What Is Somatic Therapy & How Can It Help You Relieve Emotional Bodily Trauma?
My first experience with Somatic therapy was in a ballet class around the time I was 14. We had finished class and were stretching when the teacher instructed us to hold a particular hip stretch for a few minutes and just be still with our breath. After about a minute, my classmate next to me began sobbing uncontrollably. The teacher held her for a few minutes and later explained that she must have been letting go of some past emotion that was left unresolved. As it turns out, that girl had just been in a traumatic car accident a few weeks prior. So, as she sat in that hip stretch post ballet class, her increasing somatic awareness had begun connecting her brain to certain parts of her body. As her muscles began to let go physically, she started to cry from the pain. And as her body emotionally released the residual trauma, it was released from her subconscious mind as well.
Ever heard the phrase “our issues live in our tissues”? It’s a more contemporary phrase to describe a theory that has been around since Freud himself, who suggested that repressed emotions could be reflected in muscular tension which could lead to pain or even postural deviations. His predecessor Reich termed it “body armor”. Basically, somatic therapy suggests that body, mind and spirit are all very much connected to each other and when we experience something traumatic, those feelings can be stored in our nervous systems, and overtime alter the subconscious brain if not released from the body.
For example, imagine you’re experiencing a moment of intense grief, stress, or panic. You might feel like there’s a knot in your stomach, a lump in your throat or have difficulty regulating your breathing patterns. Those are all physical responses to emotion. Since the body doesn’t have words to express itself, it responds with physical sensations. Because past trauma can affect a person’s autonomic nervous system, people experiencing emotional issues may also be affected by physical symptoms such as pelvic floor dysfunction, digestive issues or tension in specific parts of the body, such as the neck or shoulders or hips. Perhaps my dance classmate had reactively or instinctively clenched her psoas muscle at the moment of the accident and all of that trauma rushed to and was stored in the body as tightness in that hip flexor muscle. So, by bringing some awareness to that muscle, she was able to feel the pain of it all and by crying was able to release the emotion, therefore relaxing the nervous system, relaxing the muscle itself and completing the cycle of trauma.
Other examples of ways the body can complete the stress cycle besides crying are laughter, screaming and shaking. Think of how a lion or other animal will shake their entire body after getting into an altercation with another animal. They literally take the negative energy and “shake it off”, afterwards returning to business as usual. If only we all had that ability to release and relax in the same way.
While traditional talk therapies are often able to address many mental and emotional health challenges, somatic therapists believe some people may be able to more quickly address deep emotional issues simply by paying attention to the communication of the body. When you understand how you experience your emotions in your body and learn how to not only notice those changes but how to get control over them as well, you can learn to complete the stress cycle and move forward with your life.
Workout methods like KORE | KINECT that focus on increasing proprioception and mind-body connection not only improve coordination and muscle tone, but can actually help us become more somatically aware of what’s happening physiologically in our bodies in order to bring up and then release past trauma that may be stored in our body’s tissue or fascia. Movement is about much more than just the aesthetic; it’s about learning to be more in tune with our bodies. If we can bring more awareness to and release our chronic and acute tensions, then we can potentially release some of our past trauma and live a more open and present life.