If you are on a journey into your body and emotions with somatic healing work then you may find yourself wondering what to expect or if the responses you are having to the practices are normal.
Let’s dive into this, exploring what to expect, what to watch out for and how you can decode the language of your body to get the most out of your somatic journey.
Somatic practices and nervous system regulation work are often the missing piece of the puzzle in many peoples healing journey.
Often you’ve "done the cognitive stuff" - talk therapy, reading all the self-help books, intellectualising and making sense of things. You’ve journaled, saved all the somatic practices reels on instragram, talked it out with friends and mulled over things in your mind.
Maybe you understand why you’re anxious, stuck, overwhelmed and irritable.
Maybe you “get” why your body is in a cycle of tension, pain, reactivity, bloating & brain fog, tight hips & jaw tension.
Yet despite all that ‘knowing’ you’ve felt stuck. At an impasse with your healing.
And so, you found somatic therapies and embodiment practices and you’ve realised this might just be the thing you needed all along.
Now you might be either a little cautious about what to expect from somatic work or maybe you’ve begun the work and you’re wondering if the experiences you are having are normal - and what to do about it if they aren’t.
Let’s explore some common responses to somatic practices, nervous system regulation tools & emotional/trauma processing interventions:
The Explaination/ Considerations
A very high percentage of people who go through my somatic programs will report an increased level of understanding and compassion for themselves and their nervous system responses. This can feel unusual or unfamiliar somtimes! But this is a great thing and a cornerstone in somatic work. Lean in to it and allow yourself to feel into the compassion and self-directed feeling of kindness.
Crying is a sign of emotional release and processing in somatic work. Even though you may have found that you are in a pattern of wanting to shut your tears down when you cry; it’s actually a very positive sign of release and helps the body to release stress hormones.
If the crying becomes ‘hysterical’ or you feel dysregulated with it and out of control; this is a sign you have left your window of tolerance. You’ll probably need to press pause on the somatic practice you are doing and do something that helps regulate you to calm - that might be another somatic practice even; like butterfly taps or picturing a safe place. Or perhaps you get up and go for a grounding walk, make a cup of tea, come back to your breath and redirect your focus.
If you notice you cry during all somatic work and it is to the point of being triggering or dysregulating then you need to slow down - you need to build up your ‘resources’ first - the tools that help you to feel calm, safe and grounded. Once you feel really solid in these you can go back into the more emotional processing work. Some people spend months (even years) in the resourcing phase of trauma work before they begin the processing work - so please don’t be hard on yourself.
Remember that if your tears feel safe, like a release and like you are not totally outside of your window of tolerance then you can welcome the tears as a beautiful sign that your body and nervous system is processing and releasing stuck emotions.
It is common to experience dreams and even nightmares with emotional processing work. While asleep your mind dreams in order to process information and file things away into memory storage. Dreams are a part of the emotional processing part of sleep known as REM sleep (although actually you can dream in the other stages of sleep but reasearch shows more dreaming in REM sleep and you are also more likely to remember dreams from REM sleep as you are closer to waking state). Nightmares can also be a reflection of your waking nervous system state. So if you are under stress or doing a lot of emotional processing work then this may show up in your dreams. Dreams work as a memory filing system and group newer memeories in with older ones - this explains why our dreams can hold a random mix of present day events and old historical images. It may be that the somatic work you are doing is bringing up a lot of emotions to be processed and therefore you are noticing more dreams. If the dreams or nightmares are too distressing or disrupting your sleep for mutliple days in a row this might be a sign that you need to slow down your somatic work - you may be trying to process too much, too fast. It can be helpful to ease nightmares by continuing to work on helping your nervous system to feel safe in the day - practice more somatic resourcing tools (rather than the emotional processing ones for a bit). It is also useful to 're'script' the dream as a visualisation practice while you are awake. Play out how you would like the dream to go differnetly. Lean into any parts of the dream you liked, take on a role of control and power as you re-play the dream going differently.
Emotional releases are normal - Our bodies hold a lot of stagnant and stuck emotion and trauma. Our muscles brace and tighten when under stress of going through trauma and you may carry chronic tightness and tension in many muscles in the body that persist unconciously long after the stress or trauma has passed. As you work into these areas and release tension you will also release these old emotions. If this becomes overwhelming or you feel outside of your window of tolerance/dysregulated then you can slow down, pause or stop the practice. You might practice less often or retun to the practices that allow you to feel resourced and safe.
Rarely, but occasionally, people experience headaches with some of the exercies. Sometimes this is due to increased blood flow. Skip these exercises or do them for a shorted amount of time/less repetitions. Seek medical advice if you have a persisant headache.
Many people experience an increased awareness of their bodies, responses and emotions. This is a good thing! You are retraining your ability to be in connection with your body. If this turns to hypervigilance return to a mindful based approach; non-judgement and curiosity is key in somatic work.
It's common to feel happier, lighter and more hopeful. These are all great signs of emotions and trauma being processed and/or your nervous system experiencing more safety and regulation.
Laughing can be a sign of emotional release!
This can occur when muscles start to wake up and release after being in a state of tension/contraction. Often we don't even realise how much tension muscles are holding on to and if they have been stuck in this state for a long time the nervous system can be confused as to whether to keep them tight and constricted or to let them relax and release. Because of these mixed signals the muslces can twitch and this should be only short-term and a sign you are sending new messages to your nervous system.
Some people experience a feeling of nausea or dizziness, and I notice this can happen with the polyvagal exercises/vagal stimulation exercises. This can happen when your vestibular system is affected. Your vestibular system is linked to balance and movement and spatial orientation so you can coordinate your movements while keeping your balance. These new movements in somatic practices can release reflexive, stuck muscle tension. You might find you are moving in new ways. This changes your vestibular systems 'status quo' and so it might feel a bit overwhelemd by the new sensory information it is recieving. You can skip these exercises or do them for shorter periods of time/ fewer repititions to see if this alleviates the nausea. If the nausea continues then leave this practice out and try others. You might come back and try it again another time. If the feeling is in the polyvagal eye movements then try to move your eyes to a lesser extent.
Sometimes due to freeze/dorsal vagal responses that you may have been in for a long time, you don't feel overly aware of or connected to your body. To protect you, your nervous system has shut down or dissociated. If you struggle to connect to areas of your body this might be why. This is normal and in time and with practice you will learn how to do this. Focus on creating a sense of safety and gentle movements to connect with sensations, your breath and the experience of physical movement. Allow yourself to go slowly and intentionally - you might rest your hands on the areas you are working with or apply gentle pressure and take note of that. You can also use a warm wheat bag to bring your awarenss to the sensation of temperature. As you continue to pracitce you will find it easier to connect to your body and sensation and you will re-train and re-wire your proprioception and interoception (your bodies awarenss of its position and your bodies perception of internal sensations)
You might notice a sense of calm and relaxation come over you. This is a sign the practice is shifting you into your parasymapthetic nervous system - rest, digest, restore and safety. It's uself to pay attention to exercises that give you the highest 'pay off' - like a feeling of deep relaxation or presence, as these are obviously a great match for you.
In some of our somatic practices we purposfully induce shaking. You may feel your body gently shake in other somatic practices too. Shaking is the bodies natural resourcing response to allow stress to be expelled from the body and emotions to be processed. This is a good thing. If the shaking feels like it is out of your control, feels scary or feels 'trancey' then stop the practice and move about, have a drink of water and ground yourself again. You can try again but if you notice any signs of dysregulation (panic, anxiety, feeling out of your window of tolerance) then leave these practices and try something else.
You may feel a stretch in some of the yin style somatic practices. With yin yoga you want to generally go to your 'first edge', or when you begin to feel a stretch. But you don't want to move into your full range/deepest stretch and you should never be in pain. Pain, numbness or pins and needles lets you know you need to back off. We stay in these yin poses for longer periods of time in order for our muscles to release so we can work with the fascia/connective tissue (which holds a lot of stuck emotions) - so you don't want to be at your full range to start. You want to feel comfortbale to be in a position for 2+ minutes. After 90 seconds or so you might feel your body soften into the pose and invite you to go a little deeper and that's okay.
Swallowing / more saliva
This is usally a sign of parasympathetic nervous system activation - rest, digest and restore - as digestion is controled by the PNS and vagus nerve. Your digestive system may be firing up and coming online again and so you produce more saliva.
We are going to explore 2 contradictory considerations here:
1. Feeling tired may be a sign that this is an effective practice for you - taking you into your parasympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. rest and relaxation mode. Sleep happens when we feel safe (ideally) and your body may be moving out of sympathetic and into ventral vagal - indicated by this tired feeling.
You can check in with this by asking yourself: How was I feeling before hand? If you were wired/anxious/in a sympathetic state beforehand then the tiredness may be an indication you've shifted that state and have come into a rest state; great news!
How do you feel an hour later? the next day? overall? If overall you notice you are feeling more regulated/more capacity etc then that's great (If however you're noticing you're really tired or emotional overall then it might be that you're doing too much/too fast)
Fatigue is common with somatic work and afterwards you can drink lots of water and not do anything too strenuous. But if the fatigue is impacting you then it might be a sign to slow down a little.
2. If we overstimulate the vagus nerve we can cause our heart rate to drop and the body feels tired, heavy, slow and shut down. This would be a sign that we have done too much.
This could happen if the somatic practices you are doing are too strong for you, or you are doing them too often or if you were already in a regulated or dorsal vagal state (freeze). If you are in a freeze or regulated state then some practices (like vagus nerve stimulation practices/polyvagal exercises) might calm your system too much - you might discover these are best left for times of stress (everyone is unique!)
If you are in a sympathetic (stress) state and you activate your vagus nerve its possible to dip below your window of tolerance into dorsal vagal (freeze/shutdown) - this might be what your body needs after holding high stress and tension and you might like to just ‘go with’ that tired feeling. But if you end up feeling stuck in freeze then do less/take a break from this particular practice so that you can come back into your window of tolerance.
Tummy gurgles/ rumbles
This is usally a sign of parasympathetic nervous system activation - rest, digest and restore - as digestion is controled by the PNS and vagus nerve. Your digestive system may be firing up and coming online again.
These responses are a sign that you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system and releasing emotions, stress and tension.
If yawning and sighing is happening often outside of doing somatic practices (you just find yourself yawning and sighing often as you go about your day) then this may actually be an indication that you are stressed and that you have a breathing imbalance. When we are over-breathing or breath-holding (both dysfunctional breathing patterns) throughout the day then we end up with less Co2 than we need. This can lead to a host of symptoms, two of which are yawning and sighing - the body trying to regulate itself.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that you are unsure about then it is recommended you speak with your doctor or a trauma informed/ somatic therapy trained practitioner. A good rule of thumb is to try to stay within your window of tolernece when doing somatic work. It's absolutely okay to cry, feel some anxiety and discomfort, and have big emotions surface (like anger, grief, sadness etc) - but you do't want to feel out of control and as though you are being totally derailed by these things to the point where you are dysreguated (panicking, sobbing uncontrollably, dissociated etc). If you do experience those things this is a clear sign you have not spent enough time building up your resources (the tools that help you feel safe and regulated) and that you need to slow down (and possibly do this work with a trained professional if you think it's too tricky going it alone - trauma work is very useful when done in relationship with a safe and trusted person).
Somatic practices really can be the most incredible and potent tools in your journey to a more calm, regulated and present version of you!
To begin your journey into somatic healing work, you can start with my program Soma & Soul
30 day programme to build a comprehensive & overflowing toolkit of somatic practices to:
- Regulate your nervous system
- Release stuck, stagnant and store emotions and trauma from the body
- Build compassion, connection & safety in your body
- Reduce anxiety, stress & overwhelm
- Improve mood & focus
Or dive into a full somatic library of courses and resources with my special Embodied Healing Bundle
An integrated bundle of 5 courses (includes Soma & Soul) and a toolbox of resources designed to guide you through an embodied exploration of nervous system regulation and emotional processing. This comprehensive collection includes expert-led courses on somatic practices, breathwork, mindfulness, grounding, and a deep dive into understanding the intricate pathways of the nervous system