The body keeps the score, right? Those aches and pains, stomach troubles, and fatigue from years of stress and lingering trauma can attest to that. And sometimes, no matter how many things you try, you have trouble getting your mind and body on the path to feeling better. When talk therapy, medication, meditation, and diet and lifestyle changes don’t help enough on their own, somatic exercises might give you a boost.

Somatic exercises aren’t a miracle cure, but they get your mind and body on the same page in ways other approaches don’t. And while there isn’t much research on them yet, many people have experienced a positive change in their mental and physical health by doing them.

What Do Somatic Exercises Do for You?

Somatic exercises focus on bringing awareness to your body through movement. It’s about moving just to move—not to lose weight, build muscle, or get fit (though some people do see those benefits, too).

Based on practices like tai chi, the goal of somatic exercises is to release stored trauma in your body. There isn’t enough research yet to show how they work, but a 2021 review by the European Journal of Psychotraumatology showed promise for somatic experiencing as a treatment for trauma. Many people find that when they do somatics over time and with the right guidance, their minds and bodies feel better.

Some therapies also use somatic techniques, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It uses bilateral stimulation to process and reframe memories and trauma through specific movements that activate both sides of the brain. Other practices, like Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) use somatic experiencing and talk therapy to focus on the autonomic nervous system and release trauma.

Do Somatic Exercises Your Way

There’s no cookie-cutter approach to somatics. You might already be doing some of these exercises without realizing it through practices like:

  • Dance
  • Yoga
  • Martial arts
  • Stretching
  • Focused breathwork

The technical movements are less important than taking things slow and staying aware of your body and how you feel. They work muscles you might not even know you had, which is why you should follow a guided process, like this one from Johns Hopkins, especially if this is your first time doing them.

While somatic exercises aren’t right for everyone (what practice is?), you can do many of these movements while sitting or lying down. You can do them at any time of day, too, though you might find them most helpful first thing in the morning or right before bed. Many of them also have adjustments for different difficulty levels, disabilities and mobilities, and pregnancy.

Somatic Exercises Benefit More Than Your Body

Just like with any kind of therapy, medication, or workout, somatic exercises work best when you figure out which ones feel good for you. Be prepared to do some trial and error.

You can combine them with therapies and practices that have already helped you to improve how you feel even further. Many people who have tried somatic exercises say they experienced:

  • Stress relief and muscle relaxation
  • Improved overall mental wellness
  • Boosted mood
  • Healing of long-term trauma
  • Greater emotional awareness
  • More body flexibility
  • Chronic pain relief
  • Weight loss due to lowered cortisol

You may find that somatic exercises help with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as other mental health conditions. Many people also have an emotional release on their journey with somatics, which some people feel marks a major point in their healing.

What Does an Emotional Release Feel Like?

During your somatic practice, you might feel your emotions bubbling to the surface during or after your exercise session. For most people, an emotional release comes with crying, shaking, muscle twitching, or a big surge of emotion (like grief or anger). You may even find yourself processing feelings and situations you thought you’d gotten over or pushed down to protect yourself.

The release can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the intensity of your exercise and the feelings that come up. If it feels too overwhelming, don’t worry. It’s normal, and it won’t harm you. You can adjust your practice to shorter sessions and less intense exercises to make the releases more manageable. That said, not everyone experiences an emotional release, so you’re not “doing it wrong” if you don’t have one.

How Do You Know if Somatic Exercises Are Right for You?

Chances are, you can find somatic exercises that work for you. They’re easier to incorporate into your routine than hitting the gym, and you can adjust them to your body, schedule, and activity level. While many therapies and exercises primarily target the mind or the body, somatics might be worth trying if you need something that brings both together intentionally.

That said, you should consult a doctor before you start. If you have chronic pain, certain types of chronic illness, or plan to use somatic exercises as part of your mental health treatment, you want to make sure they’re safe for you. As much as these movements can help you, they still carry a few risks.

Risks of Somatic Exercises

Somatic exercises can worsen some vestibular conditions or trigger vertigo. You might find that you get dizzy or nauseous with certain positions or movements. And as much as these movements can improve chronic pain, they can also make it worse when done without proper guidance and accommodations. You should also be careful doing somatic exercises while pregnant, as some movements and positions can be harmful without modification.

As always, consult with a medical professional to make sure somatic exercises are safe for you. Somatic exercises are best done with professional guidance, so you don’t push yourself beyond what is safe for you.

Somatic Exercises for Beginners

If you’re ready to try somatic exercises, start with the basics. They work best in moderation—more isn’t always better. You can start with some of the somatic resources from Johns Hopkins to get familiar with the different types of exercises. If you don’t want to go all-in with a full course, a simple morning exercise might work better for you. If you’re just starting out, it might help to talk with a therapist or medical professional with experience in somatic movements to get recommendations.

Somatics Aren’t Meant to Be Perfect

One last thing to remember: Don’t focus on doing it “right.” Yes, you should have some guidance, but the exercises you do and how and when you do them is up to you. It’s okay to safely experiment to see which exercises help you and see if somatic exercises help you align your mind, body, and spirit.

Author

Eli Wood (he/they) is a queer and genderqueer content writer and content strategist. He writes about sexual health and wellness and works to help people feel more comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. They also create strategic, LGBTQIA+ inclusive content and craft content strategies to help businesses reach their ideal audiences. You can find more of his work on their website.