Somatic stretching is a form of somatic therapy that involves mindful movements to ease discomfort from various parts of the body. This type of stretching helps in the release of muscular tension through intentional and intuitive movements. This article will help you learn more about somatic stretching, how it works, the benefits of somatic stretching, and also some of the best somatic stretches for beginners.
What is Somatic Stretching?
Conventionally, stretching means moving and holding different body parts in ways that extend the muscles.(1) Stretching aims at increasing flexibility and range of motion. Somatic stretching is the type of somatic therapy that helps release muscular tension through gentle somatic movements and an awareness of how your tensed muscles feel in different positions and movements.
People with a history of chronic stress or trauma usually face physical sensations like pain and discomfort, linked to their negative emotions. Such discomforts can be released through somatic stretching.
During somatic stretching, we have to focus our attention on our inner experiences. This type of stretching draws attention to the mind and the body and also explores the connection between the two. Through somatic stretching or movements, we can evaluate and re-educate our mind and body to manage the stressors of the past, present, and future in a better way.
How Somatic Stretching Works?
This type of stretching is based on pandiculation, which is the involuntary, instinctive, or intuitive stretching of the soft tissues, especially during transitions between our cyclic biological behaviors.(2) In simple terms, it can be said that somatic stretching is the unconscious contracting and releasing of the muscles that happen during our daily movements; for instance, while we walk, we gently go on somatic stretching.
Somatic stretching is a sort of sensory experience and it is based on letting our brain slow and calm down in a manner that we can learn the feeling of sensation. Such a type of somatic therapy requires us to tune in to how our muscles feel at any particular moment or in any given movement. Learning to feel the sensation of tension in the muscles and other tissues is the key to somatic stretching. Once we can tune in to how our tensed muscles feel, we can actively contract and release them, which releases the tension in the muscle and improves mobility.
Health Benefits of Somatic Stretching
Somatic stretching is beneficial for our mind and body. Below are some of the health benefits of this type of movement.
Somatic stretching encourages you to turn your attention inward, and by doing this you enter into a state of mindfulness with focused attention. Such mindful movements and gentle poses can help release tension and calm your mind and body by removing physical tension and energetic tensions that build through stress.
Helps in Quick Recovery
Somatic stretching can benefit those who are recovering from any injury or chronic pain issues. It helps with increasing body awareness and thus assists people to push their bodies beyond their limits.
Somatic therapy, including somatic stretching, is about gaining awareness while healing from trauma. Although somatic stretching is about focusing on the body and the movement, because of its mindful nature, it can be beneficial for managing emotions and trauma release.
Those who regularly do somatic stretching find that it improves their flexibility, posture, balance, and range of motion. Research shows that flexibility and mobility are essential components of fitness that reduce the risk of injury and enhance healthy aging.
Some Somatic Stretches for Beginners
Before you begin any other somatic stretch, simply standing and bringing awareness to your different bodily muscles is required.
- So, for standing awareness, simply stand up straight with your feet rooted and notice how your feet grip the ground.
- Contract and release your foot muscles.
- Take deep breaths and focus on your abdominal muscles, notice how they expand and contract. Bring your awareness to how this expansion and contraction of abdominal muscles feels.
- Finally, scan your body from top to bottom. This will help you notice how different muscles feel different.
The Arch and Flatten
The arch and flatten exercise is great for you if you are experiencing back pain. This type of somatic stretching allows you to release and then regain control of the abdominal muscles and muscles in your lower back.
- The arch and flatten is a slow movement done lying on the ground.
- To begin with, position your feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart with knees bent.
- Inhale while noticing how the muscles in your lower back and abdominal muscles move as you breathe in.
- Now, arch your back gently, bringing the belly upward and pressing your glute muscles and feet into the ground.
- Stay in this position for as long as it feels comfortable.
- Then, lower your back slowly and fatten it against the ground.
- Repeat this movement slowly, while scanning the muscles in your torso for any tension, and slowly try to release it.
Hang Your Head
This is another somatic stretching exercise that might be pretty beneficial for you. Follow the steps mentioned below to do this stretching.
- To begin with, stand up straight and slowly hang your head, allowing it to fall as far down as it goes on comfortably.
- While doing this, notice how the muscles in your neck feel. Also notice how your neck movement has affected the nearby muscles, tissues, and joints, like those in your upper back and shoulders.
- Along with all these, identify an area that feels tense and explore how that tension feels.
- Try to release some of the tension while you are stretching.
The muscle group that attaches our spine to legs is known as the iliopsoas muscle. Most of us hold lots of tension in iliopsoas. Somatic stretching can bring awareness to these muscles so that you are better able to release muscle tension.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flatly rooted on the floor.
- Place your right hand behind the head.
- Lift your head and simultaneously lift the right leg, while keeping it slightly bent. As you do this, scan the muscles in your hips, legs, and lower back for tension, and notice how they feel.
- Now, lower your leg and head gently.
- Repeat the same thing, however, this time keep your legs straight as you lift,
- Repeat these motions gently and slowly several times, and then switch to the other side.
NOTE: If you are willing to begin somatic stretching, start practicing the stretches for at least 10 minutes a day
Somatic stretching is not just about doing specific stretches regularly, rather it is about building muscle and body awareness into your everyday routine while listening to your body. This helps you to perform those movements that feels good and that your body requires.
If you are willing to start somatic stretching, consult with your doctor or physical therapist and then proceed with the movements.