Six Somatic Tools for Being Present
When working with some of our emotions or experiences, we have a lot of protective mechanisms that tell us it isn’t safe to interact with these parts of us. By using some of the somatic tools outlined briefly below, we are creating a map in our nervous system for us to meet these sensations with spaciousness, support, and presence.
You may even find that your body already instinctually knows some or all of these tools. That’s because these are methods that have been used by humans for centuries, long before there was even the necessity for a field of “somatics”. These tools are a part of you already, they are a part of your ancestry, a part of the earth.
Capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and other oppressive structures systematically separate us from our body’s & earth’s wisdom. This is on purpose - it is easier to control groups of people that have forgotten their inherent enough-ness, that have forgotten their wildness.
As I see it, one of the many benefits of these tools is that they help us build trust in ourselves. We are proving to ourselves, in small daily practices, that we can weather life’s storms.
Our decision-making becomes less about avoiding discomfort, and more about our values, what we want for our lives, what we care about.
Our difficulties become less about gritting our teeth & powering through, and more about learning what we need to feel supported through the challenge.
The unknown of the future feels less like something that we need to control or predict (because we can’t anyway), and more like something that simply unfolds, something we will be able to adapt to and learn from, no matter what comes.
When we learn to trust ourselves, we can more easily recognize when we are being mistreated - by the people around us, and by the systems we live within. When we are connected to our body’s wisdom, we can imagine a better world, where there is more safety for more people, where we have a sustainable relationship to the earth. And when we allow ourselves to imagine, we can begin to forge a path towards liberation, towards building communities of care with each other and with the planet.
Before reading this, I encourage you to take a pause from scrolling, to look around your environment, and name three things that you see, hear, or smell that range from neutral to pleasant.
It can be helpful to experience these practices first through our bodies, without any expectations of what the experience is going to be like. This helps our thinking mind take a backseat - a beginner's mind can allow us to remain curious and open to our experience.
Orienting is a simple and powerful practice. I typically use this practice with people that experience chronic anxiety because it is a way to settle the body without turning attention inwards, which can be really overwhelming for an anxious system.
Orienting uses the senses to take in our external environments - the color of the walls, the smell of food cooking, the sound of your dog snoring. It usually focuses on sight, but it’s possible to use other senses - it may be that your body responds more easily to sound, smell, or even touch.
It is true that what we pay attention to will grow. This includes what we focus our senses on. So if we are attuning to the way the leaves glitter in the sunlight, or the calming color of our duvet cover, we are bathing our nervous systems in the sense that something, somewhere, is okay - and maybe even beautiful, life-affirming, & nourishing.
It can be helpful to start with neutrality, because, for systems that are chronically in survival mode, accessing beauty and wonder might not feel possible without repeated practice and expanded capacity.
We connect to our senses because they are in the front and upper parts of our body - they are how we connect and interact with our internal and external experiences.
This practice can be a supportive anchor, anywhere at any time, during all experiences - pleasant and unpleasant. It can be done without anyone even knowing what you’re doing!
By asking ourselves, “what else might be going on around me that’s okay/good/pleasurable right now?”, we are telling our bodies that it might be safe to soften, absorb, participate, and maybe experience pleasure - even when other scary & overwhelming things are going on.
Centering can be done in many different ways, and your center can be found in many different places. There is no right or wrong way to approach this practice. It can be done sitting, lying down, or standing, while you’re feeling angry, excited, afraid…
generative somatics uses a centering practice that has resonated with me:
*feeling into the length of our bodies (the line of dignity),
*feeling into the width of our bodies (the line of connection),
*feeling into the depth of our bodies (our back holds our past, our front holds our longing).
When we hold and explore all of these dimensions of ourselves, we may be able to find our center more easily - the part of our body in which we can sense energetic balance in all directions. For some, center can be found in the area below the belly button.
The intention of centering is to meet ourselves where we are, as we are. From this place, we are more able to access our choices in any given moment. We don’t practice to feel better, we practice to feel MORE - more presence, more agency, more connection, and more awareness.
Centering asks: what do you long for? what is important to you? why do you practice?
Resourcing is exactly what it sounds like - it is seeking the resources in our environment that can help us move our bodies from survival/danger responses to a sense of safety or “okay enough-ness”.
Different nervous system states may require different resources.
For those that are experiencing anxiety, resourcing might include: fidget toys, exercising, pushing, pressing, shaking, standing up, cleaning, walking, and running.
For those that experience depression, resourcing might include: looking outside, orienting, sitting in a rocking chair, imagining being with a loved one, talking to a friend, listening to music, sitting in a coffee shop, eating or touching cold or crunchy textures, and gentle squeezing.
Resourcing can be helpful in proving to ourselves, to our bodies, that we have some choice and agency in our nervous system state. It can also help us to feel less alone - we can begin to recognize that we have supports all around us.
When we resource mindfully, we may be able to notice the subtle or obvious changes in our bodies. We can ask ourselves, “what are the sensations in my body when I feel safe or comfortable or okay? how are these sensations different from my body in an anxious or depressed state?”
What are your resources?
Take a breath.
Notice where your legs and pelvic bowl meet the seat, where your feet meet the ground.
Observe the weight of gravity, let your tongue fall away from the roof of your mouth and your eyes drop into their sockets.
Notice where you’re grasping and picking yourself up, remind yourself that maybe, just maybe, you don’t need to - not right now, not in this moment.
Allow your bones to settle among the muscle and tissue and fascia. Surrender.
Feel how the earth, the floor, or the seat rises up to hold you, to support you - unconditionally.
Imagine that there are roots growing down through the base of your spine, through your feet, into the earth. Inhale and draw nourishment and support from the earth.
Exhale and drop anything that you are ready to let go of into the earth, letting the earth metabolize and compost it.
This is grounding: recognizing the lower half of your body, feeling into the support of the earth, the support of gravity. It is a practice of trusting what is always here for you.
All of these practices are grounding and resourcing practices - connecting to the Earth and gathering what is already available to us for support.
Pendulation is an important tool to use when working through really challenging body experiences like trauma, illness, or shame.
Pendulation means to move back and forth, between the difficult sensations and something that’s resourcing (something that gives the nervous system a sense of presence, connection, support, or neutrality).
This allows us to continually recognize and savor our safe-enoughness, anchoring us in our bodies so that we can face challenging body experiences from a place of strength and safety. Over time, we build the capacity to stay and listen.
Pendulation can be fast or slow - each of our bodies have a different rhythm, and our rhythms may shift over time. When I do an embodiment practice, I can generally be in my challenging sensations for about 10-30 minutes at a time. Then, I spend anywhere from 5-20 minutes finding resources and relief, before assessing whether or not I want to jump back in.
When I first started practicing, I’d often try to spend hours in my feelings and would end up overwhelmed and exhausted. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize the signs that I need a break (for me, this usually looks like getting trapped in narratives and losing track of my body’s sensations). Instead of trying to push through, I listen, and take a step back to search my body for neutrality or pleasure, I orient to my environment, eat a snack, dance, snuggle with my pup, or wash dishes. I honor my own body's boundaries.
It is natural for our bodies to fluctuate from “okayness” to “not-okayness” many times throughout the course of a day. We are not designed to feel calm all the time - we are designed to be buoyant and responsive, to truly feel when things are okay, and to respond when they’re not okay. Practicing pendulation offers your body an imprint of fluidity and flexibility so that daily stressors can be processed instead of stored in our bodies.
Titration is a term used in chemistry that refers to the process of changing the composition of a substance, dropping small amounts of one substance into another, so it has time to integrate and adjust to the new substance.
As a somatic technique, it means allowing ourselves to experience our bodies and our emotions slowly, bit by bit, so that we don’t overwhelm ourselves and end up in survival mode.
The slow, careful, & intentional process of integration and calibration gives us the experience of facing or confronting something scary - and builds a sense of trust with our cognitive selves and our embodied experience that we can survive and come out safely on the other side.
Some therapeutic modalities and spiritual practices aim for catharsis - that huge moment of physiological release that can sometimes leave us feeling restored and renewed. The more we learn about the nervous system, the more we know that it’s not often good for our bodies to have these overwhelming experiences. Sometimes we do experience catharsis, but we don’t necessarily want to force the body open in search of that experience. Instead, small titrated experiences of emotion (shaking, crying, expression through art & movement) give the body the opportunity to metabolize an experience, allowing small amounts of survival energy to leave the body.
I welcome feedback & questions!