Trauma takes residence in the body, its painful imprints at the level below our conscious awareness. Past experiences of threat and overwhelming stress can leave us wired for vigilance, with a hair-trigger response to perceived danger. We may live disconnected from our felt sense, numb to the places where trauma lingers unresolved.
Welcome Difficult Emotions
According to trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, “Once you start approaching your body with curiosity, rather than fear, everything shifts.” Somatic practices gently guide us into our bodies to unwind traumatic holding patterns with compassion.
Somatic emotional release provides tools to increase self-awareness, discharge trapped energy, and return to a state of being that feels like homeostasis. (This looks different for each and every one of us.) The first step is to welcome difficult emotions and bodily sensations just as they are, without judgment. Suppressing or distracting away discomfort only reinforces habitual patterns of avoidance.
As an initial experiment, close your eyes and pay full attention when feelings of irritation, sadness, or numbness arise, for example. Take interest in these inner teachers, and eventually, you may develop a relationship with them. Scanning the body for areas of contraction or tingling can reveal where trauma is stuck in the tissues. Being with the discomfort, rather than reflexively recoiling, provides space for these sensations to unwind and potentially release.
Allow the Energy to Move
You may feel strong waves of anger, grief, or spontaneous yawning as the body discharges held tension. Allow it all to move through you. Breathe into points of intensity. With loving awareness, the nervous system can complete its process and return to equilibrium.
When emotions have peaked in intensity, you can help discharge the energy through movement. Stand up and stretch or dance vigorously, shaking out the entire body. Cupped tapping along the arms, legs and torso is also effective for releasing stuck sensations. Making low vocal tones on the exhale creates additional therapeutic vibration.
Soothe the Nervous System
After this energetic discharge, it’s important to ground yourself. Splash cool water on the wrists and hands to signal safety to the nervous system. Establish your sense of orientation in the present moment by looking around and mindfully noticing five things you see and four sounds you hear, pick up three items to sense the textures you feel, notice two scents you smell, and one thing you can taste.
Balance returns through box breathing: slowly inhaling for a count of four, holding for four, exhaling for four, and pausing again for four. Feel your feet firmly rooted to the floor. Warm carpet fibers, cool tiles, or smooth wooden floors can aid in the process of grounding and sensing simultaneously.
Integrate the Learning
When challenging situations throw you off balance, these individual tools or the entire sequence help return your window of tolerance. With practice, you learn to steadily discharge traumatic activation without suppressing emotions or acting out dysfunctional reactions.
To integrate the benefits, reflect on new insights afterward. Are you committed to responding differently next time your system is stressed? How will you draw on your expanded level of self-awareness? Be gentle with yourself in this exploration.
When we compassionately unravel our deepest wounds, life becomes freer. What once seemed frightening transforms into a doorway we can gently open. Somatic practices guide us home into the wisdom of the body, releasing trapped trauma so we can live, lead, and communicate with greater capacity for ourselves and others.