Somatic Catharsis Introduction
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
What if we moved into pain instead of running away from it? What if we opened up to discomfort instead of contracting in its presence? What if we loved suffering instead of fearing it and avoiding it? What if the way to be free from suffering is actually to dive into it? This is an introduction to the Somatic Catharsis Practice.
Our body has an organic, integrating and releasing, healing response built into our physiology. What if you could unwind from a stressful day without any substance (like alcohol, cannabis or tobacco) or distraction? What if you could heal emotional and/or physical trauma on your own? What if you could rebuild your nervous system to become resilient to stress rather than overwhelmed by it? All this is possible by harnessing your body’s inner healing capacity—also known as the internal tremor response.
Imagine a cheetah chasing a gazelle. The gazelle is running for its life. Its body is pumping with adrenaline and fear because if it does not escape its predator—it will die. It’s a life or death scenario. If the gazelle escapes to safety and does not get caught and eaten, what does it do? It finds a safe place to let its guard down and begins shaking. It shakes to discharge all the tension and stress held in its body. As it releases all the tension, switching its nervous system off from fight, flight, or freeze mode, it can continue its life unhindered by the emotional stress from almost being eaten and dying. The gazelle has released its trauma—somatically—from its nervous system.
The key here is that it is a somatic release—meaning the trauma and stress has been released from the body’s nervous system. Trauma and stress are held in the nervous system and facia (connective tissue connecting all the organs, muscles and bones together) as tension. This trauma can lock the nervous system in a fight, flight or freeze mode and perpetuates a constant stress response. Rage, anxiety, overactivity, despair, shame, depression, or just chronic stress, are all examples of emotions we feel when our nervous system is locked into a fight, flight or freeze response. These chaotic emotions can cause the natural energy flow of our energy body to get bogged down or blocked. Over time, this obstructed or stagnant energy flow in the body can accumulate and produce toxins and even disease.
Any kind of traumatic event or stress wants to naturally release itself. Our nervous system naturally wants to stay in balance and then return to equilibrium when it is out of balance. Shaking is a powerful way of discharging tension stored in the nervous system and allowing our bodymind to return to a state of homeostasis. Michael T. Greenwood, author of The Unbroken Field calls it myoclonic shaking. My good friend and teacher Pyasa of the Shake Awake practice calls it the internal tremor response.
The nervous system naturally wants to discharge tension and return to balance. When it is unable too, then it tends to keep replaying the same traumatic event over and over again in the mind in an effort to complete itself. Our nervous system naturally wants to return to a baseline state of tranquility by completing the resolution to whatever the stressful situation is. For example, if vocalizing something was blocked, then yelling, speaking, or movement with the throat may arise during a cathartic release. The point to take home here is that whatever emotional or psychological distress is stored in the nervous system, it is felt in the body as tension or pain. Shaking releases that tension from the physical body and with Presence it can release from our energy and emotional bodies as well.
There are many therapies already being practiced that work with the body’s organic tremor response for healing. Somatic Experiencing is a great therapy. TRE is another technique for somatically releasing trauma. I have not studied any of these therapies formally, rather, I was taught by a very different teacher. The psilocybin mushroom. Experiencing severe depression and health issues in my early twenties, I began to experience spontaneous emotional and physical releasing and healing during my mushroom trips. I would begin shaking, stretching, moving my body in strange ways, crying, shouting, speaking glossolalia, and even having profound visions. They were emotional and physical catharsis—cleaning old psychological junk out—that made room for a more profound integration—allowing new healthier psychological material in.
So my approach is slightly different than other approaches but it still gets to the same core thing—activate the internal tremor response for the body to return to health and homeostasis.
Crucial ingredients necessary for this practice:
1—Intention: Having an intention is always important because it helps guide your experience and also empowers your active participation in your own healing. It is totally up to you and the wisdom of you Heart, but some examples could be: “I release blocks to my highest potential” or “I heal my sexual trauma” or “Perfect health and happiness.”
2—Awareness/Presence: Being aware of your thoughts, feelings and your sensations is crucial. Being aware of how you are feeling, what is moving inside you as you release, and where you attention is focused. Am I resisting? Am I afraid? Am I disconnected? Being present with the sensations and allowing them to self liberate is key.
3—Breathe!: Perhaps one of the most important life tools we have. No matter what, we keep breathing. As pain arises, we breathe through the pain. As pleasure arises, we breathe through pleasure. As tension arises, we breathe through that. As distraction arises we breathe through that. As boredom arises, we breathe through that. We just keep breathing. Allow the breath to be organic as its rhythm ebbs and flows with the releasing of energy in the practice.
4—Movement: One of the things that makes this practice unique from other therapies is that it is somatic, and that means it’s body centered and the body needs to move to release the tension. So move into and with the pain or pleasure or whatever sensation is arising. Move into it and become the feeling with your body. Shout, shake, stretch, move, do whatever the body naturally wants to do to release the pent up energy (peacefully with yourself of course, don’t go find someone to pick a fight with). Its about moment to moment Presence-Movement Awareness.
Now some basic steps or guidelines to the practice. Remember, these steps can just serve to provide the structure to help open the door to your inner movement healer. These steps are to help trigger your organic tremor response and allow your bodymind to relax into trusting your bodies wisdom. This is ultimately an organic process.
When I do this for myself, sometimes I only need a few minutes. But usually my sessions last from 20-30 minutes, sometimes up to 40 minutes if its a really intense and a long releasing/integration process. Discover what happens for you.
1—Intention: Set an intention for you healing session to help guide your experience.
2—Breath Presence: Focus your awareness on your breath and ride your breath with your awareness. Breathe into sensation. Breathe into pain. Allow the pain to unpack itself. Breathe into pleasure. Allow the pleasure to unpack itself. Breathe through all feelings. No matter what, remember to keep breathing. Your breath is your guide.
3—Presencing or Feeling-Awareness: Feel your sensations. Feel any tension, pain, pleasure, angst, desire, etc. in your body and move into the feeling. Where is it located? What color is it? What texture does it have? What does it look like? If you are feeling pain, then you move into pain. If you are feeling fear, then you move into fear. If you are feeling love, then you move into love. If you are feeling pleasure then you move into pleasure. The point is that you move into the feeling in your body. Move into the feeling and become the feeling in your body. Feel it. Embody it. Be it. As you become the feeling through Presence, then the feeling, the tension can begin to move. And once it begins to move, it will naturally want to release and complete itself.
NOTE: A note here. I would often get tripped up when I was trying to be present with my sensations or feelings by just looking at them or feeling them from a subtle distance. I am here feeling my sensations or feelings over there and this would usually only make me feel worse because I would just feel amplified pain or tension without freedom. Actually letting go of my fear and becoming my pain, loving my pain, embracing my pain without fear, paradoxically allows my pain to self liberate and release. I actually have to meet my pain with love and acceptance and will, rather than fear and distance for it to paradoxically transform. Wanting the pain to go away will tend to keep it around because you are perpetuating resistance.
Its important to remember that your body naturally wants to heal itself and return to balance, allow your body to be your guide. This practice is about tuning into the wisdom of your body and learning how to selfheal. We all can do it because we all have a body, so allow your body to become your teacher.
If you enjoyed this and want to explore more, please visit the Integral Shamanism Tribe.
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