Engage Your Body To Help You Heal

Throughout my work with clients, I like to utilise EMDR therapy with somatic approaches as often as possible. When it comes to trauma treatment, I strongly believe that somatic awareness is an integral and necessary component of this healing journey.

The word ‘somatic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘soma’, simply meaning living body. If you aren’t familiar with somatic therapy, it is a holistic therapy that studies the relationship between the mind and body in regard to an individual’s psychological past.

It has been said that the body “keeps the score” and “bears the burden” of trauma. Our bodies tend to hold on to past traumas that are then reflected in our body language, posture and even our physical expressions. Somatic sensations provide tremendous feedback about the impact of trauma. They also let us know when these events are no longer controlling us and holding power over our progress.

In a nutshell, the theory behind somatic therapy is that trauma symptoms are the effects of instability of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Past traumas dysregulate the ANS. By including and considering the body in therapy, you can learn to calm your physiology, sooth your nervous system, work towards building an internal sense of safety and learn to regulate your emotions and tolerate your feelings without being overwhelmed by them.

By following a somatic approach, you can reduce discomfort, strain and stress all whilst developing a heightened ability to concentrate. Ways in which an individual can work with their body may include:

This is done gently, mindfully and with you always being in control of the process.

Another crucial aspect of somatic therapy is grounding

Many therapeutic approaches discuss grounding in general terms of being able to stay present and calm. Whilst I don’t disagree with this viewpoint, I’d rather say that being able to stay present and calm is the effect of being grounded. Grounding involves making an energetic and physical connection with the earth (ground), so that the energy of the body is directed downward. 

We live in a relationship alongside the Earth’s gravitational field, where gravity continually holds us to the earth. Grounding is the concrete sensation of connecting to the Earth, with our body responding to the pull of gravity by settling downward. Learning and developing physical grounding skills will not only help you to manage and regulate your emotions but will also help you to feel more relaxed and secure in yourself.

To further extend your knowledge on grounding, I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite grounding techniques. Many of my clients find these techniques to be extremely helpful when feeling distressed, off-balance and/or worried.

If the relief doesn’t come straightaway, just remember – it took many repetitions to develop this habit of being ungrounded, so it will take many repetitions to learn how to connect to the ground and how to stay calm and present in the moment.

  1. Feet on the floor

    Before doing this, take a moment to be mindful of your thoughts, emotions and body. You might like to practice writing or journaling this experience. Next, practice pressing your feet on the floor whilst following these steps.
    • When sitting, place both feet on the floor with your feet and thighs pointed forward and your lower legs vertical to the floor.
    • Press one foot firmly into the floor, then the other, engaging your thighs and buttocks. Then, push both feet into the floor at the same time.
    • Notice the sensations in your legs, feet and back as you press your feet into the floor.
    • Sense the effect on your spine and the rest of the body.
    • Keep doing this until you feel sensations in your lower legs and notice a feeling of grounding.
    When you have completed this exercise, you might find it helpful to write down the differences you have noticed in your body, emotions and thoughts.
  2. Standing on your own two feet

    Before doing this, take a moment to be mindful of your thoughts, emotions and body. You might like to practice writing or journaling this experience. Next, practice standing on your own two feet whilst following these steps.
    • Stand barefoot and position your feet so that they are under your shoulders.
    • Notice if your feet are splayed outward, or if your toes are pointed inward.
    • If it is comfortable for you, point your feet directly forward.
    • Relax and soften your feet. Slowly rock side to side and front to back, feeling the weight on different parts of your feet.
    • Bend your knees slightly and push against the ground with soles of your feet to straighten your legs.
    • Shift your weight from leg to leg, allowing the weight to balance between them.
    • Finally, stand still and sense or imagine the pull of gravity holding you to the ground.
    When you have completed this exercise, you might find it helpful to write down the differences you have noticed in your body, emotions and thoughts.
  3. Massaging your legs and feet

    Before doing this, take a moment to be mindful of your thoughts, emotions and body. You might like to practice writing or journaling this experience. Next, practice massaging your legs and feet whilst following these steps.
    • Using your hands, squeeze and massage your legs and feet.
    • Take your time to practice different degrees of deep and light pressure, massaging each toe, in between your toes, the tops of your feet, your ankles, working your way up your calves, paying attention to your knees and thighs and then back down, ending with your feet.
    • Try to focus all your attention on the sensations felt in your legs and feet as you massage them.
    • Feel the sensations on your skin and in the muscles underneath. Be curious!
    • You might even like to pretend that you are discovering your legs and feet for the first time.
    When you have completed this exercise, you might find it helpful to write down the differences you have noticed in your body, emotions and thoughts.
  4. Containment with safe touch

    Before doing this, take a moment to be mindful of your thoughts, emotions and body. You might like to practice writing or journaling this experience. Next, practice containment with safe touch whilst following these steps.
    • Take a moment to notice your overall experience.
    • Take your right hand and place it just below your left armpit, holding the side of your chest.
    • Place your left hand on your right bicep (or shoulder or elbow).
    • Allow yourself several minutes to notice the feeling under your hands (e.g. does your body feel warm? Is the fabric of your shirt smooth or scratchy? Can you feel your heartbeat? Do you experience a sense of containment from your hands and arms? Is it pleasant?)
    • Notice how the rest of your body experiences this soothing and containing touch (e.g. your limbs).
    • Ask yourself – What do I notice now about my overall experience?
    When you have completed this exercise, you might find it helpful to write down the differences you have noticed in your body, emotions and thoughts. Feel free to use one, a few, or all of these somatic exercises to help you remain grounded and to regain balance if you ever feel triggered or uneasy in a stressful situation. Somatic approaches offer many, many more exercises to help support nervous system regulation.

Don’t forget – trauma can be resolved

If you have experienced trauma, you don’t need to live through its impacts forever. There is hope. By working with a trauma-informed therapist and embracing the full scope of mind/body healing, you will be guided along a path towards resolving and releasing your trauma, allowing you to live a life in which you no longer feel stuck.

If you would like to feel calmer and more relaxed, or if your worries consume you throughout the day and leave you feeling like a hamster on a wheel, please feel free to get in touch. It would be my honour to help you.

Until next time,

Ilona Zaleska