Somatic Yoga Principles & Classes

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What is Somatic Yoga?

Somatic Yoga is a mindful and introspective practice that emphasizes internal sensations, movement exploration, and self-awareness. Rooted in the principles of somatics—a field that explores the lived experience of the body—Somatic Yoga teaches and encourages practitioners to become more attuned to their bodily sensations, movement patterns, and emotional responses.

One of the primary effects of Somatic Yoga is the release of muscular tension and chronic holding patterns. Through gentle, slow-paced movements and guided awareness, practitioners learn to release tension stored in the muscles, fascia, and connective tissues. 

Somatic Yoga also facilitates greater proprioception—the body's awareness of its position in space—and encourages more kinesthetic intelligence (learning through movement). Sharpening your sense of proprioception allows you to move with more confidence and has the potential to save you from injury. Thus gaining a deeper understanding of your body's mechanics and movement potential. 

Somatic yoga also helps in the regulation of your nervous system, by calming down an overactive nervous system and by activating the relaxation response. Through slow, deliberate movements and deep breathing, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is like your body's built-in relaxation mode. This helps reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and promotes a sense of calmness and tranquility.

Let’s dive into the world of Somatic yoga and how you can incorporate it into your classes…

Somatics - what is it? Let’s dissect the etymology of the word - Soma comes from a word meaning "body" in Greek, so somatic means "of the body" and is most often used in connection with one's health.

It’s also defined as “affecting” or a “characteristic” of the body as opposed to the mind or spirit. Have you heard the word psychosomatic? This describes a condition or illness caused by the mind because of the word psycho at the beginning rather than a condition like a sprain or another physical injury.

Somatics offers a holistic perspective on understanding the body from within. It encompasses various disciplines such as somatic movement therapy, psychology, and education. Central to somatics is the exploration of the body's individual experience, focusing on the integration of mind, body, and spirit, and is all about understanding and experiencing your body from the inside out. Think of it as a way of exploring how your body moves, feels, and exists in the world.

I was initially introduced to somatic yoga around 2016, I believe. I was taking an advanced Teacher training in Biomechanics and there was another teacher there who was studying somatics. So let me just give you some background…This advanced TT that I was taking required us to travel and stay in an Airbnb for 2 weeks at a time so we got to know each other very well, haha.  From time to time each of us would share with the group the things we were learning, studying more deeply, and subjects we were passionate about - so one teacher presented on the pelvic area, muscles, movement, pelvic floor, and the abdominal container - it was a great lecture. I was at the start of my journey in studying injuries and pain but I contributed my experiences with cultural appropriation of yoga and its roots, and how it’s commodified here in the States. Also a very interesting conversation as I was the only Black / Indian teacher in the room. 

And there was a teacher who was studying Somatics. Not only did she explain it to us but she taught us a few classes and let us feel it in our bodies. And OMG what a beautiful practice it is. So let me explain it to you…

When we talk about somatics, we're looking at the connections between our body, our mind, and our emotions. It's like taking a journey deep into yourself to discover how everything is connected.

Now, let's break it down a bit. Imagine you have a little robot friend inside you that helps you move and feel things. That's your nervous system. Somatics is like learning how to talk to your robot friend and understand what it's trying to tell you.

We do this through different practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation. These practices help us tune into our bodies and become more aware of how we're feeling physically and emotionally. What I love to witness in students is when they begin to drop into their practice and it becomes a moving meditation. I’m sure you’ve witnessed that too!

Somatics is also about learning to let go of tension and stress. It's like giving your body a big hug and saying, "Hey, it's okay to relax now."

So, in a nutshell, somatics is about connecting with yourself on a deep level, listening to your body, and finding peace and harmony within. It's like becoming best friends with yourself and learning to love and care for your body in the best way possible.

Somatic Yoga & Your Nervous System

Imagine your nervous system is like a big network of messengers in your body. It's responsible for sending signals to different parts of your body, telling them what to do and how to feel.

Now, sometimes, our nervous system can get a little out of whack, like a tangled-up phone cord. When this happens, you might feel stressed, anxious, or even in pain. Somatic yoga comes to the rescue by helping to untangle those knots and bring balance back to your nervous system.

When you practice somatic yoga exercises and movements, you're sending calming signals to your nervous system. If you have a pet, equate it to gently patting your scared puppy to help it relax. The movements help to soothe your nerves and reduce stress levels, making you feel more calm and centered.

Also, somatic yoga teaches you to pay attention to how your body feels in the present moment. This mindfulness helps you become more aware of any tension or discomfort you might be holding onto, so you can release it and let go.

In short, somatic yoga and the nervous system are like best friends who help each other out. Somatic yoga calms your nervous system, and in return, your nervous system helps you feel more relaxed and at ease. It's a beautiful partnership that leaves you feeling happier and healthier inside and out!

Here’s another analogy, Imagine your body is like a big house with lots of rooms. Sometimes, some rooms get messy or things get stuck in them, like toys scattered all over the floor. Somatic yoga helps you tidy up those rooms and make them neat again.

By doing gentle exercises and movements you help your body feel better by paying attention to how different parts of your body feel… and therefore you learn how to move them in a way that feels good. It's like doing stretches and exercises but in a very mindful, gentle, and relaxed way.

Where can you see Somatics being applied?

Since you don’t often see a Somatic Yoga class on the schedule at yoga studios & the principles are being taught in several different disciplines. So, how & where are people teaching it? 

  1. Somatic Movement Therapy: These are therapists who work with individuals to address movement limitations, chronic pain, and emotional issues through hands-on techniques, movement explorations, and somatic exercises. You may have experienced this in physical therapy without even knowing it.
  2. Somatic Education: Somatic educators offer classes, workshops, and individual sessions aimed at enhancing body awareness, movement efficiency, and overall well-being. These sessions might also include teachings from the Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique, or Body-Mind Centering.
  3. Somatic Psychology: Somatic psychologists integrate body-centered approaches into psychotherapy, helping individuals process trauma, regulate emotions, and cultivate greater self-awareness through embodied practices and experiential techniques.
  4. Somatic Yoga: Somatic yoga combines traditional yoga practices with somatic principles, emphasizing mindful movement, breath awareness, and internal exploration. It offers a holistic approach to yoga that integrates body, mind, and spirit, fostering greater presence, resilience, and self-discovery on and off the mat.

Key Principles of Somatics

Here are the Key Principles of Somatics plus ways to apply them to your classes:

  • Embodied Awareness: Somatics emphasizes the cultivation of embodied awareness, which involves tuning into the present moment and experiencing sensations, emotions, and movement from within. Through practices such as mindfulness, breathwork, and body scanning, students will develop a deeper connection to their physical and emotional states.

How to apply it: Can you start and end your classes with a body scan? Or direct your student’s attention to a particular body part and ask them to assess how it feels.  

  • Sensory-Motor Learning: Somatics views movement as a form of learning, and emphasizes the importance of sensory-motor integration. By exploring movement patterns, sensations, and proprioception (the body's sense of its position in space), individuals can refine their movement skills, improve coordination, and enhance overall body awareness.

How to apply it: Ask your students to become aware of a body part that they can't see i.e. lying down, without lifting your head to look, can you sense whether your feet splay out or not? 

  • Mind-Body Integration: Somatics acknowledges how the mind and body are intertwined, aiming to merge mental, emotional, and physical aspects. When you combine psychological and physiological facets of your experiences, somatics presents a complete approach to promoting healing and overall wellness.

How to apply it: Ask students to check in with their thoughts at different points throughout class - did you just teach something difficult? Ask students what they’re thinking.

  • 4th principle of somatics is the Release of Chronic Tension: Somatics approaches often focus on releasing chronic tension and stress held within the body. Through gentle movement, relaxation techniques, and body awareness practices, your students can gradually unwind tension stored in their soft tissues and nervous system, which can lead to greater ease and freedom of movement.

How to apply it: let’s think about injuries here. When I was navigating Frozen Shoulder, I practiced somatic yoga a LOT. Working within my available range at the time, I invited slower, smaller movements into my practice. The idea was to 1) keep moving 2) move in ways that felt good and 3) relate back to my mind and nervous system that I was ok, which does wonders for pain management. I’ll do an entire episode on pain management in the future because I'm dying to talk about it.

  • Self-Exploration and Empowerment: Somatics encourages individuals to become active participants in their own healing and self-discovery process. By cultivating self-awareness, agency, and self-compassion, your students can learn to tap into their innate capacity for growth, transformation, and resilience.

How to apply it: Pick a body part - for this example I’m going to choose the lower back bc this is an area where a lot of folks deal with some tension. Start off by having students check in with their lower back. How does it feel? Does one side feel different than the other? Do some exercises (for the lower back) then re-check in. And ask students to notice if there’s any difference. If so, what? This is so helpful with the mind-body connection because instead of plowing through a bunch of poses in class you’re teaching students to become more embodied and aware.

Here are some additional ideas for you to think about how you’d incorporate somatic yoga into your classes… no matter what the format is. 

  • Mindful Movement Sequences: Design sequences that encourage slow, mindful movement, allowing students to explore sensations and movement patterns within their bodies.
  • Breath Awareness: Incorporate breath awareness practices into your classes to deepen the mind-body connection. Encourage students to synchronize their breath with movement, fostering a sense of presence and relaxation.
  • Sensory Exploration: Integrate sensory exploration exercises, such as gentle touch, self-massage, or guided imagery, to heighten body awareness and foster a sense of embodiment.
  • Cueing and Language: Use cues that invite students to notice internal sensations, such as "feel the stretch from the inside out" or "notice any areas of tension or resistance." And Encourage non-judgmental observation and curiosity.
  • Emphasis on Sensation: Shift the focus from achieving external shapes to experiencing internal sensations. Encourage students to explore subtle movements and micro-adjustments, emphasizing the process rather than the end result.

Incorporating Somatic Yoga into your classes allows you the chance to help students deepen their mind-body connection, cultivate greater awareness, and experience profound shifts in their physical and emotional well-being. When you do this, you’ll create transformative and enriching yoga experiences for your students.

The practice of somatics offers a profound framework for understanding and experiencing the body from within, emphasizing embodied awareness, sensory-motor learning, mind-body integration, and self-empowerment. Through somatic practices, you and your students can cultivate greater well-being, resilience, and vitality, and deepen the connection to yourself and the world around you.

I hope you give it a try!

Rather listen to this blog article?

🎙Visit my podcast: Essential Conversations for Yoga Teachers - Episode 20: Somatic Yoga Principles & How to incorporate them into your yoga Classes

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Monica Bright is a Yoga/Movement/Biomechanics Teacher, Anatomy/ Injury/Pain Educator, Certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Yoga & Self-Care Retreat Leader Reiki Practitioner.

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Monica Bright is a Yoga/Movement/Biomechanics Teacher, Anatomy/ Injury/Pain Educator, Certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Yoga & Self-Care Retreat Leader Reiki Practitioner.

Join Our Newsletter