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What Is Somatic Yoga?

Updated: Mar 14

“When we are grounded in our awareness, we can be more present with what we are experiencing in our bodies - in all the spaces that live between our head and our feet.”

- Raegan Robinson


I invite you to reach for an item. It could be any item. Hold onto that item for a moment. 


Now, I invite you to reflect upon the following: 

  1. How would you describe the speed at which you picked up the item? 

  2. Which parts of your body moved as you reached for the item? 

  3. How tightly are you holding onto the item? 

  4. How’s your breathing? 

  5. Do you notice any tension in your body? If so, where?


I invite you to look at the item in your hand. Can you soften your grip? Keeping your gaze on the item, slowly place the item back down. Observe your breath as you move.


Take a moment to compare and contrast your experience picking up the object versus putting it back down.


What you just explored is an example of a somatic experience. 


Table of Contents

Somatic movement soft arm and hand

What is Somatics?


In Greek, soma means “of the body.” Soma is the fabric of your being. Your soma holds your emotions and expresses habits and thoughts. You are soma and you are made of soma. “Somatics is the study and practice of exploring and understanding the fabric of your soma through your internal awareness” (Shapiro, 2020, 18).   


Somatics is a system of movement that addresses habitual patterns in the body that have become normalized within the nervous system. 


An example of a habitual movement pattern is hurriedly reaching for an item using only the arm and then tightly gripping that item. Moving in this way every now and again isn’t a big deal. If there’s a tendency to move in this way often, it becomes a movement pattern mapped out by the nervous system. 


Rushed movements can trigger the fight-or-flight response, signifying danger when there isn’t any danger. In addition, reaching solely with the arm for an item can place more strain on the shoulder, neck and jaw over time. When we firmly grip an item, other areas of the body respond with an increased amount of tension. The breath even becomes more shallow! In time, your nervous system recognizes these patterns as “normal.” They become habitual. 


At some point in our lives, we develop unhelpful patterns. Some of us sit for prolonged periods of time due to work, putting our body in a constant state of flexion. Some of us use technology to help us reverse out of the driveway, rather than rotating at the torso to look over the shoulder. Some of us unconsciously clench our teeth together during stressful situations. Some of us move our heads as we read as opposed to moving the eyes from left to right. Some of us poke our chins forward while driving and grip the steering wheel super tight. Some of us replay the events of the day with the desire to alter the outcome. Emotions and internal dialogue affect your soma.  


Some patterns can be useful, while others can lead to muscular tension, forward head posture, headaches, chronic pain, reduced mobility, shallow breathing patterns, balance and coordination concerns, and so much more. 


Bringing awareness to how you move is the first step in retraining your nervous system to recognize that there’s a more sustainable, efficient and compassionate way to move.  


Slow, mindful movement can help re-educate habitual patterns, which can reorganize the way that your nervous system controls and senses muscles and movements. 


This can take time, especially if a movement pattern is intertwined with certain emotions and thought patterns. For example, your nervous system may respond to feelings of overwhelm with increased muscular tension. When you are feeling overwhelmed, you may begin to engage in a shallow breathing pattern. Maybe your shoulders are close to your ears. Perhaps your teeth are clenched, your movements are fast and stiff, and you are making fists. It is very likely that these movement patterns are unconscious. The unconscious becomes conscious when we bring awareness to it through somatic movement. 


Somatic movement opening arms wide

What is Somatic Movement?


Somatic movement is any kind of movement experience where you pay attention to internal sensations from a place of exploration and curiosity. 


It is important to note that somatic movements can look like stillness. Guided and unguided meditation practices are a great example of a somatic practice. During a meditation practice, you are invited to close your eyes to help you go inward. With your eyes closed, you may begin to feel your breath moving your physical body. You may begin to sense your heartbeat, your blood coursing through your veins, tingly sensations in your hands and feet, warmth in your belly, discomfort in your neck, and so forth. This is somatics at work!  


Somatic movement is movement that is practiced consciously with the intent of focusing on internal experiences. The focus is on what you feel and experience, both in motion or in stillness. We are not concerned about how we look in the pose or throughout the movement. The external doesn’t matter in somatics. The focus is on how your body moves in space (proprioception), as well as the experience of your body’s internal sensations and movements (interoception). 


This inward experience of turning towards the body can provide key insights in relation to the state of your nervous system. Through somatic movements, you have the opportunity to retrain your nervous system to move in a way that supports your physical, mental and emotional wellness. You have the opportunity to create new movement patterns so that way you can move better and feel better!


What is Somatic Yoga? 


When you combine the principles of somatics with yoga, you can take your yoga practice to a whole new level! Somatic yoga encourages embodiment; exploring what it feels like to be in your own skin. The focus is on feeling and exploring internal sensations experienced within your body. Sensations like tension, muscular relaxation, tingling, discomfort, ease, pain, uneven weight distribution, different emotions, itchiness, pressure, vibrations, the beat of your heart, heat, coolness, numbness, and so forth.  


Somatic yoga is about finding what feels good in your body. You are invited to feel your way in and out of yoga poses and movements. You are encouraged to go inward and listen to your body. You are invited to ask yourself, “How can I find more steadiness and ease in the pose?” Somatic yoga is not about how you look in the pose, perfecting alignment, or the end result. It’s about cultivating a deep awareness of your body and your internal experiences. It’s about turning towards your body for feedback as you engage in self-inquiry, exploration, curiosity, play and non-judgmental observation. You have the opportunity to connect or reconnect with yourself as you explore what it feels like to be in your own skin. This practice promotes present moment awareness, where rumination and worries about the future begin to dissipate.     


Somatic practices, like somatic yoga, can help you unlock the transformative power of the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection is the link between your emotions, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors and physical health. As you turn inward, you may begin to notice repetitive thoughts and/or strong emotions. Your internal dialogue and emotions affect your physical health, and vice versa. As you explore tapping into the mind-body connection through somatics, you connect back to your body. You demonstrate respect, compassion and love towards your body when you turn your attention inward. Somatic yoga invites you to explore, listen to, and honor your inner teacher. This is important for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing (spiritual healing is about reconnecting to your true nature). 


To summarize, somatic yoga: 

  • Encourages embodiment as you explore what it feels like to be in your own skin.

  • Focuses on exploring internal sensations experienced in the body.

  • Invites you to turn towards your body for feedback and guidance, rather than focusing on anything that is external to you.

  • Usually involves slow, gentle and mindful movement that facilitates the practice of present moment awareness.

  • Invites you to find what feels good in your body; listening to your body from a place of respect, love and compassion. 

  • Empowers you to explore ways to find steadiness and ease in your practice. 

  • Encourages exploration, self-inquiry, curiosity and playfulness.

  • Encourages non-judgmental observation as you have the opportunity to observe sensations experienced in your body from a place of curiosity and compassion.

  • Allows you to tap into the mind-body connection, which fosters a deeper relationship and understanding of self.

  • Helps you identify habitual movement and thought patterns that have become normalized in the nervous system.

  • Can look like movement or stillness, such as breathwork and meditation practices. 

  • Reminds us that our experiences are unique. 


Insights you gain from your mat can be applied off the mat. You can access the amazing benefits of somatic practices anywhere and at any time. Engaging in somatic practices are a wonderful way to invite mindfulness into your everyday activities, fostering a deeper sense of self-awareness, healing and personal growth.


Somatic movement hand gently guiding rib cage into a spinal twist

Benefits of Somatic Yoga 


Somatic practices, like somatic yoga can:

  • Elicit the relaxation response

  • Provide stress relief

  • Reduce muscular tension

  • Improve flexibility, mobility and balance

  • Ease pain (acute and chronic pain)

  • Improve body awareness

  • Enhance the mind-body connection

  • Rewire habitual movement patterns

  • Help move or release trapped or stuck emotions within the body

  • Improve postural awareness 

  • Improve breath awareness

  • Encourage the practice of present moment awareness 

  • Evoke feelings of compassion and joy

  • Create feelings of empowerment through self-exploration and self-discovery


Somatic Yoga Exercises


Play around with the following yoga poses and movements. Explore what feels good for you as you connect with your body. It may be helpful to close your eyes while exploring these poses and movements (if that feels safe in your body to do so). Closing your eyes can help you turn your attention inward, reducing external distractions. 


1. Extended Child’s Pose with Pandiculation

Stretch like a cat! Explore what it would feel like to actively reach your hands towards the top edge of your mat. Perhaps you play around with clawing at the earth. Move your body in a way that feels good.


Extended child's pose with pandiculation

2. Moving Bridge

Explore lifting one vertebrae away from the earth at a time. Explore lowering one vertebrae at a time back to the earth. You can explore a gentle sway as you lower your back body to the earth.

Moving bridge

3. Cat Cow

Explore organic movement while flowing between cat and cow pose. You can move your torso like a jump rope, bump your hips from left to right, move in a circle, and so on. Find what feels good in your body!


Cat cow with organic movement

4. Observing your Breath

Observe the flow of your breath by placing your hands on different parts of your body, such as your heart space, rib cage and your belly. Feel your breath moving your physical body. Sense your connection to the earth.


Diaphragmic breathing

5. Wide Legged Standing Forward Fold

Explore a gentle sway from side to side. Move in a way that feels good in your body.


Standing wide legged forward fold with a gentle sway

6. Gentle Rocking of Knees and Head

Move your knees from side to side. As you move your knees, you can explore rocking your head from side to side either in the same direction of your knees or in the opposite direction. 


Gentle rocking of knees and head

7. Star Pose

Sense your connection to the earth and observe how this pose feels in your body. How does it feel to take up space?


Star pose

8. Synchronizing Breath to Movement

Invite a softness in as you explore this movement. What would it feel like to soften through your arms, palms and each finger? How can your breath support you as you explore this movement?


Synchronizing breath to movement arms reaching overhead on the breath in

9. Butterfly Pose with Spinal Undulations

Explore moving your spine like an ocean wave. Visualize the ebb and flow of a wave as you explore movement throughout your spinal chain.

Butterfly pose with spinal undulations

10. Reclined Twist

Starting on one side, slowly and mindfully progress into a reclined twist. Sense the parts of your body that move as you slowly open up to a twist.    


Reclined yoga twist

Final Thoughts


Somatic yoga extends beyond the physical aspects of traditional yoga. Somatic yoga places emphasis on internal experiences and sensations. Whereas traditional yoga tends to focus more on proper alignment and what the pose “should” look like. When the focus is on the external, we can lose that connection to self. We can become more concerned with mastering the pose. Even though there are differences between somatics and yoga, we can turn our yoga practices into a somatic experience. This can truly take yoga practices to a whole new level!


Explore somatic exercises for anxiety relief with this exclusive Free Somatic Exercises Guide.


You can explore somatic principles in my fascia course and restorative yoga course

Explore mindful movement and breathwork with me by subscribing to my YouTube channel


Reference 


Shapiro, L. (2020). The Somatic Therapy Workbook: Stress-relieving exercises for strengthening the mind-body connection and sparking emotional and physical healing. Ulysses Press.

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