Understanding Somatic Awareness

Yoga teaches us somatic awareness, it creates awareness of sensation in the body and its reaction to emotion and/or stress. A favourite saying in Yoga: “To listen to the whispers of the body, before you hear the screams.” Through a mindful yoga practice, we learn to pay attention to the subtlety of movement and the impact of breath work. We may also from time to time experience an emotional release from this work, often during deep hip openers like pigeon pose or within final relaxation.

In looking at the impact of stress on the body we have two serious things to consider:

  1. Continuous stress (real or imagined) adds up over time, compromising our ability to reset our nervous system after the stress has passed.
  2. Without properly releasing the physical response from our bodies after the stress has passed, tension or stored traumas begin to accumulate in the body.
Yoga for somatic awareness
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In releasing trauma from our body, sometimes we know where this emotion comes from and other times it catches us off guard as pent-up tension or perhaps years of stored trauma beginning to be released. This may be an emotional release such as tears or even a surge of anger, it could be a physical release such as shaking or even nausea or light headedness.

What we are searching for in terms of release is the shift in finally letting go. The somatic element to healing is deeply impactful. It can open the door to the shift we need to begin the emotional healing process, bringing things up to the surface and sometimes starting the conversation. It can also help to complete the process of healing where anxiety or tension is still deeply experienced in the body no matter how many times the traumatic experience has been talked about.

We call this work bottoms up processing, moving through the body to create a feeling of safety in order to access stored emotions, memories and even traumas. A trauma-informed Yoga practice that is designed to help move this energy is one that moves a bit more slowly and methodically. One that reminds the student continually that they are in control of the practice by choosing how long they might stay in a pose or choosing a different option for the pose itself. That they are in charge of how they feel and can direct their emotions throughout class, and in that truly becoming their own healer. This is the foundation of my teachings in Become Trauma Aware.

The leading trauma experts all agree that the full circle of healing engages both the work somatically and the ability to talk about the experience in a neutral way. This is not a linear experience, nor is it the same for everyone. Yet the ability for somatic awareness, to bring awareness to our body, to notice even the simplest things like the tension hiking up around our shoulders as stress levels begin to climb can go a long way.

We don’t just decide to feel safe. Safety is something that is nurtured over time. Feeling safe with our self, our thoughts, our emotions. Feeling safe with our teachers, therapists and those that guide us. Safety and trust are earned and knowing we are in charge of the practice is imperative on our healing journey. This is the power of somatic awareness.