Let’s face it, emotional regulation is not something that most of us learned growing up. I remember when I first heard the term I didn’t have a clue what it meant or how it was related to my personal well-being, let alone it’s impact on the health of my relationships and community.
When I first began diving into the field of Somatics a few years ago, it was as though a whole new world opened up to me… a world that began to unify seemingly separate aspects of self into wholeness.
Learning about my emotional nature and how deeply connected it is to my body or soma brought me into contact with my inner “felt sense” that I had previously and unknowingly been disassociated from or numb to. It deepened my understanding of relationality as it exists within the body, and opened my eyes to the relationship between my emotions, thoughts, and sensations.
What is Somatics?
Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement which studies the soma: namely, “the body as perceived from within.” As Thomas Hannah beautifully describes it...
"When a human being is observed from the outside -- i.e., from a third-person viewpoint - the phenomenon of a human body is perceived. But, when this same human being is observed from the first-person viewpoint of his own proprioceptive senses, a categorically different phenomenon is perceived: the human soma.” 
In essence, somatic exercises draw upon your mindbody connection to help you come into contact with your internal self or “felt sense” and listen to signals your body sends about areas of pain, discomfort, or imbalance. Over time, these practices strengthen your relationship to your felt sense, allowing you to access more information about the ways in which you hold on to experiences in your body, and how they are related to the ever-changing landscape of your life.
Emotional Regulation & Somatics
Somatic-based emotional regulation is the process of bringing your awareness to the experience of your body and being with your sensations, thoughts, posture, feelings, and then tending to what you need.
Emotional Regulation through the lens of somatics is your ability to identify:
When you are out of your personal Range of Resilience (this can feel like hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal)
Acknowledge the associated felt experience
Consciously respond in a way that brings your mindbody back into harmony and balance.
When you are experiencing a hyper-aroused state (ie. feeling stressed, anxious, restless), somatic regulation involves…
When you are experiencing a hypo-aroused state (ie. feeling depressed, lethargy, unmotivated, numb), somatic regulation involves...
Somatic-based emotional regulation prioritizes the mindbody connection and recognizes the important role that your body plays in healing emotional trauma since its the body that stores the memory.
Traumatic experiences can lead to dysfunction in your nervous system, which can ultimately keep you from actually processing the experience. So the aim of emotional regulation through the lens of somatics is to help you tune in to bodily sensations and to use this awareness to acknowledge and work through unresolved traumatic imprints and painful emotions and sensations.
We are living in traumatic times because we are a culture whose roots are steeped in a history of unresolved trauma… whether we’re talking about the trauma of racial capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, war, genocide, slavery, exploitation (the list goes on), collective trauma is real and every one of us carries it within our bodies. Without going too far down THAT rabbit hole (because I can do that), it’s important to understand that trauma is transmitted intergenerationally, meaning that whatever is unresolved from the previous generations, gets passed down to the next.
The impacts of unresolved trauma are varied and manifest in myriad ways, but one KEY FEATURE is a disconnection from a grounded sense of self/awareness in your body.
For example, nowadays many of us spend a large portion of our time either in front of screens or at a desk, mentally stimulated and yet lacking in physical embodiment or movement. How aware are you of your breathing, posture, or sensation in general? Where is your awareness during such activities? Take a moment to reflect upon this...
You also might spend a lot of your time tending to daily tasks that require you to run around doing errands or working in an environment that requires lots of movement, lifting, walking, standing, and engaging physically or socially. Again, how aware are you of your breathing patterns, pace of movement, gestures? Where is your awareness during such activities? Take a moment to reflect upon this too...
Before I began learning about somatics, I was completely numb and dissociated from my body and I didn’t even know it. My awareness was not grounded in the felt sense of my body. It was up and away somewhere else. Unconscious thought patterns and narratives would play over in my head all day long… fixating about the past or worrying about the future. Can you relate? If you had asked me what my relationship was like to my body just a couple of years ago, I would have proclaimed that it was great! I ate well, worked out, stretched… you know, the good stuff! Yet I can assure you that these things did not translate into a rooted sense of self in my body.
Western culture demands so much from us and so it’s not surprising that we learn to demand just as much from our bodies. The western cultural narrative that we embody communicates a message that places the mind as superior to the body. Many of us learn to treat our bodies either like a mule or a machine - something that we need to direct through sheer force of will or treat as an operating system that we expect to run smoothly with the occasional repair. This separation from our bodies breeds a collective pressure that manifests as stress, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. We have been taught to neglect ourselves from our own body’s experience.
We move fast, rushing from one thing to the next; we have a never-ending to-do list and an overwhelming amount of obligations; we spend more of our time thinking versus being; we work more than we play; we avoid intimate pleasure more than we allow space for pleasure. We are swimming in a dysregulated ocean whose waves only seem to intensify the longer we go without slowing down and getting to the source of trauma.
Rather than being taken over by this cultural current, let us bring our awareness back into our bodies so that we can “be with” our experience, noticing it wave by wave, and soon enough settling the ocean within. By engaging in somatic exercises for emotional regulation, you will begin to transform your relationship to your inner waters. Wave by wave, you will expand your Range of Resilience every time you consciously respond to the present moment rather than reacting out of survival.
To get a taste of what I’m talking about, let’s take a moment to sense what this feels like in the body.
Guided Meditation for Emotional Regulation
Begin by reading each word slowly and intentionally. Take in each word. Begin to draw your awareness into your body and notice your breathing. Consciously begin to deepen and slow down your inhale and exhale. Breathing deliberately, slowly and mindfully. PAUSE
Now begin to notice each part of your body as you simultaneously read this. Bring your awareness to the sensations of your feet. Notice your heels, arches, toes and how your feet are positioned. Perhaps bring your feet flat to the ground and intentionally touch the ground with your feet, anchoring and settling them into the floor. PAUSE
Then lift your awareness to your shins, calves, knees, thighs and hamstrings. Notice how your legs support you, mobilize you, and stabilize you. Feel the entirety of your legs, their length, their strength and their flexibility. PAUSE
Bring your awareness to your hips, your sit bones, pelvis, lower back and the base or root of your body. Imagine yourself fully occupying this space, filling this inner cavity with your awareness. Observe what you notice. Perhaps softening your hip flexors, your sit bones and resting into the base of your body. If you're sitting, allow your sit bones to sink into the cushion. If you're standing, soften your sit bones and rest into your feet, trusting the ground and the earth to fully hold you. PAUSE
Now draw your awareness to your stomach area. Consciously relax your stomach muscles completely, allowing your stomach to soften. Notice your slow, deep breathing expand and contract your stomach area. Scan and observe any sensations, feelings or emotions. Imagine a calm, gentle, still lake occupying your stomach area. PAUSE
Bring your awareness to your chest, heart and shoulder area. Notice any constrictions, or tenderness, or openness. Take a moment to check in with your heart to see what might be there. Allow yourself to fully occupy this area with curiosity and compassion. Just be with your heart for a moment. Touch it with your awareness, hold it in love and tend to it. PAUSE
As you lift your awareness to your neck and face area, begin to soften your facial muscles, your eyes, your forehead, cheekbones and your jaw. Take a moment to settle your gaze by extending your focus to include a wide range of vision. Taking in an expansive view as you are reading this. PAUSE
Finally, bring your awareness to your arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands and fingers. Observe the bend of your arms, the sensations of your arms resting in front or beside you, and the way they engage with your surroundings. Take a moment to feel your hands as you scroll, touch the screen or are with this device. Notice the position of your fingers and tune into the slight sensations of your fingertips. With curious eyes, take in all the curvatures, lines, and history of your hands: all that they’ve done for you, all that they’ve felt, all that they’ve created. Be with your hands for a moment. PAUSE
Now take a long, deep inhale as you expand your awareness to the entirety of your body in this moment. Notice what your body is experiencing as you engage with this reading. Allow your mind to rest fully in your body, orienting toward your body and tending to your body. STOP.
Observe how you feel now, compared to how you felt just a minute ago before began this somatic exercise? Do you have a “felt sense” of what emotional regulation feels like from the lens of your body?
At the end of the day we all want belong and to feel at home in the world, in our bodies, and in our relationships. We want to feel relaxed in who we are and not afraid to express our truest and most authentic selves! But all too often, our emotions hijack our experience, making it hard to be present, relaxed, and engaged. We want to be able to feel AND to know what we’re feeling without those feelings taking us over to the point of causing harm, lashing out, going numb, or dissociating altogether.
As simple as it may seem, integrating somatic exercises into your daily life will bring you into a deeper relationship with your inner “felt sense”, creating a bridge between your emotions and sensations. This mindbody connection is foundational for emotional regulation since such exercises will help to expand your range of resilience over time. You will begin to feel more rooted in your body and connected to sensations while simultaneously feeling your emotions without them taking you over.
At the end of the day, our emotional nature is what makes us human AND what makes living so profoundly beautiful. Our emotions are not separate from our bodies though, just like water is not separate from the earth. They are in a mutual relationship with one another. Getting in touch with your body is the doorway toward understanding, grounding, and being in relationship with your emotions.
Get a Taste of Somatic Healing
 Hanna, Thomas (1986). "What is Somatics?". Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 November 2014.