Somatic awareness is the acute attention to physiological sensations that alert us to impending discomfort, whether that be in our bodies, minds, or environment. It is a sensitivity to internal sensations that can be honed for heightened guidance in life, about when to take action, when to pause, who to surround ourselves with, etc.
Many who struggle with addictions have been steered away, in diﬀerent ways, from their own sensations and have developed patterns of thought that bypass these sensations, leading them into discomfort for the sake of another, or to prove themselves, or for any number of psychological reasons.
These mental tendencies, which could be considered process addictions, take hold quickly and run rampage in the lives of suﬀering addicts and alcoholics. It can be a painstaking process to slow the mental chatter, clear the mind, and find a freedom to choose one’s direction, regardless of past patterns and in-the-moment triggers.
Getting into the body and out of the mind can help with this process. We often see recovery programs of all kinds including exercise, nature adventures, yoga, tai chi, and other physical activities to help people get back into their bodies, restore their sense of presence and find power in physical strength and agility, so they may translate that positive energy into all areas of their lives.
And there are many other benefits of focusing on physical activities, not the least of which, being that anything that brings your attention into your body, will naturally lesson some attention on whatever negative focal point may be causing suﬀering. In this article we will
explore 5 positive activities for getting back into the body and out of the mind, along with some potential benefits of each activity.
Walking and Running
Both of these activities, especially when done in the healing surroundings of nature, help to balance brain chemistry, pump feel-good endorphins, and create a sort of soothing rhythmic breath and footstep. Whatever pace one chooses, the activity of walking or running has been shown to soothe the nervous system, energize the brain-body connection, and help positively direct stress-inducing adrenaline, that might build up, and cause problems in a stagnant body.
Yoga is a very eﬀective platform to practice somatic awareness that can be translated into one’s external environment. Through focus on breath, and the qualities of a pose that are desired, such as ease, relaxation, and steady release, one can get a feel for the ideal state of “easy does it” that is often talked about in 12 step programs.
Yoga has the power of both assisting in the release of toxins through muscle release, breath, and sometimes sweat, while simultaneously strengthening more esoteric principles of recovery life such as patience, acceptance, self-compassion, and the courage to let go while experiencing minor discomfort.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese tradition, originally created as a form a self-defense. It has evolved into a gentle flowing exercise of steady movements and stretches. This is a great one for those that need something low-impact, but equally stress-relieving.
As in yoga, there are varying styles of this practice. Each posture flows into the next without
pause, keeping the body in constant motion, without the stress or strain of some more
vigorous exercise practices. As gentle as it seems, it packs a powerful punch of benefits,
aﬀecting everything from stress levels, to flexibility and strength, and it can improve sleep as
The abundant positive take aways from team sports are felt all around the world, as the masses gather to witness feats of connection and timing that astound those who are watching. So what of the smaller scale collaborative sports for those in recovery: pick up basketball games, flag football in the back yard, volleyball at community events?
I’ll tell you what: A world of ultimate entry into the forces of health and recovery: You get the power of positive endorphins, positive brain chemistry, and improved social connection (through diﬀerent neural pathways than average conversation.) You also get improved concentration, and immediate results from that improved concentration, which ups the self-confidence. And there are many other physical benefits from the cardiovascular activity alone.
Along the same lines of miraculously healing activities, comes dance. Now, not everyone has easy access to comfortable dance environments. But you could dance in the shower, or if your feeling ambitious, at a local drum circle, or a fitness class. There are many opportunities to move to music or to your own beat if your rhythmically challenged, no matter.
The point is to free the body to move independently of self-criticism, resistance, and to feel into what movements feel good. With this intention of moving according to one’s own sense of well-being, one can practice the courage to let go of the external and find more confidence in one’s ability to move freely in the world.
Along with this comes a greater sense of self awareness and identity. This is all accomplished while reaping the benefits of aerobic activity and creative movement, with the positive endorphins and physical gains that come from this kind of strengthening activity.
Looking for where to start?
With so many ways to experience physical activity, it can be overwhelming to know where to start on this particular path towards deepening your recovery process. Here are a few suggestions for places to begin:
- Take a class at your local YMCA, usually it’s around $10 to drop in, you can find a class schedule online and there’s a wide variety of movement genres, sports, and all your heart could desire, plus a variety of regulars, first-timers, and diﬀerent levels of experience.
- Move along with a youtube video in your bedroom or living room, obviously this doesn’t work for team sports, though I imagine you could watch a lot of team sports in your bedroom and get a little tiny bit of benefit (but not quite the same as going out there and getting it.)
- Go for a walk- Easy. Breezy.
- Look at your local paper online, or the “events and happenings” page through the city, for music and dance events that you could go to with a friend, or boldly by yourself, if you feel safe in the environment.
- There are apps you can use to plug into hiking and sports groups as well. Meet Up, has many opportunities to join groups in various movement endeavors.
I hear of so many people in recovery, finding their niche of physical activity and feeling the freedom that this kind of attention to sensory awareness can provide. So whatever you do to move around, wherever you start, remember to just keep exploring, keep moving, keep swimming (or dancing or playing sports…) And remember the transformative power of motion.