Somatic exercise coach shares 3 stretches to boost your mind-body connection and release tension

 A woman kneeling on a mat stretching her arms up in the air.
Credit: Getty Images

You may be most familiar with exercises that involve repeating the same movements over and over, like lifting the best adjustable dumbbells for multiple reps and sets to build strength and muscle, or taking stride after stride to perfect your running form and get faster.

However, amidst your usual workouts, how often do you slow down and truly connect with what your body is doing and how it feels? This is exactly what somatic exercise is all about, and it offers some impressive benefits.

Somatic practice focuses on developing full-body awareness, encompassing both physical and mental wellbeing. It involves moving your body in a way that prioritizes how it feels rather than how it looks or achieving a specific fitness goal.

This also means it is a super accessible form of movement for people to try out and probably something we could all do with incorporating into our fitness routine, similar to taking a slower, more purposeful mindful walk.

With that in mind, we spoke to a professionalsomatic movement coach Francesca Melluzzi, to understand more about somatic movement, the benefits of practicing it and how to try it out for yourself right now.

What is somatic exercise?

According to Melluzzi, "Somatic exercise involves mindful movements aimed at re-establishing the connection between the body and mind. It focuses on internal body sensations and aims to release chronic muscle tension and pain patterns stored in the body."

She tells us that regular practice of somatic exercise can help you to retrain your brain-body connection, helping to promote relaxation and improve physical well-being.

What are the benefits of somatic exercise?

Physical relief: "Somatic movement can help alleviate chronic muscular pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis," says Melluzzi. These gentle movements focus on releasing tension stored within the muscles, providing a natural and effective way to alleviate discomfort.

This is backed up by a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, which found that individuals with chronic pain who consistently practiced somatic movement for a year experienced an 86 percent decrease in the number of days they suffered from pain, compared to those who did not participate in somatic exercises.

Emotional and mental health support: Beyond physical benefits, somatic exercise can play a crucial role in supporting emotional and mental health. This style of movement works to help manage anxiety, stress, and depression by regulating emotions and balancing the nervous system.

a group of women stretching in an exercise class setting
a group of women stretching in an exercise class setting

Holistic healing: Melluzzi tells us that regular practice can enhance various parts of our physiological well-being including better digestion, promote hormonal balance, and improve sleep quality.

This is down to the fact that the gentle, mindful form of movement allows your nervous system to relax, easing any tensions and disturbances that can have a negative effect in these parts of our health.

Empowerment: "These exercises empower individuals to take an active role in their healing own process," notes Melluzi. The movememt enhances internal body awareness and promotes self-regulation, encouraging a deeper connection with oneself. That might sound a bit woo-woo to you, but don't knock it until you try it.

Who should try somatic exercise?

Somatic exercise is ideal for anyone. Whether you are looking to enhance your mind-body awareness, manage stress, or simply improve your overall mindfulness and wellbeing, we recommend giving it a try.

But Melluzzi tells us it is also particularly beneficial for individuals with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who experience sensory processing challenges and chronic pain. It also aids people in managing conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, or those recovering from injuries.

How to try somatic exercise

You don't need any equipment to give somatic exercise a try with Melluzi's three-move routine, just a bit of space where won't be disturbed as you lay on the floor. If you want to make things a bit more comfortable, you can roll out a yoga mat too, before starting on these three stretches:

  • Body scan: Lie on your back, sense your body's contact with the floor, and observe any areas of tension or discomfort.

  • Washrag: Lie on your back with knees bent, gently rotate your upper body and drop knees to one side, then slowly release.

  • Arch and flatten: Lie on your back, focus on your breath, gently arch your lower back by tilting your pelvis, hold briefly, and then release slowly.

More from Tom's Guide