Somatic Exercises Stretch the Stress Right Out of Your Aching Body

Photo: Stocksy /Trinette Reed
If you've ever unrolled your mat for the celestial experience known as Yin yoga, you know that there's basically one rule: do nothing quickly. Snail's pace stretching is highly recommended in more restorative asana, and the same rings true with somatic exercises, Yin-adjacent stretches designed to calm your nervous system by asking you to wade into the sensations in your own body.

According to the late Thomas Louis Hanna, PhD, the movement theorist who coined the term, somatic exercises require you to focus on how a certain movement makes you feel by moving your body as gently and compassionately as possible.

"Moving slowly, you give your brain the chance to notice all that is happening in your body as you move," wrote Dr. Hanna in his book Somatics: Reawakening The Mind's Control Of Movement, Flexibility, And Health (excerpted by the Somatic Systems Institute). "Slow-motion films are essential in sports training because they allow athletes to study the details of a movement or play. The same goes for focusing attention on the internal sensations of your own movements: The slower you go, the more you perceive," he continues. Only, instead of studying a fumble (or, you know, whatever actually happens in football), you're zeroing in on the stretch in your hamstring, back, or another body part.

Eventually, Dr. Hanna promises that your "somatic brain" will take over and you'll find yourself a more limber and calm human being. "You must be patient, looking not for a quick fix on your body, but for a genuine, lasting change in your comfort, range of movement, posture, and general functioning. Most importantly, you must be positive in your expectations, envisaging and aiming for the improvement you know your somatic system is capable of," wrote Dr. Hanna. Let's get started.

YouTube videos to get you started with somatic exercises

1. Gentle somatic yoga for emotional release (10 minutes)

If you're already a proud yogi, this video will be a good start place for you. Instructor Brett Larkin offers a class filled with moves you'll find familiar—with somatic magic sprinkled in here and there. Feel free to move at half speed, if you want.

2. Somatic movement relaxation (6 minutes)

If you scrub quickly through this video, you may be under the impression that Susan Koenig, LCSW, founder of Somatics for You, isn't moving at all. But you would be gravely mistaken, my friend. Her ever-so-slow movements work into your hips, neck, and more for a full-body stretch that doesn't even require leaving savasana.

3. Clinical Somatics exercise for lowe back pain relief (12 minutes)

With the help of the folks a the Somatics Movement Center, you'll target the tricky back pain that so many of us deal with on a daily basis. Again, your body as a whole will barely move, but so much will happen. Believe me.

For a slightly more active flow: 

Daunted by meditation? This walking mindfulness exercise may help you start, and here's the type of yoga that's perfect for your personality.

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