy. As you take a breath, stretch out the elastic to match your breath in and then when you breathe out, slowly bring it back together. This motion will inspire even and slower breaths and will also show you how much deeper your breathing can be.