Somatic exercises are different from your typical HIIT or weight-lifting workouts. They’re slow. They’re intentional. They focus on the mind-body connection, allowing you to better understand where you hold certain tensions and emotions within your body. 

You might be wondering how slow movements can help with weight loss and overall health, but we’ll break it down for you — from the benefits to exercises you can do at home. 

Somatic exercise and being present in the moment

Somatic exercise requires that you focus on your inner experience as you go through the movements and expand your internal awareness. Some popular and common forms of somatic exercise include yoga, pilates, dance, aikido, and tai chi.

To help us better explain the power of somatic exercises, we spoke with Allison Bradley, owner of and instructor at Sanctuary Wellness Studio in Flourtown, PA, where her mission is to bring mindfulness to movement.

“Moving our bodies isn’t always something we do with presence, and we don’t often think of movement as one of the most healing therapies we have access to. Somatic exercise is movement performed with presence, feeling into your body, and noticing the emotions and sensations brought on by moving,” Allison explains. 

Rather than focusing on reps and weights, somatic exercise draws your attention to the movements themselves, asking you to reflect on the internal sensations. 

“Movement performed with presence and a curious approach can feel freeing and liberating for most people but especially women,” says Allison. “When we tune into our breath, our inner self, our bodies, and how and where each movement is felt in our bodies, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for these homes of ours.”

Any movement is good movement

Somatic exercises allow us to break free of the societal mold that tells us exercise has to be intense or difficult for it to count. The media tells us we should be panting, exhausted, or burnt out by the end of our workout. Somatic exercise is different. It asks us to focus on the experience rather than the amount of sweat at the end.

“Somatic exercise gives us the opportunity to explore, play, and get curious without the pressure and sole focus of an end result,” Allison says. 

For women, in particular, somatic exercise can call us back to our bodies and strengthen the relationships between our minds and our movements.  

“With cultural conditioning and societal pressures to look a certain way or fit a certain size, we, as women, often have a deep fracture between our bodies and our awareness and connection to them. When we learn to value our bodies and our relationship to them, we form a new relationship with them, one that helps to restore a more positive and intimate connection with our bodies, making us more aware of the signals we receive on a daily basis of what our bodies need from us. In turn, this leads to more physical movement, eating more of what your body needs, listening in when you need more rest, and so on. Practicing somatic movement doesn’t just improve your physical health, but also your mental and emotional health as well,” explains Allison. 

Can somatic exercises help with weight loss? 

The simple answer is, yes! Any movement, if it increases our heart rate and strengthens our muscles, can prompt our bodies to burn calories and in turn, lose body fat if that is the goal. 

Additionally, somatic movements can be a more sustainable form of exercise. 

“Moving in alignment with the body results in fewer injuries and recovery time, making it something you can do each day as opposed to a high-intensity or high-impact exercise. In the long run, this makes weight loss more sustainable and more of a lifestyle,” says Allison.

The practice of moving with intention, focusing on your body’s response and reaction, makes each move more efficient. 

Doing somatic exercises at home

As we mentioned before, some popular forms of somatic exercise include pilates and yoga. These are exercises you can do from home or just about anywhere where you have a mat and space. 

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Even simpler than those two options, you can incorporate somatic movement and practice into your daily routine through stretching and focused breathing. 

“Slow stretching with attention to your breath — slowing down the breath and breathing into the diaphragm — is ideal before bed or when you first wake up. Another great way to incorporate somatic movement into your daily routine is taking a walk outside and taking the time to really notice your breath, become aware of each step and where you feel it in your legs and feet, and notice your posture and the sway of your shoulders. Once you are fully aware of your body and breath, notice how you’re feeling and what emotions come up in the body. Enjoy the presence and peace this practice can bring,” Allison shares. 

If you are a beginner and want to incorporate pilates and yoga or maybe even tai chi into your workout routine, start by consulting a professional. They will help you perfect movements and really utilize your breath and body the right way. 

Somatic exercise is for everyone

This type of movement is almost a respite from daily life. It gives you the skills and focus to disengage from the hectic world around you and turn inward, focusing on you, your body, and your inner self. 

Somatic exercise can be accessed and practiced by anyone wanting to focus on their mind-body connection, and it can begin with simple breathing practices in the morning and advance to pilates courses at your local studio.

Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.