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I had come across the idea that somatic exercise could be beneficial during my new menopausal phase of life, but to be honest, I was unfamiliar with the term "somatic."

During my 20s and 30s, I engaged in regular cardio workouts and practiced yoga, though my focus was more on enhancing flexibility and stretching rather than the meditative aspects. As I transitioned through my 40s, my exercise routine evolved, and now, in my 50s, I'm one of those individuals who considers walking as a form of exercise, despite my primary-care doctor suggesting that it's merely "movement" unless I elevate my heart rate.

Currently navigating through the enduring symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats that can persist for a decade, I find myself in search of new exercises that could provide relief. A friend mentioned somatic exercise, but I was uncertain about its nature and whether it would be suitable for me. A quick investigation revealed that somatic therapy integrates both the mind and body, offering a promising and yoga-like approach. So, what exactly does it entail?

Somatic therapy, an approach that recognises the intricate connection between the mind and body, has of late gained prominence in the realm of mental health and wellness. This therapeutic method delves into the ways our bodies carry and express emotions, aiming to address illness and psychological issues through actual physical experiences.

The term "somatic" finds its roots in the Greek word "soma," meaning the 'living body'. Somatic therapy draws inspiration from various psychological and philosophical traditions, incorporating elements from psychodynamic theories, Gestalt therapy, and body-oriented psychotherapy. However, it is in the realm of somatic experiencing that the approach finds its unique identity.

When the central nervous system is calm and safe, the mind becomes clearer. Life becomes more effectively lived. Thriving becomes possible. Everything that shows up in the physical body is feedback. The body is always talking to us, it is our job to learn to listen, honor and respond.

Dr. Peter A. Levine, a bioenergetic therapist, is credited with pioneering somatic experiencing. Levine's work was heavily influenced by his observations of animals in the wild. He noticed that these creatures, despite facing life-threatening situations, could discharge excess energy and return to a state of equilibrium without developing trauma. Applying this insight to humans, Levine developed somatic experiencing as a way to address and release stored traumatic energy in the human body. Sounds pretty wild, but according to many converts, it works.

The key principle of somatic experiencing is the understanding that traumatic experiences can lead to an overwhelming surge of energy that the body may fail to discharge, in other words, our body holds onto trauma and stores it leading to illness and dis-ease with this unresolved energy becoming trapped, manifesting as physical tension, emotional distress, or psychological symptoms. Somatic experiencing focuses on facilitating the release of this trapped energy, allowig individuals to move towards healing and resilience.

Approaches to Somatic Therapy: Unveiling the Techniques

Somatic therapy encompasses various approaches, each tailored to address specific needs and challenges. Some of the prominent methods include:

  1. Bioenergetics: Rooted in Wilhelm Reich's work, bioenergetics combines talk therapy with physical exercises to release muscular tension and promote emotional well-being. The emphasis is on the connection between the body, mind, and emotions.

  2. Hakomi Therapy:  Developed by Ron Kurtz, Hakomi integrates mindfulness and body awareness to explore unconscious patterns and beliefs. Practitioners use gentle touch, movement, and verbal dialogue to promote self-discovery.

  3. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Dr. Pat Ogden and Dr. Janina Fisher contributed to the development of sensorimotor psychotherapy, blending cognitive and somatic approaches. This method focuses on the body's physical sensations, movement, and posture to address trauma.

  4. Focusing: Eugene Gendlin's focusing technique involves turning attention inward to explore bodily sensations related to emotions or challenges. The process encourages self-discovery and fosters a deeper connection with one's internal experiences.

Who Does Somatic Therapy Work For?

Somatic therapy offers a versatile and inclusive approach to mental health, making it suitable for a broad spectrum of individuals. However, it can be particularly beneficial for those facing specific challenges such as menopause or those who have experienced extreme trauma.

Let's explore an example to illustrate the potential benefits of somatic therapy:

Example: Maria's Journey with Somatic Therapy

Maria, a 35-year-old professional, sought therapy for persistent anxiety and panic attacks she'd been experiencing since a traumatic incident in her adolescence. Traditional talk therapy provided some relief, but Maria still felt trapped in cycles of anxiety that manifested physically.

Enter somatic therapy. Maria's therapist, well-versed in somatic experiencing, recognised the importance of addressing the stored trauma in her body. Through gentle exploration and guided exercises, Maria began to reconnect with her bodily sensations - meaning she began to literally FEEL her FEELINGS. The therapist facilitated a process where Maria could gradually release the tension held in her body, providing her with a newfound sense of agency and resilience.

In Maria's case, somatic therapy proved instrumental in bridging the gap between her cognitive understanding of the trauma and its somatic manifestation. By addressing the unresolved energy trapped in her body, she experienced a tangible reduction in anxiety and panic attacks. Maria's journey with somatic therapy exemplifies how this approach can be especially beneficial for individuals dealing with trauma-related issues.

Somatic therapy stands at the intersection of psychology and the body, offering a holistic approach to healing that recognises the inseparable connection between our physical and mental experiences. Whether dealing with trauma, stress, or persistent emotional challenges, individuals like Maria find solace and empowerment through the personalised and integrative techniques of somatic therapy. As the field continues to evolve, its potential to unlock profound healing experiences remains a beacon of hope for those seeking a comprehensive and embodied approach to mental well-being.


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