Feeling Yourself: Somatic Experiencing

By February 10, 2023September 20th, 2023Trauma
Somatic Experiencing

There is a type of Somatic Therapy called Somatic Experiencing, developed by trauma-work pioneer Peter Levine.  

Somatic Experiencing, as the name implies, helps people release trauma patterning through learning to experience life somatically (through the body). 

Why do we need help experiencing life through the body? Don’t we always experience life in the body? Yes, we do. But we’re not always conscious or paying attention to how our life feels to the body. 

The Body Dimension

The body does many things on its own, without us even noticing. Things like how we are breathing, our muscle tension, our posture, pleasant and unpleasant sensations, can all be ignored if we keep our focus elsewhere, which, let’s face it, we often do. One of the goals of mindfulness practices, breathwork, and yoga, is to help us tune into and stay in the body awareness. 

Human life can be experienced through many different channels of our awareness, of which our body awareness is only one. In any given moment, there is a thought dimension to our experience, an emotional dimension, a creative dimension, a relationship dimension, a spiritual dimension, and so on. When we’re balanced and whole, we can be aware of many of them all at once, which is a very satisfying, colorful experience. So why do we skip over the body awareness so frequently? 

The body dimension of our experience is rich with resources. Body lives in the now. Body gives us warm, pleasant sensations. Body is like a friendly pet. 

Noticing the Good Times

Body is also that aspect of our experience that we are robbed of through trauma. Those of us who experienced deep injury to our being are frequently trapped in patterns of fearing our own bodies. We’re afraid to feel sensations in the body in part because after trauma, the body becomes a dangerous place, full of intensity and discomfort. 

One of the brilliant insights that Peter Levine had and expanded upon, is to help shift our awareness towards the times when we’re not feeling trauma energies. For those of us who experience trauma, distress can feel like a permanent state, that we are “always” triggered, afraid of being triggered, or recovering from having just been triggered. 

However the over-focus on the experience of being triggered is itself a sign of trauma, and represents that permanent, unchanging, looping quality that trauma has, which is not exactly right, objectively speaking anyway. Every day we have little moments during which we are not actually suffering, when our bodies do feel relaxed and safe, though we often miss these moments. 

The following exercises is a variation of the Recalling Being Yourself Technique, a staple of the Somatic Experiencing toolkit. You can find the original exercise in Healing Trauma: A pioneering program for restoring the wisdom of your body, by Peter Levine.

I have found it to be helpful in shifting into body awareness in a way that feels safe, easy, and approachable. May it be helpful for you too!

Short Exercise for Feeling Yourself: You at Your Best

The goal of this exercise is to recall a time when you were not in your traumatized self state, but actually doing pretty well. Not only were you feeling like there wasn’t any fear, pain, stress, or anger bothering you for the moment, you were actually letting your light shine. It’s important to acknowledge these moments, and love and celebrate ourselves for having them.

  1. Prepare for Meditation. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Prioritize positive body sensations, don’t be strict with yourself about how you sit. Take a few moments to ground and center into the breath, allowing your outbreath to gradually lengthen to be longer than the inbreath. You may like to count to three on the inbreath and to five on the outbreath, if that feels natural enough.  
  2. Recall A Moment of You at Your Best. Once settled, think of a time, as recent as possible, when you felt like you were, for whatever reason, being your normal, natural self, without being all messed up in a trauma reaction. Maybe you weren’t just your normal ordinary self, but actually a pretty wonderful side of you. Perhaps you were being big and shiny, commanding the attention in the room, or just walking along outside relaxed and happy. 

Maybe it’s a situation in which you were expressing love and affection, telling jokes, doing something really well, or just singing and dancing around when no one was looking while you made dinner. You can do this exercise as many times as possible, so don’t get too hung up on choosing a perfect memory. Just choose one memory, more recent than ancient if possible, of a time when you were at your very best.

  1. Explore the Positive Sense Memories. Once you’ve identified a memory, start allowing yourself to remember all of the sensory details. What can you recall about what the scene looked like? How was the lighting, the atmosphere? Any sounds, touch sensations you can recall? What season was it? What were the colors in the space you were in? Allow your memory to drift around to open up all the pleasant sense impressions. 
  2. Notice How You Feel Right Now As You Recall. As you continue to recall the scene, gently place your attention to your physical and emotional sensations that you’re having right now while you remember. Notice especially anything that feels good. Are there any parts of you expanding, relaxing, warming up, feeling good? Stay with that, let it be as big as it can be, linger with this. Don’t push, just allow. Stay here for as long as you like, allowing pleasantness to stay.
  3. Capture your Insights. Journal a little bit about what you experienced. Expand, anchor, make as delicious as possible. This will help you signal to yourself that these are the types of experiences you want to amplify and focus on, going forward. 

I hope you were able to feel your Self in this exercise. Thanks for reading!

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