How to relieve stress and anxiety with somatic movement


Feel in tune with your body (Picture: Jacopo Landi/Metro)

Movement is powerful.

Whether it’s walking, pilates or indoor bouldering, all types of movement are known to release endorphins, making us feel good and less stressed.

But not all movements are made to focus purely on how each and every muscle – including our brain – feels.

Somatic movement promises to do just that, while reducing stress and anxiety and helping us to feel more grounded.

What is somatic movement?

Somatic literally means ‘of the body’ – so somatic movement, which was developed at the end of the 19th century, is all about moving with an intention to stay focused on how your body feels.

As Vanessa Michielon, a movement specialist and founder of the Transformative Movement Method, puts it: ‘Somatic movement refers to a series of bodily practices that give attention and value to our internal experience and our sensations while we move, rather than our external appearance or a measurable result.’

In that respect, somatic movement is different to, say, ballet, which focuses more on how an audience will perceive the movement rather than the dancers themselves. 

The practice is all about functionality and focus. 

‘Somatic movement is all about bringing awareness to our breath, our internal sensations and the way movement travels through the body,’ Vanessa tells Metro.co.uk.

‘It can help us not only to reduce unnecessary muscular tension and pain and perform any physical action in our daily life more effortlessly and efficiently, but also feel more focused and inner connected, mitigating the symptoms of anxiety and stress.’

She adds that somatic movement also promotes motor wellbeing and helps to bring us out of our heads and ‘trust in the wisdom of our body again.’

Try this somatic movement sequence to relieve stress and anxiety

Inspired by Bartenieff Fundamentals – one of a number of somatic movement techniques – Vanessa created an ‘effortless’ sequence of somatic movement to help you to feel grounded and relaxed.  

‘Bartenieff Fundamentals focuses a lot on efficient movement functioning and on the intelligent use of our deep muscles, our core, and the use of our breath to increase the power and flow of movement,’ she says. 

All of the movements are done lying down, so Vanessa recommends practicing either on a mat or directly on the floor.

She adds: ‘The most important thing is to move slowly and with full, focused attention, so make sure you practice in a quiet space and keep asking yourself if you can relieve unnecessary tension from the body parts you are moving.’

Cross-connections

Good for: Connecting to your physical and psychological centre and finding a gentle core support. 

How to: Lay on your back, arms and legs apart like a big star fish. 

Feel the connection between your right arm and left leg, and left arm and right leg, mentally visualising two diagonal lines crossing at the centre of your body (your core). 

Fully relax (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

Slowly press your right arm and left leg on the floor, and allow your left arm and right leg to lengthen and float light one inch off the floor. 

Go slow (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

Then repeat on the other side, always slowly and sensing the two diagonal lines. 

Repeat (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

Repeat 5-10 times each side and relax, noticing how you are feeling once you return to stillness. 

Turning over

Good for: Stretching your whole body; creating more space in the joints; unlocking a stiff back and shoulders; and learning how to sequence movement slowly through all your body parts. 

How to: Lay on your back in the same starfish position, as relaxed as possible. 

Move your left fingertips across your chest using the minimum amount of effort, aiming for your right shoulder, then keep on pulling through your fingers to reach towards your right hand, slowly rolling over to your right side. 

Follow your fingertips (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

Allow your whole body to be carried by your fingers, keeping every muscle as relaxed as possible. 

Let your body control the movement (Picture: Jacopo Landi)
Feel the weight of your body (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

Once you have completed the movement, rest for a couple of breaths and roll back to the starting position, this time initiating from your left toes.

As you return back to your centre, allow your arms and head to roll as passive as possible, only dragged by the energy of the left leg.

Complete the same movement on the other side and repeat five times each side in total. 

As you practice, try not to break the connection in your lower back, so if you notice you are going into a deep backbend or your back feels uncomfortable, gently hug your ribs and hips towards each other. 

Also, always try to keep your head on the floor, so you can receive a nice massage and fully let go of muscular tension in your neck. 

Knee rocks into foetal position

Good for: Releasing tension in your hips, back and shoulders and feeling the three-dimensionality of your body, which can get lost if you only practice very linear styles of movement.

How to: Lay on your back, knees bent as wide as your hips, soles of your feet on the floor, arms open sideways in a wide V-shape. 

Focus on your breath (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

To begin with, let your knees rock and drop passively to one side allowing the rest of your body to react spontaneously, then return to centre and repeat on the other side. 

Do this a couple more times allowing your legs to truly relax as they drop. 

Allow yoir body to move spontaneously (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

Once you feel comfortable, continue to move into a soft foetal position: as your knees drop to your right side, allow your left arm to swipe above your head, fingers still touching the floor, until you are comfortably laying on your right side. 

Feel your head and tailbone, elbows and knees gently coming closer towards each other, with a sense of contraction towards the centre. 

Move slowly (Picture: Jacopo Landi)

To return to the starting position, allow your knees and feet to rock back to centre (try to keep your toes touching the floor at all times), and swipe your left arm above your head, shoulders finding an equal connection with the floor. 

Repeat to the other side, relaxing all your muscles and dropping the weight of your body as much as possible. 

If it helps, breathe in as you expand in your centre and breathe out as you close inwards on your side.

Repeat five to 10 times on each side and give yourself time to integrate your sensations once you come back to stillness. 

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