Somatic Awareness

In his book Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine discusses how we react to trauma and how it impacts our bodies. He offers the example of a polar bear being chased by a predator (a human being). As the polar bear’s fight-or-flight system kicks in, its body is flooded with energy and adrenaline, and the animal attempts to escape. In the book’s example, the bear is overcome by the predator, brought down by a tranquilizing dart gun. What is observed is that even after the polar bear has lost consciousness, its body continues to move as if it’s running. Additionally, the polar bear shakes once the drug has worn off, much like a dog does when it rises or wants to shake something off. This is the body’s natural, innate processes working off the excess energy and adrenalin to bring it back to its balanced starting place.

You too have within you this natural, healthy, protective system to deal with traumatic events. Unlike the polar bear, however, this process is often interrupted or shut down. This could be by some outside influence (such as a parent, our friends, or cultural or societal pressures) or it could be internal to you. Perhaps you’ve never been shown or taught how to handle the more difficult or traumatic events of life, including, in many cases, your emotions. When these emotions are not fully processed and do not find resolution, they get stuck. They can then show up in our lives in the form of destructive behavioral patterns, or as physical ailments from the long-term stress.

Somatic awareness and mindfulness, usually combined with other modalities, helps to increase awareness of how you express yourself through your body and to release those unfinished processes that are possibly harming your body and mind.