The first formal studies of meditation, carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, revealed that those who practice mindfulness are able to meditate so deeply that their pain responses are seemingly non-existent. The participants of the study didn’t react even when their arms were exposed to hot test tubes.
Not only that, but their heart rates were also lowered, they used significantly less oxygen, and had a higher number of theta brain waves.
The myriad benefits of meditation have been widely known for many decades now. That said, the focus has really only been on mindfulness.
Today, somatic meditation—meditation through bodily awareness—is growing in popularity. Derived from Tibetan Buddhism, it taps into the profound reality of our bodies.
Here’s all you need to know about somatic meditation, how it works, and its benefits.
In somatic meditation, the focus is on connecting with your physical being rather than cultivating mindfulness through just your mental state.
This usually involves directing your attention to bodily sensations, such as your blood flow, your breath, or energy in your limbs.
An essential part of this process of meditation is conscious breathing (this itself can take various forms, such as abdominal breathing and whole-body breathing).
For successful somatic meditation, practices like massage, posture alignment, progressive relaxation, and mindful walking are also helpful.
The more you focus your attention on these sensations, the more your awareness of them grows. And the longer you extend this somatic practice, the more it will increase body awareness during movement.
Somatic meditation also enhances your awareness of tension in your body in the present moment.
The idea that is central to somatic meditation is that it utilizes the inherent wakefulness of your body, thereby letting you become fully present in the moment.
There are two main elements to somatic meditation. The first is focusing on the physical body and directing your awareness to its sensations.
For this, you might concentrate on specific parts of your body or the whole of your body. Think about your most prominent physical sensations, patterns, energies, or even the skin that covers your flesh—whatever you find yourself naturally tuning in to.
The second part of somatic meditation involves exploring what comes when you direct your attention toward the body in a neutral, non-judgmental, and accepting way.
For beginners, this is undeniably quite challenging, as our natural human tendency is to fixate on our thoughts and mental processes instead of listening to the body.
However, in doing so, we often limit our understanding of somatic experience.
Somatic meditation encourages a deeper, unrestricted connection to the body and its sensations in order to process stress and depression.
The idea is to prioritize the body’s lived experiences rather than focusing on our mind. Because its process is dependent on labeling, contextualizing, and judging whatever raw experience our body is gaining at all moments—and in this way arriving at the present moment.
From what we’ve talked about so far, we can understand that somatic meditation involves more of a bottom-up process of approaching mindfulness. Through it, we try to connect with our body’s awareness of itself and its surroundings.
According to Buddhism, the human body already exists on the path toward enlightenment. Our goal, through meditation, is simply to access the state through which we can walk on this path.
- Helps to Deal With Trauma And Depression
The neuroscience research of Dr. Catherine Kerr shows that through conscious breathing and awareness of physical states, it is possible to actually change your mind.
Through regular practice, somatic meditation can help you to tackle depression, anxiety, and stress and play an active role in trauma healing.
This is because, contrary to what most people think, it is not just the mind that is affected by our negative life experiences. Trauma is stored just as much in the body.
Through somatic meditation, it’s possible to release those painful memories. This theory was first put forward by a trauma specialist called Peter Levine, who originated the Somatic Experience System Of Trauma Healing.
According to Levine’s theory, body-focused therapy is highly effective in resolving the effects of trauma.
Let’s break that down. During a traumatic life event, your nervous system is unable to activate survival mechanisms, namely fight, flight, or freeze.
When this happens, the trauma manifests as physical symptoms. This causes the nervous system to remain in a state of high arousal from which it is difficult to return.
And unless it can return to its neutral state, your nervous system will then be overloaded.
The result? Stress on the parasympathetic system, which is a network of nerves that promotes physical relaxation after stressful or traumatic experiences.
This blocked response (which can result from difficult feelings associated with trauma) can manifest in many ways, such as tension, hypervigilance, or a shut-down state.
And this prevents open awareness practices, which are essential for healing from trauma faced in life.
Somatic meditation helps us understand our triggers, leading to the development of more rational thinking. This, in turn, brings about an awakening that leads to trauma healing.
For individuals who have experienced traumatic life incidents, four sets of Somatic Exercises have been found to be helpful, namely mindful breathing, grounding, quieting and flow, and progressive relaxation in the body.
Through each exercise, move your body intentionally and closely observe the physical sensations that this brings about.
- Useful for Tackling Chronic Pain
Somatic meditation can also help tackle chronic pain. This is because, as pain is felt in the physical form, it is a part of basic awareness.
By focusing our attention on the awakening body and through intentional thinking, we can begin a spiritual journey through which to address chronic pain head-on.
How to Meditate Get Started With Somatic Meditation
The first and most difficult part of beginning a meditation practice is making a daily commitment. Attempting to meditate a few times a week is unhelpful as it does not foster a sense of habit.
Instead, make meditation a part of your daily routine. Set aside a specific window of 10 minutes each day, during which you can sit or lie down uninterrupted.
This could be first thing in the morning, during the day, or before bed, whichever works best for your schedule.
The key is to make this a daily practice, and you’ll soon find that entering that meditative state is something you look forward to each day.
Most contemporary approaches agree that to ensure a successful meditation session, it is important to set up a reliable, comfortable physical space to develop meditation practices that will stick.
Find a place to sit or lie down where you can relax, concentrate, and be completely present. Make sure you will not be disturbed while your meditation session is ongoing.
Finally, let go of any goals or expectations you may have and simply allow yourself to be present at the moment. This approach will help you fully immerse yourself, ultimately bringing you to the beauty of human existence.
In our regular daily life, focus and effort together bring Success. But in meditation, success comes from a combination of Surrender and Innocence: the key components of a meditative state as separate from the thinking mind.
The conscious mind is naturally prone to wandering and is occupied by innumerable thoughts during the course of a single day (an estimated 6,000 to 80,000).
Naturally, it is not possible to force the thinking mind into a state of relaxation and focus through just willpower.
Instead, the mind should be trained patiently and gradually to redirect its focus back to the meditation object whenever it wanders.
When thoughts inevitably enter the mind or when you realize that your brain feels scrambled, it is important to simply acknowledge this and not judge or become frustrated.
Acknowledge the activity of the brain and gently guide your attention back to the meditation object, ideally some feeling in your body such as your breath.
Meditation involves focusing on a particular element, such as the breath, a visual, a sound, or a mantra, among others. These are easily found online.
Additionally, you can also look for free instructional videos on YouTube and Vimeo (of which there are many!), which offer guides for meditation focused on the body.
If you’re interested in reading more about somatic meditation and how it works, there are several books to enhance your understanding.
Here are a few you should definitely check out
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
- Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
- Somatic Experiencing: Using Interoception and Proprioception as Core Elements of Trauma Therapy by Peter Levine.
Somatic meditation helps us come to the realization that heightened meditative consciousness is not prompted by anything external but rather a vital, self-existing wakefulness of our body, which can lead to wholesome mindfulness.
It can change your life drastically.
Meditation practices require patience, and by that, we mean patience with yourself.
Never judge yourself or admonish yourself: observe your thoughts, emotions, and feelings with acceptance, love, and respect as you experience them through your body, and you will see the benefits in your own life.