Somatic Exercise for Trauma

When working with a client with trauma, the activities below may be explored to prepare the client for a somatic oriented experience when combined with deep breathing.

Find these activities in the book to explore this work further:
•  Guided imagery
•  Slow seated chair Vinyasa
•  Savasana (Sponge pose)
•  Restorative poses (legs on wall)
•  Hip Rotation Clock Face

Guided imagery is a right brain technique that engages the emotions, senses and imagination. Some people use the terms guided visualization and guided imagery interchangeably. The main point is that the exercise is guided. This means another person is speaking and suggesting images that are meant to engage all of the participant’s senses: typically feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling and sometimes taste. Another element is that there is a beginning, middle and end in the imagery. Guided imagery has been proven to have health benefits and create relaxation. In this next section, I will be describing a guided imagery sequence and moving warm-ups that I used in a multi-handicapped classroom. The activities below can be used for any client’s goal to achieve relaxation, a sense of safety, connection to self and to provide deep rest. Although I refer to children in the activity it applies to any age group. Below I describe using guided imagery with autistic young adults at a school yoga session.

This simple sequence with breathing and guided imagery had a huge impact. We used moving warm-ups of raising and lowering contralateral arms and legs movements in supine. Instructions were given to the group to inhale and exhale which helped the group to relax and cease making noises and rocking.

Here is an activity that was successfully used for this population in a classroom on Halloween after all the festivities in a class at a school. In the morning, all the kids and staff had dressed in costume, and each class had prepared a unique activity. We went around putting hands into mushy goo, throwing apples, playing smart board games and getting tattoos. There was a lot of sensory overload, screaming and stimulation. Everyone’s energy plummeted after this, and the day slowed to a snail’s pace. When it was time for yoga, we realized the DVD wouldn’t be available. I offered to teach the yoga class to all the students and the staff. Everyone was so exhausted. I decided to do relaxation instead of poses. I started my guided imagery exercise, which evolved into an embodied meditation. The kids really embraced the activity and became completely still. Within 15 minutes of the guided imagery, everyone had relaxed on his or her mat in supine. The result was that we couldn’t hear a peep, or any movement, just stillness in the room.

Depending on the group and their movement ability, I might start with moving warm-ups to relax the physical body and prepare for the imagery exercise.

Moving Warm-Ups
The Embodyoga principle of moving warm-ups is utilized here.
1.  Extend both arms overhead while in supine with an inhale.
2.  Exhale as you return the arms to the sides of the body.
3.  Repeat moving the arms several times with an inhale and exhale.
4.  Raise the arms and legs the right arm and right leg, left arm, left leg.
5.  Incorporate connecting the body from the fingertips to the toes.
6.  Imagine a ray of light passing from fingertips down to the toes and through the spine. Let the ray of light extend out of all the limbs.
7.  The blue light starts at the right fingers and travels all the way to the left toes. Stretch as you are imagining the light.
8.  Repeat this with the other side.

Guided Imagery: The Floating Raft
•  Invite the children to imagine they are floating on a raft.
•  Describe the color of the water, the gentle rocking movements, the sun on the face, the smells and the wind.
•  Use evocative and sensory rich language, words such as yielding, floating, and melting into the earth.
•  Suggest that they let the back of the body yield into the floor as they lie on their mat. Yielding is like a melting sensation; letting the weight of their body go.
•  Suggest they imagine the wind blowing against them as they travel in the raft.
•  Ask them to explore the beautiful scenery, such as green covered mountains and blue sky, and enjoy the gentle rocking of the raft as they float.
•  Suggest that the raft returns to the edge of the land and it is time to get out and start walking home.

Guided Imagery: The Steps
This is not an exact script, but a sequence with guidelines, and may work as a script for you. Make the words your own when instructing a group, but first read through to the end before using it.
•  Imagine walking through a field.
•  Suggest sensing all the flowers, colors, smells, the sun and feeling the grass.
•  See a staircase that goes up.
•  We are walking up 20 steps. Take an inhale on a step and an exhale on the next step until the 20 steps are finished.
•  Describe the scene with sounds and colors. For example, say: “At the top of the steps, listen to the waterfall. See lush green-covered mountains, trees with new green leaves of spring, and a flowing river below.”
•  Walk slowly down the concrete steps closer to the river and listen to the waterfall.
•  Walk down 20 steps with an inhale and exhale on each step.
•  Describe the scene at the bottom of the steps, the trees, landscape, smells, and colors. For example: “At the bottom of the steps the clear river flows and on it, a boat passes by. Palm trees, giant ferns and cows graze in the high grass in the distance. Sit on a bench to rest.”

Guided Imagery: Seeing an Old Friend
In this guided meditation we meet an old friend. It may be used with adults, adolescents and for children. It offers the experience of reconnecting to relationships that may have been interrupted due to trauma. We might feel the loss of a loved one due to relocation, illness, loss of a friendship or family member, divorce, violence, and death. The opportunity to have a positive experience with a loved one in a guided imagery is very soothing and can bring a joyful satisfaction to the client.
•  Imagine seeing an old friend sitting on a bench along the river.
•  Meet and greet your old friend.
•  Reach for your friend’s hand.
•  Join the friend at the bench and sit together.
•  Remind the group how good it feels to see an old friend.
•  Drop into the heart as you sit with your friend. Feel the feelings that come up.
•  Look lovingly into your friend’s eyes and face.
•  Ask a question or share your feelings with your friend.
•  Pause for a moment for your friend’s answer to reveal itself
•  Savor the quiet moment with your friend.
•  It is now time to say goodbye to your friend and start the journey home.
•  Get up from the bench, hug your friend goodbye, and walk away contentedly.
•  Emphasize we are just leaving “for now.”
•  Remind everyone that we can come back to visit this place again.

The Journey Home
When it is time to transition back to the classroom, here are some tips for ending the guided imagery:
•  Introduce an ending to the guided meditation: “Walk back to the field, find the raft, float back and get out.”
•  Invite everyone to slowly open their eyes and come back to the room.
•  Allow time for transition after such a deep meditative state. Plan for the meditation directions to close 5 minutes before the end of the session to allow for ample transition time, so that people don’t have to pop up, but can linger and enjoy the fruits of this restful experience.
•  Some participants may be sleeping and need gentle cues to wake up or you might want to let them rest and have planned ahead for that response.