Somatic experiencing pendulation and titration, where we switch our focus between positive comfortable sensations and resources and uncomfortable ones, helps reset our nervous system, release stress stored in the body and heal from trauma to help improve physical and mental health, bring the body back into balance and ease chronic symptoms.
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Jump To Section:-
- What is somatic experiencing?
- What is somatic pendulation and titration?
- Benefits of somatic therapy
- Somatic experiencing exercises
- Video demonstration
- Other somatic exercises
- Further reading
What is somatic experiencing?
Somatic experiencing is a therapy designed to help people heal from trauma and stress stored in the body. It was developed by Peter Levine after observing the differences between how animals in the wild and humans deal with stressful events and how humans are suffering from an increasing number of physical and mental health problems, compared to animals in the wild who suffer from few (1, 2).
When exposed to dangers and stressful events the sympathetic stress response of both humans and animals is activated to protect us. It causes a surge in adrenaline, speeds up our heart and breathing rate, increases muscle tension, redirects blood flow from our organs to our muscles and causes us to feel fear, anger and anxiety to allow us to take action and potentially run from danger (3).
If the sympathetic response is insufficient at allowing us to overcome the stress or threat and we feel we can’t escape it, then we move into parasympathetic shutdown. This causes our whole body and mind to shutdown to conserve energy and protect us from the impact of the stress or threat. It causes us to feel tired, heavy, frozen, unable to move or think clearly, have difficulty communicating and feel numb, depressed and disconnected from ourselves and the world around us (4).
Once the danger and stressful event has passed, we should move out of shut down, the sympathetic nervous system should switch off and our nervous system should return to a parasympathetic rest and digest state, which is optimal to heal, absorb nutrients from our food, allow us to think clearly and rationally, boost mood and allow us to feel safe and secure in our surroundings (5).
Wild animals release excess energy produced during stressful events, by shaking their body, trembling or taking deep breaths, for example. This allows them to successfully reset their nervous system, return to a parasympathetic state and return to functioning normally after without any negative consequences to their health (1, 2).
In contrast, humans avoid these behaviours, preventing the nervous system from completing its natural cycle (1, 2). This unresolved trauma gets stored in the body and dysregulates our nervous system by causing the sympathetic stress or parasympathetic shutdown response to remain active and become dominant, which is associated with numerous symptoms and conditions, such as (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12):-
- Muscle tension
- Pain and inflammation
- Impaired immune system
- More frequent infections
- Sleep problems
- Digestive issues
- Hormone imbalances
- Increased anxiety, stress and depression
Traditional methods of dealing with difficulties, like talk therapy and CBT, are top down approaches, involving talking about challenging circumstances and altering our thinking to change how we feel physically. However, tension and trauma are stored in the body and not the mind (1, 2). Somatic experiencing is a bottom up approach, focussing on the physical sensations in the body to change how we think, feel and behave. It allows previous unresolved trauma and stress to be completed to release the built up energy accumulated and the negative effect it has on the body to help bring the nervous system and body back into balance (1, 2).
What is somatic pendulation and titration?
Somatic experiencing consists of 3 components:-
Somatic resources are anything that makes us feel safe and secure and produce positive emotions like happiness and calmness, and positive sensations in the body, such as a softening and easing of muscle tension and slowing of our heart and breathing rate (1). Examples of resources include happy memories, loved ones, meaningful objects and a part of our body that feels relaxed. Focussing on these can help calm our whole body and mind to provide relief if feeling overwhelmed by uncomfortable symptoms, sensations and emotions during somatic experiencing exercises (1, 2). My Somatic Resourcing post details 5 steps to create a range of internal and external resources.
Related Post: Somatic Resourcing (5 Steps To Create Resources)
Titration involves being exposed to small amounts of stress and previous traumatic events and gradually increasing this exposure over time, while performing somatic tracking – mindfully paying attention to the physical sensations that occur in the body without fear, judgement or trying to alter or fix them. This progressively increases our tolerance and prevents our nervous system being overwhelmed by trying to process large and lengthy amounts of stress, uncomfortable symptoms and emotions and traumatic events in one go (1, 2).
Pendulation involves alternating back and forth between resourcing and titration, switching from focussing on an uncomfortable sensation or event and a more comfortable sensation and positive resource (1, 2).
Benefits of Somatic Therapy
Switching focus between comfortable and uncomfortable sensations regulates our nervous system by teaching it that it can experience uncomfortable symptoms and stressful events and then return to a calm and relaxed state (13).
Related Post: Nervous System Reset (10 Easy Ways)
2). Can help ease chronic symptoms
Somatic tracking – focussing on uncomfortable symptoms and emotions mindfully, without fear, frustration, judgement or trying to alter them – sends a message to our brain that we’re safe and these symptoms and emotions aren’t a threat or danger to us. This switches off the signal in the brain that causes them to provide long term relief (14).
Somatic experiencing also allows the body to fully express itself and complete the natural cycle to release tension and trauma stored in the body and the emotions that accompany them. It switches off the sympathetic stress response and activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the state our body needs to be in to heal, rest, absorb nutrients from our food, detoxify from chemicals and toxins and become stronger. It’s associated with reduced fatigue, pain, inflammation, dizziness and headaches and improved energy, digestion and sleep (15, 16).
Related Post: Somatic Tracking (Exercise, Video & Benefits)
3). Improved mental wellbeing
Activating our parasympathetic nervous system allows us to think more clearly and rationally, reduces levels of stress hormones and increases levels of happy hormones, like serotonin and endorphins, to boost our mood and ease anxiety and stress. The development of resources increases our awareness of things in life that make us feel good. Paying attention to these things each day can heighten feelings of love, safety and gratitude (15, 16).
4). Increased body awareness
Developing an awareness of physical sensations in the body allows you to continually identify problem areas that need to be addressed to ease further symptoms and heal more emotional wounds (15).
5). Heals trauma and emotional wounds
Somatic experiencing working with the physical sensations in the body, instead of using talking like traditional methods, means you don’t have to verbalise or relive previous difficulties to heal from them. This allows you to heal from past stresses and challenges you may not remember or have forgotten about (15, 16).
6). Helps deal with current and future stressors
It provides us with the tools to be better prepared and cope well with daily stresses and challenges and uncomfortable symptoms and emotions like anxiety, frustration and nervousness when they occur and calm our mind and body down to bring us back into the optimal parasympathetic state (15, 16).
Somatic experiencing exercises
Before any somatic experiencing exercise it’s recommended to ground yourself by bringing your attention to the contact between your feet and the ground and notice how the ground is supporting them and your body (1).
1). Pick out one object in your surroundings that makes you feel positive or calm, like a photograph, ornament or flowers, and describe it thoroughly, observing the colours, textures, shapes and smells. Then notice the effect it has on how your body feels on the inside – how it affects your breathing and heart rate, the feeling in your chest and stomach, muscle tension and overall calmness. For example, you may feel a settling of the stomach or your breathing slow.
2). Scan your whole body from head to toes and notice any sensations you feel – tension, pain, warmth, cold, tingling, dizziness, nausea, tightness, pulsing, for example, and any emotions you feel, like sadness, anxiety or frustration. Pay attention to any sensations and emotions like you’re watching the tv or watching clouds float by in the sky, just as a curious observer, without fear, frustration, judgement or attempting to change or ease them.
3). Bring your attention to the sensation that’s the strongest and stay focussed on this area for a while.
4). Continue switching your focus between the object and uncomfortable sensation in your body.
1). Scan your whole body from head to toes and notice any sensations and emotions you feel – for example, tightness, aching, throbbing, stress, anger or numbness. Pay attention to them like you’re watching a firework display, just simply observing them, without fear, frustration, judgement or attempting to alter or fix them. Bring your attention to the sensation that’s the strongest and stay focussed on this area for a while.
2). Then scan your body again and find an area that feels most relaxed. If struggling to find somewhere see how your fingers, toes or ears feel. Pay attention to the difference and stay focussed on this area for a while. Notice how focusing on this area affects how the rest of your body feels and the changes it produces. Observe how it affects your breathing and heart rate, muscle tension, the feeling in your chest and stomach and overall calmness. For example, you may feel a settling in your stomach, release and openness in your chest, your jaw loosen or your heart and breathing rate slow.
3). Keep switching between focussing on the strongest uncomfortable sensation and the part of your body that feels most relaxed.
At any point throughout these exercises you may experience a release in your body, such as yawning, swallowing, tingling, shaking, taking an involuntary deeper breath or letting out a sigh. These are all signs your nervous system is coming back into balance and releasing stress stored in the body.
To finish any somatic experiencing exercise, reorientate yourself to your environment:-
- Feel the pressure of your feet on the ground, and the contact between the chair and your legs and back, paying attention to how the ground and chair are supporting your feet and body.
- Lightly rub your hands together, then gently touch and squeeze body parts, like stroking and squeezing your arms or legs with your hands.
- Then, look around your environment, naming different objects and detailing at least 1 thing you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste that makes you feel good. For example, detail the smell of flowers, the colours and textures of their leaves, the sound of the breeze outside.
Notice one final time how your body feels internally and how your heart and breathing rate, the feeling in your stomach and chest and overall muscle tension and calmness is (1).
Below is an example somatic experiencing exercise I perform.
Other Somatic Exercises
- Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body – Peter Levine (UK Link/US Link)
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