Somatic release has been used as an intentional way to relieve stress and anxiety since the 1970s; however, it has become more popular over the last few years. Although there are mixed studies on the topic of somatic release, incorporating a practice such as this may help relieve stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also help to stretch out muscles and ease tension in the body.
Somatic release is a technique used to release tension in the body, which is said to relieve mental stress and anxiety.
There are many forms of somatic release, such as mindful movement, deep breathing, light touch, and meditation, and each one can relieve stress and tension throughout the body.
Almost anyone can try somatic release as it's generally very safe and gentle, but if you are concerned, it's always advisable to speak with a practitioner before you incorporate the practice into your life.
Although studies on somatic therapy are mixed, incorporating these types of practices can promote better mental health and well-being for just about anyone.
What is somatic release?
Somatic release, also known as somatic therapy or somatic breathwork, is a therapeutic way to help you relieve emotional or physical tension throughout your body by focusing on the mind–body connection. The word “somatic” means body in Latin. This type of release therapy has been said to help you recognize and release emotions that are stored in your body as a result of trauma, stress, or life experiences.
Those who practice the technique say that prolonged stress can lead to a state of dysregulation in the nervous system, and this can cause physical and emotional symptoms that can cause tension and pain in the body. It is said that when people practice somatic release, they can gradually process and release trauma from their bodies and, therefore, relieve symptoms of anxiety and stress.
What is somatic therapy used for?
You can use somatic therapy for several different types of conditions, like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pain. It is said that by paying attention to areas of tension in the body, such as your hips or shoulders, somatic release can slowly relieve stress and anxiety as you stretch out or move those body parts.
How somatic release works: What types of exercises are used?
Somatic therapy is a unique practice where you can use individual types of treatment or combine several different types of treatment to suit your needs. Several companies that promote somatic release say it can take up to 20 sessions to feel different, so try out different options to see what works best for you. Below is a list of some of the many options available for those looking to practice somatic release therapy.
- Deep breathing and breathwork. According to several studies, when you practice deep breathing exercises, you can help regulate your nervous system, promote relaxation, and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing can also promote better sleep and is commonly used in meditation practices.
- Mindfulness, specifically body scan meditation. This style of meditation is when you lay still and mindfully move over your body with your mind, thinking of individual body parts one by one. This practice is said to relieve tension throughout the body and promote a sense of relaxation and is commonly used as a somatic release technique.
- Specific practices, such as Hakomi. Like mindfulness practice, this specific style of somatic release therapy can help by promoting mindfulness through a meditative practice where practitioners use mindlessness to touch on areas of emotional pain to relieve the symptoms until those symptoms resolve.
- Movement therapy, such as yoga. Yoga is used as somatic release therapy by incorporating stretching and specific poses into daily practice. By stretching and holding positions, it is said that you can mindfully release tension and, therefore, promote relaxation for your mind.
- Massage and light touch. Therapeutic touch, such as a massage, can relieve sensitive muscles throughout your body. This practice is said to help ease tension and allow for anxiety and stress reduction, therefore promoting mental health and well-being.
Who can benefit from somatic release therapy?
Almost everyone can benefit from somatic release therapy. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, somatic release may be right for you. By engaging in this practice, you can help bring back awareness into the body, alleviate soreness, and promote better mental health. Practicing intentional movement, mindfulness, and incorporating light touch into your life are all shown to be positive ways to redirect the mind.
What to know before trying somatic therapy
Because somatic therapy is a gentle practice, it’s okay to try somatic therapy if you feel like you have built-up tension in your hips or the rest of your body. Mindfulness and light touch are all generally safe. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort during these practices or you are unsure if a certain type of practice is right for you, checking with a healthcare practitioner is always advised.
How to incorporate somatic release into your life
If you are considering starting a somatic practice, it’s important to try different ways to find out what works best for you.
- Incorporate different practices until you find what’s right for you. Try out different somatic release therapy practices, such as yoga and body scan. See what works best for you and stick with that specific practice to get the best benefit that suits your needs and lifestyle.
- Start small and try to practice daily. It’s okay to start small. Incorporating a five-minute mindfulness practice is still better than nothing, so don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t stick to a longer practice right away. Many people find that practicing a 5-minute meditation each morning is still beneficial, and you can always build upon your practice as you become more experienced.
- It’s okay if it doesn’t work right away. As mentioned above, most practitioners say that it can take up to 20 sessions before you notice a difference in your mental health. Be sure to give it time, and don’t give up on yourself or your somatic release practice.
What the science says
Although the studies on somatic release are limited, one study done on somatic release therapy suggested that those who used somatic release therapy were more likely to recover and have better outcomes for their PTSD symptoms than those who didn’t use somatic release therapy. Then again, one study found that there was no stress reduction in those who experienced back pain and practiced somatic release to help with their stress.
Somatic release is a very broad practice, and because of this, various mindfulness practices have been shown to be associated with lower rates of anxiety symptoms when practiced alone as a single therapy or when combined with other forms of therapy. Several studies found that breathwork and the incorporation of mindfulness practices into your life have positive benefits. In several studies, yoga, movement, and the intentional practice of moving the body were shown to relieve stress and anxiety and boost mood.
Somatic release therapy is a great way to incorporate movement and mindfulness into your daily life to improve mental health and well-being. Although studies on somatic release's overall efficacy are mixed, studies have proven that movement and mindfulness are great ways to decrease stress and anxiety and improve mood. Therefore, adopting these practices is beneficial overall.
What’s the difference between the autonomic and the somatic nervous system?
The somatic nervous system is the nerves that run to the skin and muscles and are caused by conscious movements. The autonomic nervous system, on the other hand, is the system that connects the nerves to the organs, like your heart and bowels. This system regulates on its own without any thought.
What happens during a somatic release?
During somatic release, it is said that your body can relax into different poses or practices and release tension from certain or all body parts, like the hips. Thus helping relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and even PTSD.
What does a somatic release feel like?
Some people practicing somatic release say it feels good to relieve the tension, and some describe it more as an emotional rollercoaster. As somatic release can cause built-up emotions to resurface and a heightened emotional state, it may result in crying. However, practitioners note that it leads to better mental clarity and relief.
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Effects of diaphragmatic deep breathing exercises on prehypertensive or hypertensive adults: A literature review.
- European Journal of Psychotraumatology. A randomized controlled trial of brief Somatic Experiencing for chronic low back pain and comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
- European Journal of Psychotraumatology. Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study, Journal of Trauma and Stress.
- European Journal of Psychotraumatology. Somatic experiencing® for patients with low back pain and comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder – protocol of a randomized controlled trial.