Many of us have learned to live our lives from the neck up. We disconnect from feelings and sensations to get through our very busy days. What would it look like to navigate with more connection to your full self? To come home to your body? Coming home to the body means recognizing your body as a site of intelligence and making space to trust and follow what it is saying. Like mindfulness practices that can help ease stress and still the mind, somatics practice supports learning how to make space for and take care of your body.
The word “somatic” comes from the Greek term “Soma,” which means “the living organism in its wholeness.” The practice of somatics is an integration of all our parts.
The soma includes the mind and body and incorporates how to trust and follow bodily sensations, thinking, feeling, and emotions into our learning.
By learning to integrate these various layers of who we are, we access more choice and agency in navigating our lives and deepen our awareness of internal and external happenings.
For example, for many of us, when we’re experiencing discomfort in the body, like an ache across the shoulders or constriction in the chest, our primary objective is to take these sensations away. If we can’t find a solution, we learn to live with this pain by ignoring it.
The practice of somatics offers a different approach. Rather than trying to make bodily sensations disappear, these aches and pains are considered communication. By intentionally “tuning in,” we can learn how to discern what our bodies are saying and then “take care” of this arising in a new way.
Perhaps the pain across our shoulders reminds us we’ve been sitting at our computer too long, or maybe it’s something deeper. Maybe we’ve taken on too much responsibility, compromised our boundaries, or more.
The way we’re able to discern what our bodies are telling us is through practice. This is how we deepen our “somatic awareness.”
Remember when you learned how to drive a car? At first, maybe it felt awkward, perhaps even a little dangerous. You worried that steering, braking, and 3-point-turning would never feel natural. But then, as you continued to do it, you became more accustomed, and now you don’t even have to think about it.
Connecting to your somatic awareness is similar. It may feel strange or difficult initially, but connecting with this information and integrating it into your day-to-day happens seamlessly with practice.
When I work with clients, I often introduce them to the below three practices as a good place to begin. You can do these practices anytime. After doing a practice, notice, what am I feeling in my body? Then ask, what does this indicate to me?
1. Let it Out With a Sigh
Never underestimate the power of a good long breath – or three, for that matter. Many of us don’t engage our full lung capacity when we breathe. Our inhales and exhales live shallowly in the top of our chest as we hustle about our day. We take in just enough oxygen to keep going. I believe that taking the time to allow a full breath is not just about getting more air. It signals to the body and ourselves that we’re done with “just enough.” The more you intentionally engage with this powerful practice, the more you recognize how often throughout the day you need it.
How To Do It
Take a deep breath and exhale with an audible sigh.
Repeat this 3 to 5 times, seeing if you can extend the length of your sigh each time.
Notice at the end of your practice, how are you feeling?
2. Feel for What’s Working
When we tune into our body very often, we first notice what’s not working- the ache that’s always across our shoulders, the knot in our back. Of course, we don’t like to feel our bodies, when we do so, we’re uncomfortable. Feel for What’s Working means building a relationship with your body by first noticing what feels good. Over time, this connection to our inherent complexity helps us work with more difficult sensations with spaciousness.
How To Do It
Let It Out With a Sigh
Notice your thinking self.
Let your thinking self know you will place your attention on your feeling self.
Feel the breath in your body.
Let your breath be your anchor to coming back to feeling if your mind pulls you away.
Scan the body for places that feel good or settled. Often, these are the places we don’t notice or that feel “blank.”
Check-in with your legs, your arms, the back of the neck, and the top of your head.
What feels enough? What feels strong? What feels settled?
3. Hold Activation with Curiosity
When we’re angry, depressed, sad, anxious, or the like, our energy is often focused on what will make those uncomfortable emotions disappear. Instead of working too quietly or containing intense emotion, this practice invites you to hold these feelings with curiosity. Rather than focusing on the emotion, what sensations are in your body? Learning how to be with the raw data, and sensation opens possibilities for relating to our emotions in new and generative ways.
How To Do It
Let It Out With a Sigh
Feel For What’s Working
Feel For what’s aching, clenched or tight
Rather than naming this sensation as an emotion, stay with the sensation itself.
Where is it in your body?
What is it doing?
Can you be with it without making it wrong or bad?
What does this sensation need? Can you give it that?
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Kelsey Blackwell, MS, is a cultural somatics practitioner and the author of Decolonizing the Body: Healing, Body-Centered Practices for Women of Color to Reclaim Confidence, Dignity & Self-Worth. In addition to being impactful, Kelsey believes working towards personal and collective liberation must also bring joy. She lives in San Francisco, CA.
By Kelsey Blackwell
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