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Try These Somatic Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health

Updated: January 17, 2024

5 min.

Download our resource of five somatic exercises for mental health that you can do at home.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process

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Try These Somatic Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health

Updated: January 17, 2024

5 min.

Download our resource of five somatic exercises for mental health that you can do at home.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Somatic therapies, which focus on the mind-body connection, often include somatic exercises—specific movements to release physical tension and improve overall well-being. Somatic exercises are widely accessible, requiring no equipment or specific physical skills. Benefits include pain and stress relief, improved emotional awareness, and better posture and balance, making the practice beneficial for various mental health conditions and symptoms. 

Below, we delve into five somatic exercises to improve your mental health (including a resource you can download to try them at home) and discuss different kinds of somatic therapies. 

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5 somatic exercise techniques to improve mental health

Somatic exercise techniques draw upon non-Western mind-body practices that emphasize the link between physical sensation and emotional and mental states—a field broadly categorized as somatics. Below are five examples of somatic exercise techniques you can do anywhere to improve body awareness and mental health. 

1. Grounding exercises

Grounding exercises help people connect to the present moment. They’re an effective coping technique for people experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, or other trauma-related symptoms. Here are a few simple grounding techniques:

Move your body

The key here is to move your body in a way that feels comfortable and natural for you. This might mean somatic stretching, dancing, or even jumping up and down. As you move, think about how each part of your body feels — starting with your toes and working your way up to your head.  

Run water over your hands

As you do this, focus on how the temperature feels on your fingertips, palms, and the backs of your hands. Start with cold water and then switch to warm water after a minute or two. Reflect on how the sensations change when you switch from cool to warm water.  

Take a walk

This can be a walk around the block or even a walk around your house. The key is to focus on your steps. Think about the rhythm of your footsteps and how it feels to place one foot in front of the other. 

2. Body scans 

Body scans raise body awareness—an understanding of what’s happening with our bodies and where we may be carrying tension or pain. Find a comfortable position (this can be sitting, standing, or lying down) and think about how each part of your body feels. Start with your feet and work your way up, taking as long as you need. 

3. Breathwork 

Somatic therapy involves understanding your body, including how to regulate your breathing. Breathwork focuses on bringing sensory awareness to the throat, diaphragm, jaw, and shoulders as you breathe in and to the belly and chest as you exhale.

Here is a simple somatic breathwork awareness exercise to try at home: Find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and follow your body’s movements as you breathe. You might notice that you feel this breath in your nostrils, chest, or stomach. Take note of how it feels to experience the movement of breath in your body.

4. Posture exercises

Our bodies hold tension in different ways — both physically and psychologically. Working with a somatic therapist is an opportunity to understand how stress and negative emotions can influence our posture. In the meantime, here are a few questions to help you reflect on your posture: 

  • Are you sitting quietly and in a natural position?
  • Is your weight even from side to side? 
  • Is your head held high, or does it slump?
  • Are you slouching or sitting up straight?

5. Yoga

If you’re looking for somatic exercises to relax and release, yoga might be a good fit. There are many types of yoga, but most styles incorporate a variety of physical postures, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques to help improve overall well-being. Some of the most common types of yoga today include hatha, kundalini, and Vinyasa.

An overview of somatic therapy techniques

While talk therapy addresses thoughts and emotions and exposure therapy helps people confront their fears, somatic therapy uses mind-body techniques to address mental health conditions. This body-oriented approach was introduced to a Western audience in the 1970s and has since surged in popularity, particularly in trauma therapy.

In somatic therapy, a somatic therapist uses a range of somatic therapy techniques, which range from body-centered interventions (like somatic exercise techniques) to traditional psychotherapeutic methods. As mentioned, somatic therapy techniques are often used as a part of trauma therapy but can also be beneficial in treating a range of mental health conditions. Here’s an overview of different somatic therapy techniques. 

Somatic experiencing

Somatic experiencing was designed to help release trauma that’s “trapped” in the body. During therapy, you’ll work with your therapist to safely release pent-up energy to overcome your triggers. This typically involves learning how to recognize bodily sensations, access your inner strength and resilience, and revisit trauma. The end goal is to learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help process and release the trauma.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR uses eye movement techniques, such as back-and-forth movements, to help process triggering emotional memories. This type of therapy is especially helpful if your anxiety is linked to trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Dance and movement therapy 

Dance and movement therapy (DMT) is based on the idea that movement is our first language. The theory suggests that the mind, body, and spirit are all connected and that movement can help people to process and understand their emotions.

Sensorimotor psychotherapy

Sensorimotor psychotherapy integrates talk therapy, mindfulness, and movements to help people heal from trauma and other harmful attachment patterns formed in early childhood. With sensorimotor psychotherapy, people will learn how posture, breathing, and muscle tension are connected to their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. For example, muscle tension or shallow breathing can be examples of our bodies telling us that we’re stressed or triggered.  

Female teenager in a green sweatshirt and headphones in her room. She is in virtual Intensive Outpatient Programming, learning somatic exercises to improve her mental health.

Explore somatics with Charlie Health

If trauma or challenging emotions are impacting your mental health and you’re interested in exploring somatic therapy techniques, Charlie Health is here to help. Start healing with our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program, which combines group sessions with individual and family therapy for teens, young adults, and families dealing with various serious mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies (including somatic movement therapy and somatic therapy exercises) into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With treatment, healing your mind and body is possible.

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