The only times I’ve ever finished a workout and felt regret is when I left knowing that I really didn’t put my all into it like I could have. Maybe it was because I was unmotivated, tired, or just straight up didn’t feel like being on my mat, but instead of putting intention into the exercises I was doing, I coasted through them just to get them over with. This always leaves me feeling like I didn’t give it my all or really give my body what it needed, whether my intention for the exercises was supposed to be strength, mobility, flexibility, or something else altogether.
And I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this. It’s all too easy to do a workout just to check it off your never-ending list of things you want to do in a day. But what if on our to-do list, we wrote down “connect with my body” instead of writing “workout”? This perspective shift is a strong one, isn’t it? Instead of exercising to exercise, your intention is to exercise to honor your body and give it what it needs—no matter what that means for the day. Now, this idea isn’t something I came up with all on my own–in fact, it’s called somatic exercise, and it’s going viral RN. Ahead, we’re sharing what exactly it means to engage in somatic exercise, its benefits, why people are swearing it changed their lives, and tips so you can try somatic exercise for yourself.
What is somatic exercise?
The term “somatics” comes from the wider field of somatic movement. According to Healthline, the term somatics describes “any practice that uses the mind-body connection to help you survey your internal self and listen to signals your body sends about areas of pain, discomfort, or imbalance.” “Somatic movement is awareness or presence during movement, and being connected in your body,” explained Rachelle Tsachor, a movement therapist registered with the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA), to Everyday Health.
This type of connection can be accessed through exercises like Pilates or yoga (think: slow practices that connect breath to movement) but is mostly practiced through stretching. During somatic exercise, your intention is to truly connect with your body and gain an understanding of what it needs internally, rather than moving to get a certain number of repetitions in or focusing on external factors. The practice looks like focusing on being in tune with your body, thinking about the muscles you are engaging, and feeling where your body is holding tension. In doing so, you access somatic energy, allowing your internal needs to guide the movement in a way that removes tension, rather than pushing your body to move in a certain way for the sake of movement.
What are the benefits of somatic exercise?
Somatic exercise has been used to relieve chronic pain because it can increase awareness of body signals and self-management of symptoms. Somatic therapy is also a method of releasing trauma that’s stored in the body–yes, the body can hold onto emotions that have not been released (a lot of women especially experience tight hips due to stored emotions). Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, teaches that trauma literally reshapes the body. Even if you don’t experience chronic pain or believe you have tension related to stored emotions, somatic exercise can be beneficial. According to the Somatic Movement Center, this type of exercise can help everything from posture to a tight pelvic floor to muscular strength because it allows you to create new muscular habits (basically rewiring muscle memory and how your muscles react).
For example, I hold a lot of tension in my quads and rely on other muscles to feel the load of an exercise so I don’t have to put more strain on them. Somatic exercises help me to correct that, so instead of compensating in another way, I can release the pain in my muscles by changing my movements. Not only can somatic exercise help you strengthen muscles correctly, but it can improve mobility, balance, and coordination. But no matter the reasoning, it never hurts to tune into your body for the sake of healing—whether that’s physically or mentally.