Regular Meditation has been proven to influence heart rate, promote calmness, centeredness and emotional balance. The mindfulness movement has highlighted that being mindful and present supports our mental and physical wellbeing and there is currently more emphasis on including the body in mindfulness practice, as body awareness has shown to foster a deeper connection to ourselves.
Somatic Meditation is a form of meditation that incorporates the awareness of the body. By being present with the sensations in our bodies, we develop an embodiment of our feelings, and a state of presence that integrates a union between body and mind. Instead of just engaging the mind in a meditation practice, we engage body and mind, which allows us to experience a state of oneness, that is felt throughout our whole body.
Somatic Meditation, like other meditation practices, often engages the breath to centre our concentration. Whilst focusing on the in and out-breath, our breathing and heart rate slow down and other physiological processes take over bringing our body into a deep state of calm. There is an increased flow of spinal fluids and oxygen in the blood, which supports the autonomic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic branch that is responsible for the relaxation of the smooth muscles, regulation of digestion and gland functions and sexual arousal. As the parasympathetic nervous system works opposing to the sympathetic nervous system (which is the opposite branch of the autonomous nervous system and responsible for the adaptive stress response), the up-regulation of the parasympathetic nervous system leads to a down-regulation of the sympathetic nervous system. This means that the level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline or cortisone, drop. Hence, somatic meditation helps with stress reduction.
The practice of Somatic Meditation has two aspects, which can be described as ‘mindfulness” practice and ‘awareness’ practice. Traditionally, these two aspects are found in all forms of Buddhist meditation and are referred to as ‘shamatha’ and ‘vipashyana’. The aspect of mindfulness is practiced by focusing on being present in the body. Through this presence, we are able to connect with the inherent wakefulness that is already present within the body itself.
The aspect of awareness is practiced by exploring what we discover when we pay attention to our body with an open and non-judgemental mind. States of anxiety, fear or other strong emotions usually take us to a disembodiment, as we are trying to move away from such uncomfortable feelings. This however, sabotages our physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. When we approach meditation as a somatic discipline, the spiritual journey is then seen not as separating ourselves from all that is physical, worldly and impure, but instead as a process of deeper entry into those aspects of our existence. Through being present with all aspects of ourselves, our true spiritual journey can unfold and lead to lasting and all-inclusive transformation.
Our body is like a portal through which much larger domains of our being become accessible. In the view of the somatic lineage, the body is not only the temple of enlightenment, but also the gateway to knowing, touching and surrendering into the totality of being.
How can we apply this to anxiety and feelings of fear you might ask?
Firstly, by starting your practice with the focus on your body, you will let go of the focus on your fearful thoughts. Instead, you will begin to feel the sensations in your body that are related to it. Through the practice of concentration on an object, e.g. the breath, your breathing slows down and your body starts to relax physiologically. This again affects how you are feeling. When your body is more relaxed, your mind relaxes too.
Secondly, the practice will ask you to explore your feelings with openness and non-judgment. From a deeper state of connectedness to yourself and the cosmos, you will be able to see the causality of your feelings and the attachments to them. This, in turn, will help you to release them.
Thirdly, as the body serves as a portal to deeper states of awareness, you will experience a sense of settlement and deeper connectedness that will help you resolve your states of fear and anxiety, as you are now experiencing an integration towards oneness of your being (rather than feeling disconnected aspects of yourself).
In general, Somatic Meditation, like other meditation approaches, helps you create some spaciousness around your feelings and sensations whilst supporting you to develop a sense of calm and surrender. Somatic Meditation in particular, will guide you to develop a foundation within your body that will act like a container to hold all of your experience. Somatic Meditation will therefore encourage and endorse deep centeredness, calm and presence with all that is.
Ray, R. (2016). The Awakening Body. Somatic Meditation for discovering our deepest life. Shambala.
Mischke-Reeds, M. (2015). Eight Keys to practicing Mindfulness. Practical strategies for emotional health and well-being. Norton.