Somatic Experiencing 101

“I have come to the conclusion that human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening—a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation. I have little doubt that as individuals, families, communities, and even nations, we have the capacity to learn how to heal and prevent much of the damage done by trauma. In doing so, we will significantly increase our ability to achieve both our individual and collective dreams.” This quote is from psychotherapist Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. In this profound book, Levine focuses on how we must work with our body to heal trauma and chronic physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. This mind-body approach to treating chronic symptoms is known as Somatic Experiencing or Somatic Therapy.

Researchers have found that trauma can be stored in our bodies on a cellular level (Levine, 2023), making somatic experiencing a beneficial supplemental practice to traditional talk therapy. Within somatic therapy, the main focus is on the body as opposed to thought patterns of the mind. The reason this is so helpful is that many people feel the impacts of trauma, stress, and anxiety in the form of physical symptoms such as muscle tension, sleep disruptions, tremors, heart palpitations, etc.

There are many components to somatic experiencing. Some of the most common types are breathwork, acupressure, dance/movement, body awareness, resourcing, pendulation, and titration. Let’s dive into the specifics of the different somatic practices.


Controlled and measured breathing is an incredibly powerful somatic tool for reducing stress and anxiety symptoms. Even just paying attention to your breath, or ATB as researchers call it, has the ability to slow down activity in your amygdala. The amygdala is the small, almond-shaped region of the brain that mediates emotions, namely fear (Cleveland Clinic, 2023). This part of our brain also processes the things we encounter and store data on what we perceive as dangerous. It is important to place emphasis on the word ‘perceive’ because our amygdala often ends up having an overreaction to things we perceive as dangerous even though they are likely not. This is how people often develop phobias such as public speaking and social situations.

We will explore two breathwork techniques: one for beginners and one for more advanced participants. The technique for those that are new to breathwork is known as the 4-7-8 technique. Start by sitting or lying comfortably in an area of your choice. When you are ready, inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and slowly exhale out of your mouth for 8 seconds.

The more advanced breathwork technique is biodynamic breathwork. Biodynamic breathwork is a combination of breathing, movement, touch, sound, and meditation. This breathing technique was developed by Gilten Tonkov and aims to integrate the fight/flight/freeze energy, which often gets trapped in the body after experiencing trauma or chronic stress. Othership, an online platform that focuses on breathwork and other wellness modalities, provides guided instruction on how to engage in biodynamic breathwork from home. It is important to note that you should always consult a physician before engaging in new wellness practices, as people with certain conditions such as cardiovascular issues and low blood pressure may experience unwanted side effects.

Part 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and gently bend your knees
  • Close your eyes and tune into your body
  • Begin breathing in and out through your mouth without pausing
  • As you breathe move your head, face, and jaw intuitively in a patternless motion
  • After some rounds of breath, begin intuitively moving your arms and shoulders
  • Continue moving without pattern, allowing movement to radiate through you like a snake
  • Keeping the energy moving downwards, begin moving through your pelvis and unwinding your body
  • Notice any trembling, tingling or sensations and allow them to move through you
  • Continue breathing and moving
Part 2: Sit down on a mat or comfortable floor with your legs crossed and spine erect
  • Change the direction of your movement upwards, moving from your core
  • Breathe in and out, taking as many rounds of breath as feel good
Part 3: When you’re ready, lay down on your side with knees bent and your hand under your head
  • Breathe in and out
  • Imagine movement radiating through you from the inside out
  • Open your body by stretching your limbs and keep a flowing and unwinding movement as feels good
  • Lay on your back and move your pelvis
  • Come into stillness when you feel ready

Dance + Movement

When animals experience stressful or traumatic events, they often recover by shaking out their limbs to release the excess adrenaline out of their bodies. Through the use of dance, humans have the ability to also release built up cortisol and adrenaline (Levine, 1997). Through the use of freeform dance or shaking out our limbs, we are able to access this powerful somatic tool.

Another movement tool to help balance the nervous system is Qi Jong. Qi Jong was developed in China and is popular within Chinese medicine. This practice consists of specific movements that are combined with intentional breathing. Qi jong videos can be found online utilizing the youtube platform.

Body Awareness

Body awareness, also known as somatic awareness, is focused and mindful attention on the sensations in our bodies. Oftentimes, people experiencing anxiety or trauma try to repress uncomfortable physical sensations due to fears of the symptoms getting out of control or fear others will notice and judge them. Repressing these normal physical sensations stops us from being able to release them, and they end up getting trapped within.

One of the most direct ways to engage in body awareness is to do a body scan meditation. During a body scan meditation, you start at your feet and move up your body, pausing at each body part (feet, calves, thighs, abdomen, and so on). During this scan, pause to non-judgmentally, and objectively state what you are noticing (“I am noticing some tension in my neck, etc.). Upon completion of the body scan, you can take the data collected and adjust self-care practices as needed. For example, if you notice tension in your neck, you may want to do some intentional stretching or check in on your current stress level.

Resourcing & Pendulation

Due to our brains having a negativity bias, they are more likely to pay attention to danger than safety (Ross, 2018). Resourcing is inviting our mind and bodies to pay attention and focus on feelings of neutrality and safety. Although there are many ways to practice resourcing with a somatic-attuned clinician, one way you can practice at home is through the use of a butterfly hug. Watch this guided video of how to do a butterfly hug. (Insert video)

Pendulation refers to our body’s ability to ebb and flow between states of alertness and calm. Practicing pendulation allows us to more deeply integrate the parts of ourselves caused by trauma that we often try to ignore or repress. Follow along with this guided pendulation video. (Insert video)

Although you can perform many somatic practices at home, it is ideal to do these exercises with a mental health clinician or as a supplemental practice to your current therapy work. Somatic practices can be incredibly powerful and have the ability to evoke a lot of stored emotions and memories. Having a safe space to process through any emotions and memories that come up will help you move through your healing process in a way that feels transformative without being overwhelming.


Breathwork for Healing Trauma: 3 Popular Benefits and Techniques. (October 17, 2021) Retrieved from Breathwork for Healing Trauma: 3 Popular Techniques + Benefits

The Amygdala (April 11, 2023). Retrieved from Amygdala: What It Is and What It Controls

Levine, P. A., & Frederick, A. (1997). Waking the tiger: healing trauma: the innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books

Ross, S. Resourcing, Pendulation, and Titration: Practices from Somatic Experiencing (January 3, 2018). Retrieved from Somatic Experiencing® Archives | Psychotherapy for Women, Families, and Children in Berkeley, CA