6 Somatic Therapy Exercises for Trauma, Anxiety & More — Maximé Clarity (2024)

People with depression, anxiety, and experiences of trauma frequently have physical sensations due to chronic stress. These bodily sensations can show up in the form of physical discomfort, muscle tension, and other negative influences on the central nervous system. Somatic therapy can help you understand and embrace these cues, allowing them to simply be rather than fighting against yourself.

Keep reading to learn more about somatic therapy and the somatic therapy techniques that re-establish a healthy and balanced mind-body connection.

What is somatic therapy?

Somatic therapy focuses on body awareness and how mental health symptoms affect the body. One foundational idea of somatic therapy (Somatic Experiencing is a type of somatic therapy) is that the body can hold onto negative experiences, uncomfortable emotions, and traumatic events. These stuck issues can result in challenging feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

Somatic therapy could be a great fit for people dealing with:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Grief

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Low self-esteem

Somatic therapy may not be as widely known as other forms of talk therapy or therapeutic approaches, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). However, it can provide a useful tool to help people tap into the mind-body connection and discover an entirely new way to heal.

What are the benefits of somatic therapy exercises?

Each person's experience with somatic therapy (or even at-home somatic exercises) is different. However, common benefits include

If you're looking for more information about how somatic exercises can help you, I recommend consulting with a licensed mental health professional or coach.

6 somatic therapy techniques

While these tips aren't a replacement for working with a qualified somatic therapist or coach, they can help you start to unlock the benefits of somatic therapy.

1. Body scans

Body scans help to build awareness of the physical body by tuning in to any sensations that might be present. To try a body scan, I invite you to get comfortable, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Attend to each body part from your toes to your scalp. This technique helps gather an inventory of what you are feeling and where you are feeling it.

There are various ways to complete body scans, but they always focus on taking note of one's body sensations. Where do you feel pain, tension, or aches? What’s the quality of the sensation you’re feeling?

People can ask:

  • What am I feeling in my foot? Is that pain, tension, soreness, or another discomfort?

  • How is my neck feeling? Is there warmth, coolness, or a neutral sensation?

  • What sensations do I feel in my stomach? Is my stomach sinking, churning, or tingling?

Remember, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to feel. This practice is about simply noticing what is present.

2. Resourcing

After building awareness of symptoms and sensations, it's essential to build resources. Resources are the people, internal strengths, places, times, and relationships that help you feel strong, stable, and safe. Using resourcing techniques can serve as a protective factor when you encounter challenges in your day-to-day life.

When creating the resource list, consider sources of:

  • Protection

  • Wisdom

  • Nurturance

  • Intelligence

  • Reasoning

Keep a list of these resources to pull from whenever symptoms escalate. Even better, if you have photos or knickknacks/souveneirs to remind you of your resources, print or take them out and keep them on hand to help you regulate when you feel out of balance.

3. Grounding exercises

Grounding skills encompass a wide variety of somatic exercises that keep you and your nervous system focused on the here and now. By being in the present moment, a person can keep their mind on what is going on around them and less on feeling caught in the past events that are contributing to distress.

From running water over your hand to jogging in place, the options for grounding techniques are limitless. Some other grounding options include:

  • Finding items in your environment that start with a certain letter

  • Testing one's senses with unique tastes, smells, touches, and sounds

  • Mindful eating by eating a food with a lot of attention to the experience

  • Listening to a favorite song and fully focusing on the sounds

  • Holding a stone and observing the touch

  • Giving or getting a massage

Some people may find success with just one grounding technique, while others could benefit from incorporating a host of options.

4. Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques share similarities with grounding techniques, but this collection of somatic exercises is valuable enough to deserve a separate category. They work to allow a deactivation of charge in the body and help calm the body and mind, often leaving the person feeling peaceful and connected.

Some relaxation techniques used with somatic therapy are:

  • Deep breathing exercises - foundational techniques that teach the person how to take a mindful, long, deep breath to fill the lungs and create oxygen-rich blood. Of course, people know how to breathe, but exploring these exercises can change one's relationship with the breath. Try breathing in to the count of one, two, three, four, hold for four breaths, and breathing out through the mouth to the count of one, two, three, four. You can repeat this a few times and see how you feel.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation - a skill that produces desirable physical sensations through a repeated process of muscle tension and muscle relaxation. This technique helps release physical tension and shows people what a relaxed body feels like.

  • Autogenic training - a somatic exercise that aims for increased body awareness through a series of messages a person repeats to themself. When using autogenic training, the person's body feels warm, calm, and relaxed.

Someone beginning relaxation techniques must be realistic about the expected results. Trying deep breathing one time will not produce drastic effects. These skills are valuable, but they take time to grasp. I encourage you to be patient and consistent in your practice.

5. Titration and Pendulation

Titration and pendulation are used in Somatic Experiencing that frequently accompany one another. Titration focuses on working to experience small levels of distress in order to build one's capacity to tolerate the feeling of discomfort. This process is a form of self-regulation.

Similarly, pendulation is when one swings their focus from stressful to soothing content and then back again. The goal is for people to gradually expose themselves to uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or memories to decrease their power.

Both are often done with a somatic practitioner, therapist, or coach. These somatic exercises and somatic therapies are especially valuable for navigating pain, fear, anger, depression, and stress.

6. Finding the act of triumph

Other somatic exercises focus on experiences that were incomplete, unfinished, or resulted in traumatic stress. To support healing from this experience, you can use your imagination to reconsider options and alternatives that may have kept you safe, in that instance.

For example, a person in a traumatic event, like a car accident, could have completed an unlikely driving maneuver to find safety. Another person could imagine running unreasonably fast to escape an attacker or overpowering a dog that is trying to bite them. Perhaps someone's act of triumph is imagining verbally asserting themselves to an abusive parent, partner, or boss in the now/present-moment, safer environment. They can imagine being bold, brave, and unscathed.

Of course, this technique is never done to foster a sense of shame, guilt, or responsibility - only triumph. Trauma is never your fault. This exercise is meant to help increase feelings of empowerment, not make you feel like you should have done something differently to prevent a terrible experience.

Getting started with somatic therapy approaches

While these tools are meant to be accessible to everyone, I recommend working with a professional to get the most out of the somatic therapy exercises listed here.

As both a somatic coach and licensed somatic therapist, I've seen firsthand how transformative this work can be. For many people, this integrative approach can produce radical, profound change and help them unfold into the person they've dreamed of becoming.

I feel honored to support people on their journeys, and I hope to be a guide and companion for you as well. You can learn more about my unique approach to somatic coaching here or reach out for your complimentary clarity call if you're ready to take the next step.

6 Somatic Therapy Exercises for Trauma, Anxiety & More — Maximé Clarity (2024)
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