Somatic Tracking (Exercise, Video & Benefits)

Somatic tracking, where we learn to view uncomfortable symptoms and sensations without fear and judgement, is an effective strategy to rewire our brain, calm our nervous system and switch off the signal that causes the unpleasant symptoms and emotions that accompany them to help provide relief in the long term. Below is a step by step guide of how to perform somatic tracking, a video demonstration of a somatic tracking exercise and a full list of the benefits.

Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only. I’m not a qualified practitioner and I’m not encouraging anyone else to do somatic tracking. Please consult a qualified practitioner if you have any concerns regarding your health and before making any changes to your current diet or treatment plan. This post contains affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to your I will earn commission if you click on a link and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclaimer here.

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What Is Somatic Tracking?

When struggling with chronic symptoms and conditions, like headaches, dizziness, pain and nausea, our sympathetic stress response is typically overactive (1). We often respond to uncomfortable symptoms and sensations with negative thoughts and feel fearful, anxious and try to make them go away. 

However, doing this sends a signal to our brain that we’re in danger, further heightening the stress response and strengthening the neural pathways which cause the symptoms, thoughts and feelings (2). It’s possible to rewire our brain and send messages to it to that we’re not in danger with both top down exercises, addressing our thoughts, where we interrupt and replace our negative thoughts with positive alternatives, such as “I’m never going to recover” with “My body has the ability to heal” and bottom up exercises, addressing physical bodily sensations and symptoms (3). Somatic tracking is one bottom up strategy for doing this. 

Somatic tracking involves the following 3 components (4):-

  • Paying attention to the physical sensations in our body without reacting to them with panic, fear, worry, judgement or attempting to change or ease them.
  • Safety reappraisal – telling yourself and sending messages to the brain that these sensations are safe and not doing us any harm.
  • Positive affect induction – anything that helps lighten the mood and make it easier to observe the sensations without judgement. This can be achieved in numerous ways, such as paying attention to a comfortable sensation in body, nice things in our external surroundings or using visualisations and imagery.

Somatic Tracking Benefits

These 3 components train our brain to not view these sensations as a threat and respond with fear. When implemented regularly, sending our brain messages that our body is safe, rewires our brain by switching off our fight and flight stress response and the signal that causes the unpleasant sensations and emotions associated with them, like fear, anxiety and frustration.

It’s an effective nervous system reset tool, as switching off our fight and flight stress response helps calm our nervous system, body and mind and bring us back into a parasympathetic state, which we need to be in for our body to heal, rest, detoxify the body from harmful toxins, absorb nutrients from our food, regenerate and become stronger (5, 6). Rewiring our brain, calming our nervous system and being in a parasympathetic state has been shown to help provide relief from uncomfortable sensations and emotions in the long term (5, 6) and benefits our physical, mental and emotional health in numerous ways as it’s associated with:-

  • Improved energy, digestion, sleep, mood and concentration,
  • More rational and logical thinking,
  • Reduced fatigue, pain, anxiety stress and muscle tension,
  • Reduced heart and breathing rates and lower blood pressure.

These benefits are maximised when combined with other holistic strategies like:-

  • Breath retraining to optimise our breathing mechanics and switch to nasal breathing,

Tips To Maximise The Benefit

1). Activate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system before starting

When experiencing uncomfortable symptoms and sensations and our body is stuck in a sympathetic stress response the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which helps regulate our emotions and allow us to think clearly, is switched off. Activating the vagus nerve calms the whole body and mind and switches activity in pre frontal cortex back on, which allows us to think more clearly and rationally and attend to any symptoms and sensations mindfully, without feeling anxious and fearful. This can be achieved by performing slow deep breathing, with our exhale double the length of our inhale, using our peripheral vision or performing the Half Salamander or Basic Exercise.

Related Post: How To Activate Parasympathetic Nervous System (14 Ways)

2). Finish by focussing on resources that make us feel good

Somatic resourcing – switching our attention to a part of our body that feels relaxed, performing a gesture or movement, something in our external environment or a happy memory or place (real life or imaginary) that makes us feel good – helps bring the nervous system back into balance after attending to the uncomfortable symptoms and sensations by switching off the sympathetic stress response and instead activating the parasympathetic rest and digest nervous system. The more of our 5 senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – we can engage the more effective this will be.

Related Post: Somatic Resourcing (5 Steps To Create Resources)

3). Use alternatives if symptoms are too severe to attend to them mindfully

When symptoms and sensations are too severe or you feel overwhelmed performing somatic tracking, it’s recommended to avoid somatic tracking and instead use alternatives to help provide relief (4). Alternatives include nervous system reset exercises, vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system activation exercises, like stimulating these vagus nerve acupressure points, performing the thymus tap and talking to yourself with compassion, interrupting and replacing negative thoughts with positive alternatives.

Related Post: Nervous System Reset (10 Ways To Calm The Nervous System)

How To Perform Somatic Tracking

  • Somatic tracking can be performed in any position (laying down, sitting, standing or while walking on the go) with your eyes open or closed where possible.
  • First, take a few slow deep breaths, making your exhale longer than your inhale, while looking with your eyes to the left and right with your head kept facing forwards. Doing this activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the state we need to be in to be able to observe any sensations mindfully without judgement or feeling anxious.
  • Then, perform a full body scan from head to toes noticing any sensations you feel – tension, pain, warmth, cold, tingling, dizziness, nausea, pulsing etc.
  • Pay attention to any sensations like you’re watching the tv, watching a firework display or watching clouds float by in the sky, just as a curious observer, without panic, fear, worry, judgement or attempting to change or ease them.
  • As you do this, become curious about the sensations and explore them more thoroughly, describing them in as much detail as possible as if you’re trying to inform someone else about them:-
    • Where exactly are the sensations located? Are the sensations localised to a specific area or widespread. If it’s widespread, where does it spread to?
    • What is the characteristic of the sensation – for example, is it aching, throbbing, tingling, stabbing, warm, tightness, burning, increased pressure, pulsing, swirling etc.?
    • How strong are they? Are the sensations minor or more intense?
    • Are the sensations constantly there or do they come and go or vary in intensity?
  • As you do this remind yourself that these sensations are safe, that they’re not causing you any harm and are safe to be experienced.
  • As you pay attention to the sensations do you notice any changes?
    • Do they intensify and worsen or do they ease?
    • Does the location of them change?
    • Do they become more localised or more widespread?
    • Does the quality of them change?
  • Again observe any changes with curiosity – without fear, judgement or trying to alter them – just like you’re watching the stars and moon in the sky. 
  • To finish, reorientate yourself to your environment, 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 rain falling or the breeze outside, the feeling of your legs resting against the chair or your feet on the ground. 

Video Demonstration

Below is a video for a somatic tracking exercise you can follow, which implements all the above tips and instructions.

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For more somatic exercises and other health and wellness and chronic illness management tips follow me on social media – I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & YouTube. If you try somatic tracking I would love to know how you found it. Leave me a message below or contact me on social media.

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2 thoughts on “Somatic Tracking (Exercise, Video & Benefits)”

  • Another excellent and helpful post, Lucy. I hadn’t heard of somatic tracking before.
    I think it’s essential to learn to recognise our feelings because they have a huge impact on our health. Once we recognise them, we can try to change them. I love your tips for this.

    • Thank you very much Elizabeth, I really appreciate your comment and support. I’m so pleased you found the post helpful. Our feelings really do have such a massive impact on how we feel physically. Changing how we approach uncomfortable symptoms and emotions takes time but it’s so beneficial. Take care.

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