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Somatic Practices For Healing Trauma This Holiday Season

Nov 30, 2022 ● By Janelle Knippen
A woman sitting with her eyes closed and her hands over her heart.


Eastern cultures and ancient healing practices have long recognized the energetic connection between the mind and body, and in recent years, Western society has been moving toward acceptance of the mind-body connection. Many researchers recognize the importance of healing trauma on a somatic, or physical, level. Current research within the fields of psychology and neurobiology acknowledges the impact psychological stress and trauma have on our bodies as far back as the moment we begin to develop in utero.

Psychiatrist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk defines trauma as exposure to an event that overwhelms the central nervous system. When individuals experience trauma, physiological survival mechanisms such as the fight-flight-or-freeze response are activated. Lingering effects of these traumatic responses can be stored in the body long after the experience is over and the danger has passed.

Based on a 1993 study on the long-term effects of trauma, the National Center for PTSD explains that trauma can “trigger a cascade of neuronal, hormonal, and immunologic effects that damage the body over time,” which may lead to chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and chronic pain. These effects can be passed down generationally as illustrated by neurobiologist Dr. Dan Siegel’s research on intergenerational trauma.

During times of stress, such as the holidays, when our fight-flight-or-freeze responses are activated, we need to be aware of how our bodies respond to both current stressors as well as triggers from past traumas. Once we become aware of our triggers and patterned responses, we can work on changing how we react from a more present and balanced state, emotionally and physically.

Psychologist Dr. Arielle Schwartz explains that because “trauma leaves wounds on the body, imprints in the psyche and markers on our DNA,” healing occurs when we “attend to the impact of traumatic events on the body.” A somatic approach to healing trauma includes techniques such as increasing body awareness, grounding and repatterning limiting movements.

Here are four somatic practices to add to a healing toolbox to help cope with stress and trauma this holiday season:


Befriend the Body

In a world where we are constantly being told that we are not enough, we rarely treat our bodies with the love they deserve. Befriend your body. Become aware of your sensations, physical cues and what your body is telling you. Listen without judgment, as though you are listening to a friend, then meet your needs with a sense of compassion. Self-care doesn’t have to look like a bubble bath. It can be as simple as placing a comforting hand over your heart when you feel upset and telling yourself it’s okay to cry.


Feel Free to Dance It Out

As children, we freely express ourselves through movement. As adults, we learn to sit still and hold in our impulses to move, which disconnects us from our bodies. Tune into your inner child. When you notice you are feeling activated and your body is responding physically to stress, move/dance/walk/shake it out. When feeling tense in a meeting or on a call, get up and shake out your legs. If feeling frustrated during traffic, dance to your favorite song. Excuse yourself to go for a walk or stretch in another room when feeling anxious at a family gathering.


Create a Physical Safety Net

Develop a ritual that can act as a physical safety net in stressful situations. For example, if you tend to feel anxious during parties, prepare ahead of time by choosing a specific movement to practice whenever you are feeling anxious. This may be making a fist and tensing on an inhale, then exhaling and letting go as a reminder to your nervous system that you are safe.


Seek Out Healing Touch

Scientific evidence indicates that physical touch has healing effects on the body due to an increase in feelgood chemicals such as endorphins and oxytocin. Healing touch can include self-touch, as well as physical connection with a pet. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of healing touch: engage in self-massage, pet your furry friend, hug your loved ones and seek out healing services such as reiki. You deserve it.

Trauma has many lasting effects, including a loss of the ability to feel safe in our own bodies, but there are many somatic practices that can counteract these effects. Physical practices and alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, dance and reiki can settle the nervous system and help convince the body that the trauma is no longer happening in the present moment. These healing modalities can help us reconnect with our bodies, reestablish a sense of safety and ultimately, reclaim our sense of self.

Janelle Knippen is a dance/movement therapist, yoga instructor and reiki practitioner. She offers somatic healing services at the Philosopher’s Stone Apothecary, 160 W. Campbell St., in Arlington Heights. For more information, call 224-735-2355 or visit