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4 Somatic Exercises for Emotional & Relational Resilience



This being human thing is messy, right? Wouldn’t it be so nice if things were just easy?


But what if life was designed that way for a reason?


As we know, nature is pure brilliance, so whether we like it or not, we are meant to be pushed and challenged, both individually and collectively. That is how we evolve... and resilience is what gets us through by helping us to change, adapt, transform and grow in ways we never thought possible through life’s greatest struggles.


So what gets in the way? Simply put...trauma... and a system designed to create and perpetuate it.


Let’s face it, we are living in uncertain and chaotic times and this brings up a lot of fear, stress, and overwhelm for most of us. This is in large part due to the violent impacts of western culture and industrial growth society, which is not designed for our thriving, rather is designed to prioritize profit over people by keeping the vast majority of folks in a state of perpetual survival, isolation and disempowerment.


It is our nervous system’s job to manage this stress because our bodies are designed to seek a state of homeostasis… that is, “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.” [1] Unresolved trauma and chronic stress can impact our nervous systems to such a degree that it is unable to facilitate inner balance. This is referred to as “being outside of your Range of Resilience”.


When your nervous system is continually compromised as a result of chronic stress and overwhelm in the pursuit of trying to survive, your power and life force becomes greatly diminished. Your nervous system is not designed to handle the pressure of being under constant threat, and yet the very extractive and exploitative systems that we are born into and embedded within shape our existence in a way that demands more from us than we are able to give as individuals.


Western culture and industrial growth society centers the human above all other expressions of life and relies upon domination, disconnection, fear, and scarcity to drive the growth of our economy while compromising the delicate balance of ecological systems in the process. Can you see the correlation? We are not separate from nature and the belief that we are is indicative of the problem and at the root of trauma. Trying to maintain inner equilibrium while going along with business-as-usual and fully participating in a culture that is destroying itself is antithetical.



That is why having a holistic understanding of wellness and going beyond individualistic notions of self care is necessary for these times. We must understand how our body is embedded within relational and ecological systems of interdependence. The pressure that we feel in our bodies manifests in myriad ways such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, sleeping problems, digestive issues, and so much more. That same pressure is being applied to delicate life systems and looks the same, except on a global scale: poverty, war, disease, the growing wealth gap, climate collapse, biodiversity loss, etc.


That is why developing an internal system of resilience is so foundational to collective resilience and transformation. The kind of change we want to see in the world must be integrated within our own bodies. Resilience in the body is what helps us stay grounded and connected to the present moment while being in the thick of life without flying off the handle or getting stuck outside our Range of Resilience. Resilience gives you the capacity to be with the full-spectrum experience of being ensouled matter... aka. human.


Ultimately, resilience matters because we are living in unpredictable times and it would be naive of us to think that somehow that's going to magically change. It’s not. We have to get real with ourselves and become the people these times are calling for.


Resilience, understood through the lens of somatics, literally creates more spaciousness in your body for change. It is a state of open relaxedness and engaged receptivity that allows room for the organic process of emergence to unfold. We must work toward cultivating this kind of resilience now, otherwise we will have a hard time responding effectively to the massive changes coming and already underway.



Relational Resilience


Keep in mind that there are many different definitions of resilience, most of which have to do with an individual’s ability to recover quickly from hardship or the ability to bounce back, however we think it’s important to bring in a more holistic understanding of resilience to include it’s systemic and ecological roots as described in Rethinking Resilience from Indigenous Perspectives:


“In biological systems, resilience usually does not involve simply springing back to a previous state but is a dynamic process of adjustment, adaptation, and transformation in response to challenges and demands. In adapting, the organism also usually changes its own environment.” [1]


According to an Indigenous understanding, resilience is “a dynamic process of social and psychological adaptation and transformation.” [2] It’s amazing to be reminded of the fact that we are what the whole of nature is doing, and that resilience doesn’t happen in a vacuum.


The reason I am sharing this perspective and definition with you before diving into the 4 Somatic Exercises is to root ourselves in an ideological foundation that situates the individual within a relational and ecological context. This is so that we don’t get caught up in individualistic ways of thinking that perpetuate delusions such as the notion of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.”


Learning how to emotionally regulate yourself through somatic exercises is a foundational part to strengthening your personal capacity for resilience AND it also contributes to strengthening the resilience of the relational and ecological systems that you are embedded within.


Personally, learning about emotional regulation and integrating somatic exercises into my own life has helped to strengthen my resilience in the face of uncertainty, change, and crises.




3 Methods of Emotional Regulation:


When it comes to learning new practices and strategies for regulation, there are three forms that we can engage with in order to build our resilience.


  1. Self-Regulation: consciously engaging in self-soothing practices and resources that are available and accessible in the moment to create balance and wellbeing.

  2. Co-Regulation: the body to body process whereby one nervous system calms another, producing a feedback loop that is soothing for both.

  3. Eco-Regulation: a cultivation practice with Earth that allows us to re-attune to the natural biorhythms and access movement, breathing and relating patterns that are regenerative.


The following Four Somatic Practices for Resilience involve methods of Self-Regulation and Eco-Regulation:


  1. Humming: Self-regulation

  2. Body Mapping: Self-regulation

  3. Mindful Walking: Eco-regulation

  4. Alternate Nostril Breathing: Self-regulation


4 Somatic Exercises for Resilience


1. Humming

Adapted from "My Grandmother’s Hands" by Resmaa Menakem


This practice invites you to relax and enjoy subtle pleasure in your body. It settles feelings of restlessness and soothes your nervous system.


Vibrations from humming stimulate the ventral vagus nerve, expanding your range of resilience, and sends out neurotransmitters and electrical signals that reduce activity to key areas of the brain like the amygdala, which is associated with our reactive zones.


The increased oxygenation of the blood from the vibration facilitates feelings of relaxation and release in the muscles and structure of the body.


STEPS

  1. Focus your attention on the center of your belly, behind your naval. Breathe in and out, deeply and slowly, a few times. Feel your belly pull the air all the way down into it.

  2. On the fourth or fifth exhalation, hum a low, even tone. Inhale naturally, and repeat this a few times. Do this for at least 3 minutes.

  3. Stop and notice what your body experiences afterward. What has changed from before you started humming? What has stayed the same? What sensations, thoughts, images are arising? What does your body want to do now? Just notice what your body is experiencing now.


2. Body Mapping

Adapted from Somatic Psychotherapy Toolbox


This practice allows you to visually observe, describe and draw what you notice is happening in your body. It’s a body awareness tool.



STEPS


Make sure you have a sheet of paper, markers, pens or colored pencils.



1. Draw an outline of the shape of your body

  • You don't have to be an artist to do this! Just draw something to represent your body.


2. Take a moment to tune into yourself

  • Begin by taking a deep breath in and a full exhale.

  • Allow your attention to draw inward. You can close your eyes for a moment, or place one hand on your heart and another on your chest or whatever practice works for you go tune inward.

  • Ask yourself: What do I notice in my body? What needs my attention right now? Are there any images, feelings, physical sensations or points of constriction?


3. Intuitively draw the areas that are responding

  • Don't overthink this part, just let yourself flow with it.

  • Draw the areas where you notice something is present.

  • Maybe use shades, colors, symbols, or visuals.

  • Allow yourself to express what you notice.


4. When you feel complete, take a moment to observe what is present

  • Maybe note where you might want to give more attention or tend to certain areas.

  • Perhaps you want to explore a point of inquiry more in depth.

  • Just observe what is there.


When you’re finished, give your body map a title.



3. Mindful Walking


This practice allows for you to consciously and deliberately slow your outer pace as a way to slow your inner pace. It redirects your focus to your movements, posture and your pace.


Allow yourself about 15 minutes for this exercise.


Find a place where you can walk without any disturbance, preferably outside but not necessary.


The point of the walk is to be with each step, without having any destination.



STEPS


1. Root into the earth

  • Start by standing with your feet rooted in the ground.

  • Give yourself a moment to feel your feet touch the earth and feel connected to the ground.

  • Now, draw your attention to your body and notice your posture.

  • Relax and straighten your back.


2. Begin to notice your breath and body sensation

  • Bring your awareness to the quality of your breath.

  • Observe how your chest and belly expands with each hale, and how they collapse with each exhale.

  • Simply notice the sensations that accompany the rise and fall of your chest and belly

  • Notice any other apparent sensations. Perhaps you might notice the temperature of the air or the feeling of fabric against your skin.


3. Take a moment to connect to your heart

  • Place your hand in prayer position at your heart or fold them like a cup to receive the earth with your heart as you walk.

  • Set an intention for yourself... For example, "With every step, may I feel relaxed and at home in the present moment, open to receiving the blessing of Earth"


4. Begin to take your first step as slowly as you can

  • Allow your movement to be as conscious and intentional as possible

  • Notice subtle movements, like the bend in your leg and ankle, how your toes push off the ground, how your heal makes contact with the earth. As you take your next step, notice the sensations of your legs.

  • With each step, feel the earth support you.

  • As you walk slowly, notice your breathing, your balance, and your attention.

  • If thoughts begin to arise, notice if you're walking changes and compassionately bring your awareness back to your feet.


5. When you feel complete, stand for a moment.

  • Thank your body and the earth for supporting you.

  • Follow your intuition with this... you may feel called to place your hand on an area of your body.

    • Or you might feel inspired to lie on the ground.

  • Maybe you want to speak to the earth out loud... whatever it is, just go with it!




4. Alternate Nostril Breathing


This practice guides your awareness to your breathing. It allows you to be with your breath, with each inhale and exhale.


STEPS

  1. Find a comfortable position, preferably sitting upright.

  2. Take a moment to center yourself, tune into your body, and feel yourself in your space, at this moment.

  3. Now begin to press on one nostril as you inhale fully with the other nostril. Then release that nostril as your press the other nostril to exhale completely.

  4. Then inhale through the same nostril you just exhaled from, and then press the other nostril when you’re ready to exhale. And then repeat for a few breaths.

  5. Make sure that you stop if you feel light headed or feel disoriented in any way.

  6. After a few breaths return to normal breathing and notice what you observe.

  7. Take a moment to share gratitude for this breath of life and to be able to breathe in clean air that earth cleanses for us.


Conclusion


In closing, it’s important to understand that the violence of Industrial growth society and the systems that uphold it (settler colonialism, racial capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy) inflict trauma on ecological and relational systems from the micro to the macro. This means that the source of the pressure we feel in our own life and in our bodies is the same pressure impacting the fine balance of biological systems, threatening life on Earth as we know it. It comes from the same place.


Learning to emotionally regulate ourselves through reconnection to our own bodies is an act of resistance to status quo ways of being that rely on our disconnection to uphold systems that aren't designed for our thriving.


Disconnection keeps us from feeling.

Disconnection keeps us numb.

Disconnection keeps us from our responsibilities.

Disconnection keeps us from seeing clearly.


These practices are designed to bring you back into your feeling body, back into relationship with earth, and back into connection with the here and now. We are a people who are waking up! We are no longer willing to settle for a life that doesn't work for everyone... we are no longer willing to sacrifice our life force energy by investing in a system that exhausts us, that promotes fear and scarcity, that exacerbates division and competition, that feeds on our disempowerment.


We are in the midst of a collective initiation moment. We are being challenged to heal our trauma so that we may access untapped inner resources and wake up who we truly are. We are being challenged to get uncomfortable and show up in ways that scare us. This journey called life isn't supposed to be "easy"... we grow in our resilience and become who we must by going through challenge, not around it... and we're in it together.




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