Stack of pebbles on a beach

Somatic Interventions

Summer activities are in full swing! Some of us are busy this season going places, meeting friends and family, and participating outdoors doing all kinds of summer things. Many of us tend to be more active and seek fun by ways of doing things like swimming, hiking, playing sports, and going on adventures with spare time we may have earned in other parts of the year. We seek excitement this time of year! We put ourselves out there. We allow ourselves to have some physical challenges to gain some summertime fun. And yet we also seek some rest and relaxation, some peace and quiet, and some moments of calm rest. It seems like good summer plans include both activity and calm. For me, at least, both are needed to really feel refreshed.

A lot of times we come to counseling looking for the same kind of peace and calmness which we seek in other ways. We hope to find relief from things that trouble us. We come, and we talk. We listen. We like the activity of summer, therapists are convinced that the active involvement of the body is key to well-being. In these times we are practicing wellness and healing in a way that celebrates the unity of mind and body. Because of this, I want to share with you some ways to produce a calm mind by means of actively and intentionally using our bodies. These are called somatic interventions.

As I was training for trauma therapy, I was told by a presenter that trauma therapists should have at least 75 body-based interventions ready to be used in sessions. These include things from the world of physical exercise and fitness, the world of yoga and tai chi, from the world of martial arts and boxing, from drama, dance, sign language, and more. These somatic exercises can be combined and altered, all to treat the human body as the holder of both pain and healing. I would like to share a kind of “movement routine” with you. This is meant to be something that soothes our nervous system and eases our thinking in anxious moments. Here goes—

Sit or stand quietly, paying attention to your breathing, noticing your inhale and exhale. Gently shift to slower breathing where your diaphragm in your abdomen goes out as you inhale and then goes in as you slowly release your air. Take your dominant hand (right hand for most of us) and gently place your palm on the upper part of the opposite arm. Notice the feel of the palm on that part of the arm. Then, slowly begin to squeeze your arm and then release. If it feels comfortable, do this a few times and then slowly move this squeezing and releasing down your upper arm, around your elbow area, and then down your forearm as you slowly make your way down toward your wrist. Continue this very light, slow massage down across your wrist, and your upper hand. Massage both the top of the hand and the palm in this slow wave of squeezing and releasing. Massage the fingers and thumbs gently in the same way. What do you notice? What sensations are you having? If this feels good you can switch sides and repeat the same movement/massage routine. Or, you may wish to concentrate on the thumb and fingers of the same hand you started with. Holding the non-dominant hand out in front of you with your fingers raised with the palm away from you, gently take hold of the thumb. In very easy micromovements, massage your thumb while holding it in the palm of the other hand. Then, move to the index finger. Next, the middle finger, then continue moving slowly and gently to the last two fingers. How does this feel? There is a Japanese massage healing practice called Jin Shin. Jin Shin points out that each digit represents an emotion or a state of being. The thumb represents worry. (Think of children who have sucked their thumbs in finding solace!) Massaging the thumb may ease worries. The index finger represents another emotion—fear. We might point out things that we fear with this finger. Giving it positive and loving certain hand signs may make us laugh out loud! Still, massaging it may bring about a shift when we give it attention. The ring finger is an indicator of personal relationships. We may wish to massage the finger in gratitude or hopes about certain relationships. Finally, the little finger has something to say about our need for some summer time off away from our typical work-related routines. In Jin Shin, the little finger represents Trying too hard. As we massage it, we might wonder, “What am I working on a little too hard? What am I doing that deserves some rest and relaxation? What do I need to let go for just a little while?”

So there we are, back to summertime. We may use our activities to bring some peace and calm to our minds and bodies. We deserve to experience wholeness and healing—both in the mind and the body. So this summer, with its fun mix of recreation and rest, can be the time we find what we are truly wanting and needing!