Our bodies are our temples.
Said best, “If we ruin our bodies, where will we live?”
However, sometimes traumatic events occur in our lives that are out of our control. What we do have control of is our healing process. Healing at a root level is imperative. Our bodies go through a period of grieving after a traumatic experience of any kind & an important part of the grieving process occurs through movement.
Often times, when PTSD is the aftermath of a traumatic incident, one becomes numb, even disassociative. The senses are deadened and it is difficult to truly engage in the present, much less break out of the cycle of fight or flight and experience relief. Grief processing through movement helps reconnect the mind and body.
When a person undergoes a traumatic event, the body’s autonomic nervous system is directly affected. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for things such as breathing, digestion, & our heartbeat- functions that are not consciously regulated. The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system are branches of the autonomic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the body’s fight or flight reactions. Anxiety, depression, digestive issues, immune system dysfunction, aggression, shame are all reflections of the body being in fight-or-flight mode. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for “rest & digest” functions when the body is at rest after certain activities. Digestion, salivation, the production of tears, and sexual arousal are a few of these actions.
The autonomic nervous system, while designed to be self-regulated, becomes dysregulated when the body gets into a self-protecting loop created by trauma. Our fight-or-flight mode gets essentially frozen in the “on” position. It is critical that there is a recognition and release of this physical tension, otherwise there is damaging energy in the body and we are unable to fully process the trauma. The parasympathetic nervous system needs to be engaged to give our bodies a break from this cycle.
This is where somatic healing comes into play.
If you have a body, you are an athlete. - Nike
I love this phrase and there's a similar phrase that I believe to be true: if you have a body, you are a healer.
So first of all, let’s look at what this does not mean. It does not mean that you will always be able to self heal. Modern medicine is a beautiful thing. It also doesn’t mean that you should not seek a doctor when you need it.
What it does mean is that we have the unique opportunity as conscious, created beings to observe using our senses and perceive what only someone in our body and from our perspective can experience.
Soma is the name for the body as perceived from within by first-person perception. It is also known as “the living body”. Somatics is the study of this. We get a whole sensory mode of processing data from the perspective of being in our bodies.
If I were to look at you, while I am witnessing the human body, I do not have access to the same sensory experience that you have as you inhabit your own body. Your sensory perception and my observation will be totally different. Sensing and moving is at the heart of the somatic process. When we sense what is happening within the soma, our perspective in our bodies, is to act upon it or to regulate it.
Movement of the body releases static energy in our cells and promotes healing holistically. When I mention energy or static energy in our bodies, I don’t mean this in a woo-woo or metaphysical way. What I am referring to is the energy that our cells produce. Our cells are only able to produce energy for us to the extent of health that we possess.
Our bodies are designed to work in harmony with our minds. A holistic approach addresses the mind + body + soul as they are interconnected. If one of the three is out of balance, the other is affected. One definition of healing means to reconcile. To reconcile the disconnect between our minds and bodies is to come into a state of health.
Our bodies speak to us and it is our job to tune into their wisdom in order to maintain a state of balance health wise. It’s with this wisdom that we are able to implement healing techniques that are creatively fitted to our individual bodies. A little later we’ll look at different forms of healing you can practice throughout your day.
Somatic movement is a holistic way to work through emotions, issues, and trauma that have not been fully resolved. Unresolved issues actually have a physical effect on our bodies. They can take the form of creating stress in the body, scar tissue, and stagnant energy.
A lot of times we are just told what we must do to heal in a one-size-fits-all type of way, but each body and the trauma that it has experienced are so different. It adds a level of healing when we implement healing techniques that are specific to our unique needs, and are then able to chart our progress by listening and learning from our bodies.
Somatic healing is a healing style you can practice on your own, in any place, every day. It is an aspect of healing that allows you to become your own healer. Not only is somatic healing so beneficial to our relationship with our bodies, but it can be an enjoyable way to start the healing process as well. There are a lot of ways to engage in somatic healing.
By using movement (such as dancing or stretching), engaging in release (such as crying and laughing, which rids the body of static energy) and many other outlets, the body and mind become reintegrated with one another. Back to that reconciled state of complete health.
This allows for a more complete healing and for energy to naturally flow completely through the body and mind once again.
Movement is also a physical representation through which we can track our healing. It allows a person to listen, respond, and engage with their own body and in turn, learn and heal.
The following are some of my favorite somatic exercises and one’s that I practice the most!
The thing I love about dancing is that it’s so unique to each individual. Everyone has their own style, no way is the right way, music is involved and when you dance, you engage both your body and your brain. Your soul too!
You can also really dance anywhere you want. Don’t let people convince you that you can’t because you totally can. Dance is one of the first creative outlets I turn to when I’m experiencing anxiety, restlessness, creative blocks, or just need a workout.
I find that it has a “snow globe effect” on my mind. When sitting still, the glittery snow in a snow globe is at the very bottom. Shake it up and suddenly there’s a whirlwind of snow. Dance does this for my mind. Along with the stretching aspect which creates energy in the body, dancing breaks up stagnant thoughts and emotions and creates space for a whole new wave of creativity.
To really strengthen your core and align your whole body, you can tighten your stomach muscles when dancing!
Along the lines of dancing, stretching is another way to really engage the whole entire body. Stretching creates energy in the body by reducing tension and increasing blood circulation. Starting your day with stretching is so important.
We see movies or TV where people or cartoons dramatically stretch to start the day, but this is actually really important. It gets energy flowing through your body and wakes it up naturally. We usually don’t even realize the tension we are carrying until we begin to stretch and feel relief. How many times have you gone about your day and you realize you’ve been clenching your jaw for what could have been weeks it feels like.
During the day, when thoughts or emotions arise, it is important to be able to recognize them and identify the areas of the body that are tense. Choosing to become aware of how our body feels when unpleasant emotions arise is key. This eventually becomes a habit. I notice that when an unpleasant memory arises for me, my body starts to turn inward on itself and becomes rigid. Its amazing how our bodies mirror what is going on in our minds. If I can’t pinpoint right away what the sensations are, I Immediately beginning to stretch starting from your head and neck down.
This creates a release at the point in which the body and memory are connected. Dissolving the tension while memories are coming to the surface brings a sense of relief and release to them. This can be taught to every single person.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps to directly stimulate the vagus nerve, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve. It has two bunches of sensory nerve cell bodies and it connects the brain stem to the body. It allows the brain to monitor and receive information about several of the body's different functions. Essentially, it is part of a circuit that links the neck, heart, lungs, and abdomen to the brain. The parasympathetic side of the nervous system, which the vagus nerve is heavily involved in, helps to relax the body. It decreases alertness, blood pressure, and heart rate, and helps with calmness and digestion. (Medical News Today)
So after surges of adrenaline or hormones that kick in to alert us of danger, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to calm us down and restore balance.
So what exactly is diaphragmatic breathing? It is also known as “belly breathing”. Breathing through your diaphragm puts less strain on your body, conserving energy for other actions, and also sends more oxygen and nutrients to your brain, relieving stress. The easiest way to learn how to breathe through your diaphragm is through the example of how children and babies breathe. If you notice how their tummies rise and fall peacefully, that should be a model of how we are breathing. On the inhale, pushing out through the stomach so it rises, and on the exhale the stomach falls.
Also, practicing good posture, sitting or standing with your back up straight and your shoulders back, helps out the parasympathetic nervous system. Not only does it physiologically make a difference, but standing up tall or sitting up tall also improves your self-esteem.
Due to the fact that it envelopes our bodies, being submerged in water is especially grounding. This is just what we need after experiencing trauma. The comforting and relaxing sensation of a bath are healing in and of itself.
My two favorite types of salt to use in a salt bath, and the ones that are the most beneficial to our bodies, are pink Himalayan salt and Dead Sea salt.
Pink Himalayan Salt
A natural detox agent which balances pH & draws out toxins through a process called reverse osmosis
Contains minerals & magnesium to soothe & heal sore muscles
Maintains skin natural protective barrier while still allowing for hydration
Stimulates blood flow which helps resolve issues such as cellulite
Combats water retention & bloating
Dead Sea Salt
Clears skin disorders such as psoriasis & eczema
High magnesium content which binds to water & hydrates skin
Natural anti-aging properties
Daily baths for 2 weeks have been proven to calm arthritis & other joint issues
Spending at least 20 minutes in a warm salt bath will yield the best results.
Crying is one of those things that we don’t really like to talk or think about. However, it is so vital in the release of emotions and clearing stagnant energy in our bodies. It lifts the mood by removing stress hormones and releases oxytocin and endorphins- both of which soothe physical and emotional wounds.
Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Again that system that works to regulate and provide rest to our bodies. This is extremely important because it counteracts the sympathetic nervous system that is working in overdrive. So the sympathetic nervous system is what directs the body's rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations.
A flash flood of hormones boosts the body's alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles.The parasympathetic nervous system helps your body rest and maintain balance after this surge of hormones. Crying is also a physical representation of grief moving through and being released out of the body.
There is a stigma surrounding crying that it makes us appear weak or out of control, but when you look at it through the lens of healing, it is one of the most important things we can allow our bodies to engage in. Instead of looking at things like dancing or crying for instance through a lens of cultural bias, it helps to shift our perspective to one that views these actions as necessary movements that lead to complete healing.
Laughter is one of those things that is often overlooked when it comes to our well-being, but the power that it has to change the chemistry in our bodies is pretty amazing. Children laugh around 300 times a day, while sadly adults only engage in laughter about 15 times per day. I think we could argue that even that seems like a high number.
Take the time each day to watch at least 5-10 minutes worth of something that truly makes you laugh in a deep way, while also being mindful that what you are watching is something that will produce a light spirit. You can either watch something, or engaging with a friend or even a perfect stranger over laughter is so bonding. Like crying, laughing moves that static energy throughout the body.
There are many things in life that we do not have control of in life, but one thing we do have control over is our healing process. Specifically healing from the inside out. Healing holistically, and addressing things at a foundational level is imperative. A main part of healing occurs through movement both internally and externally.
One great thing about somatic movement and healing is that it has the possibility to guide us into a more loving relationship with our bodies. The intention of listening to our bodies can become similar to listening to a close friend. Just like when there is clear communication between two people and the relationship is strengthened, the same goes for us and our bodies. It is also a good gauge on where we are in the healing process.
If we are critical of our bodies and feel uncomfortable or disconnected from them, there is still work to be done. I encourage you to make it a point to find 5 minutes where you can take time to speak life-giving words over your body. The goal is to come from a place of gratitude.
Appreciation of our bodies, no matter how they function or how unhappy we are with them, is all apart of healing holistically. Speaking words of love over our bodies combined with movement has a profound affect on our souls.
Re-connecting the mind + body after trauma is essential to round out the healing process. Movement is the key.