Somatic Movement

At Inspiring Actions Yoga Studio, we are so excited to introduce a somatic movement class featuring instructor Jackie Ross.  The class is offered at our River Falls location on Fridays from 10:45 – 11:45. Sign up here; drop-ins are welcome! 

Today’s post will be all about somatic movement, also known as somatic exercise or therapy, and how you can benefit from our new class! 

What is Somatic Movement?

Somatic movement is a therapeutic treatment that recognizes the important connection between body and mind and seeks to restore balance and communication between the two.  The word “somatic” is derived from the Greek word “soma” which means “living body”.  At the core of somatic movement is the belief that negative energy from our repressed emotions and past traumas and stressors gets stored in our body and can manifest both physically in symptoms like muscular tension and pain, as well as emotionally, in things like anxiety and PTSD. 

Somatic movement teach the nervous system how to release chronic muscle tension by interrupting the learned stress-response patterns that we’ve developed over the course of our lives.  It can help people restore their mind-body connection to heal from the problematic and often physical after-effects of trauma and stress. 

Somatic movement can help us reach a state of homeostasis, which is the body’s natural, optimal resting state when we are free from perceived danger.  It engages the nervous system in an active learning process that can override the engrained patters we’ve created over the years.  It uses slow, focused movements which teach the nervous system how to release chronic muscle tension. 

By disrupting the old patterns of our nervous system’s stress response cycle, we can find both physical and mental healing. 

The Nervous System’s Role

It’s our nervous system’s job to activate stress responses when we’re in a dangerous or stressful situation.  You know this is happening when your muscles tighten up, your breath becomes shallow, and your heart rate increases.  Most commonly, this is known as the fight-or-flight response.  It tells our body what to do and can be helpful in many situations. 

The fight-or-flight response evolved in humans as a survival mechanism and is designed to give us a burst of energy when faced with a life-threatening situation.  But over time these responses can become learned, unconscious patterns that are present even when danger is not, and the energy left behind can cause things like chronic muscle pain and tension, anxiety, and arthritis. 

Think of the way your shoulders tense up closer to your ears when you encounter a situation that makes you nervous.  If this action is repeated over years and years, it can become an automatic response to even slightly stressful situations, resulting in chronic shoulder tension and pain and in my personal case, osteoarthritis.  

Similarly, if you experienced a traumatic event such as parent loss or abuse, your body remembers the trauma and attempts to set you up to avoid it in the future.  There is a ton of research out there that suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure and related heart issues, and causes brain changes that result in anxiety, depression, and addiction. 

Trauma Defined

The definition of trauma is two-fold, in that it encompasses aspects of both a physical and psychological nature.  Physical trauma involves any type of physical injury, such as a car accident or severe sports injury. 

Psychological trauma includes things like early death of a parent, neglect, or any type of distressing or disturbing experience.  There are also things that blur the line and can result in both physical and psychological trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse. 

Trauma can be further broken down into three categories, all of which can be applied to physical and psychological issues:

  • Acute trauma – results from a single incident
  • Chronic trauma – prolonged exposure to trauma-inducing events
  • Complex trauma – exposure to multiple traumatic events, including both acute and chronic

It’s important to remember that trauma exists on a spectrum and is more about an individual’s perception of a situation rather than the situation itself.  Although these definitions suggest that only extreme situations can result in trauma, there are plenty of things we might not think are traumatic that cause the same responses in our bodies and minds.

Bullying, chronic work stress, and personal relationship problems are all things that cause our nervous system to respond much like it would to an extreme event.  This is especially problematic when the issue persists over time. Trauma is very personal.  Something that feels traumatic for one person may not phase someone else.  Essentially, trauma is anything that a person perceives as distressing or disturbing. 

What Can Somatic Exercise Help With?

Somatic movement can help with a wide variety of physical and emotional issues.  Remember, the idea is that our past life experiences have created automatic, unconscious responses in our bodies and minds, and the resulting suffering can manifest in a variety of ways. 

  • Chronic pain and muscle tension
  • Arthritis
  • Digestive disorders
  • Sexual disfunction
  • Stress
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Depression

Somatic Techniques

In our class at Inspiring Actions, we’ll focus on the physical movement aspects of somatic movement.  There are a variety of other techniques used in somatic therapy, like developing body awareness and grounding, that can also be helpful. Our class will guide you through slow, focused movements designed to release chronic tension and pain in a systematic way.

Much like yin yoga, when focusing on physical movement for somatic movement, it’s best to do the motions as slowly as possible, to give our nervous system time to relearn the response pattern.  It takes time for the new responses to take effect so much like meditation and yoga, consistency is key. It’s also necessary to do the motions with complete intent and focus for maximum benefits. When your mind and body focused and in-sync, the best results can be achieved.

Moving just for the sake of moving will be much less beneficial than focused attention on a particular area of our bodies.  We want to pay attention to the movement we’re performing and become aware of how our bodies react, then use acceptance of wherever we’re at to let go of tension and stored, old energy.

Summary

Somatic movement is a revolutionary tool we can use to help our bodies and minds release chronic tension that can cause physical and emotional suffering.  In our class at Inspiring Actions, we’ll incorporate slow, focused movement with guided intention to help you become aware of your body and its responses. 

We’ll gently retrain our nervous systems to respond to potentially stressful situations with calmness and peace and teach our overactive fight-or-flight response to react more appropriately.  Come join our new class and see how somatic movement can change your body, mind, and life!

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