What is Somatic Coaching? Let’s Learn Two Techniques

The body often knows things our brain is slower to process. Learn how to help coaching clients connect messages from body and mind to increase self efficacy.

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Somatic Coaching Techniques

The first question many people ask when they hear about somatic coaching is pretty straightforward: what does “somatic” mean, anyway? So let’s begin from the beginning! 

“Soma” comes from the Greek, and refers to the physical body, as distinguished from the mind or spirit.

When we are coaching from a somatic perspective, we’re particularly interested in and paying attention to whatever is going on in the body.

As coaches, why do we care about ‘Somatics’?

Whether your specialty is business coaching, fitness, relationships, or spirituality… we’re willing to be that you’re working with humans. And humans have emotions. 

As most of us know all too well from personal experience, emotions are experienced as real sensations in the body. For example:

  • If someone is about to give a speech, anxiety might lead to a tight chest, sweaty palms, and short, shallow breathing. 
  • When you have a crush on someone, excitement can produce fluttering in the stomach and heat in the cheeks. 

We tend to ignore our bodies' messages about emotions, which isn’t necessarily wise. Our body usually responds first, plugging in to what is going on before the brain does. For example - the classic “sinking feeling” in your stomach. That’s your body’s intuition telling you something is wrong, and that you need your brain to get to the root of it and figure out what to do.

We can also use the way that our body experiences somatic messages when there are no problems at all! 

Care for an example from the world of coaching?

Our somatic experience can be used in life coaching to enhance positive emotions from an embodied perspective. As coaches, we do this through specific applied positive interventions. An applied positive psychology intervention, or PPI, is an empirically based strategy or intervention that has been proven to increase well-being, and positive cognitions and emotions (Keyes, Fredrickson, & Park 2012).

Want to learn something really cool? 

Research has shown that individuals worldwide have similar physiological responses to core emotions. A team of scientists from Aalto University in Finland asked 701 participants where in their bodies they felt 14 different emotions (Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, & Hietanen, 2014). 

These researchers found that the same bodily regions were activated in response to each of the 14 emotions consistently across cultures. That is, the bodily sensation pattern for each emotion was the same across West European (Finnish and Swedish) and East Asian (Taiwanese) samples, all speaking their respective languages. 

Here’s a taste of what they mapped:

Body mapping of emotions

Images courtesy of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

These findings suggest that our emotional experience in the body is universal. 

Another interesting finding of this study was that unpleasant emotions characterized by low energy - like sadness and depression - showed decreased limb activity. This corresponds to the lack of motivation to function in daily life seen in people with depressive disorders. 

On the other end of the spectrum, happiness was felt throughout the system - it literally lights up our whole body.

How to incorporate somatics into a coaching session

The process of helping our life coaching clients get in touch with where and how different emotions show up inside their own bodies can increase both emotional awareness and emotional intelligence. And you don’t need an advanced degree or specialized skill set to introduce some basic body awareness into your practice. 

Somatic coaching is all about helping clients explore and draw connections to where they feel different emotions in their bodies. Let’s take a look at two simple somatic coaching techniques you can use in a variety of client settings.

Exercise: Visualization of Emotions

Step 1: Choose an emotion for this exercise. This could be one that you have been struggling with lately, or that you are experiencing right now. Examples of emotions include anger, anxiety, happiness, sadness, surprise, pride, and shame. 

Step 2: Color visualize. Connect to your selected emotion (Step 1). Notice what you feel in your body in relation to this emotion. For instance, do you notice any feelings or sensations in your stomach? Do you notice anything about your breathing? Do you notice any heat anywhere in the body?

  • As you do this, visualize a color in the areas that were activated (felt energized) by this emotion in your body.
  • Next see if you can identify and assign a different color to any areas that feel deactivated (felt low in energy) on the body. 
  • You might like to use warmer colors like reds and oranges to represent areas of emotion activation and cooler colors like blues and purples to represent areas of emotion deactivation. 
  • You might also like to allow your coloring style to reflect the intensity of the feeling or sensation. For instance, you might color a pit in your stomach as a dark, dense spot in the center of washed color across the stomach.

This type of awareness can help us to use our body to identify what might be going on for us below the surface, before our mind catches on that an emotion has set in and is impacting the way we experience life. 

Exercise: Savoring 

This one is an example of those applied positive psychology interventions (PPI’s) that we were talking about earlier. Savoring is all about sensory experience – physical, emotional, or social (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2009). Due to its emphasis on perception, savoring PPIs are very similar to mindfulness strategies, but they are not entirely alike.

Savoring can be enacted through everyday sensory experiences like eating, touching, smelling, or observing. The trick is to really drill down with focus on what we are consciously sensing in the moment that is satisfying.

The Raisin Meditation is a classic example of savoring, and is taught in many evidence-based programs, such as Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

Putting it all together

Emotional awareness and somatic interoceptive awareness are essential processes for human psychosomatic health. Now that was a mouthful, huh?

Psychosomatic awareness works by tapping into mind-body communication. By focusing on this connection, one works toward physical and emotional connection. It can then be possible to enhance the mind through the body and enhance the body by way of the mind.

All of this boils down to one simple fact: our minds and bodies may carry messages differently, but they carry the SAME messages.  

Gaining awareness of how our own body delivers messages can help us gain understanding and control over our lived experiences.  

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