As parents (and humans!), we are regularly presented with the value of understanding our emotions. Whether we are helping our children to navigate through big emotions or looking to better understand our own feelings, we have all experienced the discomfort of emotions we don’t understand or feel are out of our control. When we understand our emotions and how they are communicated through our body, we are able to move through and with our emotions with greater ease.
Somato-emotional awareness is a form of self-awareness, specifically of the connection between your body and your emotions. There are several forms of this awareness, including:
- Self-awareness, or awareness of our thoughts, actions, and emotions, or the awareness of how others can perceive us.
- Introspection is our ability to examine our thoughts and emotions.
- Interoception is our ability to make sense of internal sensations.
All of these forms are very important, and they come together in somato-emotional awareness. This is a very important concept I explore in great detail in my yoga trainings and as part of my Craniosacral practice.
What is somato-emotional awareness?
While emotions are a temporary state, they are very real to the person experiencing them and are a large part of what enables us to learn and grow from experiences. This is a very important tool for all to develop and should ideally be nurtured at a young age, however, it’s not something most of us are taught―in fact very few of us ever are. In my work as a somatic parenting coach, I come across many adults who are not aware of these subtle sensations, which leads to a large disconnect within ourselves. Sometimes we purposely disconnect to avoid uncomfortable feelings or if we have experienced trauma that we are not yet ready to move through. Some are also born with neurological conditions that make it harder to develop this skill. Despite these difficulties, though, it can still be learned.
8 benefits of somato-emotional awareness
- We gain a deeper understanding our emotions, which enables us to process and move through them before they become ingrained in our nervous system, fascia, and tissues.
- We gain the ability to give voice to our emotions, preventing them from becoming bottled up and causing damage.
- We gain the confidence to articulate how we feel in a healthy and appropriate way.
- We gain healthier and happier relationships.
- We develop empathy, or the ability to try to understand another’s perspective.
- We gain greater intuition, or an awareness of subtleties in and around us.
- We gain emotional resilience.
- We release physical or chronic concerns.
How can we nurture somato-emotional awareness?
Nurturing our somato-emotional wellness is incredibly important in supporting our holistic health, our connection to the Inner-Child, in personal healing, and in offering tools to our children for their own healthy development. If we can learn these tools, especially when we do so as children, we are much better equipped to overcome a variety of traumas and concerns.
Here are three simple tools that help us to nurture this awareness:
Self check-ins: While I often recommend a long meditation to start the day, it is even more important to have a few self check-ins throughout the day. Even taking just 3-5 minutes several times a day to notice your breathing and recognize other sensations within your body can be very helpful in helping us to be more clear-headed, objective, and to move through emotions or those of others we may have picked up.
Body mapping: This is a favorite tool of mine and something I stumbled upon as a child. When I was younger I didn’t do it visually, but rather I began to consciously notice where I was feeling strong emotions in my body. For example, I often felt anxiety in my chest. I then noticed that when I did backbends (or wheel in yoga), I felt so much release. Fifteen years later when taking my Yoga Teacher Training, I learned that heart opening poses, such as backbends, are great for anxiety release. So this skill is about noticing what emotions you feel where―and it will be different for everybody.
Another amazing part of this tool is understanding which emotions are yours and which ones you may have picked up from others. To try body mapping visually, draw an outline of a person and color in the different emotions on the body in different colors. (This is a great tool for all ages!) If you can then identify a few ways that help you release the emotion, it becomes that much more powerful.
Expressing emotions: This is an especially important tool when working with children or those who have been through difficult experiences and may feel disconnected from their bodies. Learning how to articulate our internal world brings so much clarity to ourselves, to others, and releases the power the emotion feels like it has on us. Teaching children words for emotions and offering them the opportunity to express how they feel without judgment is a subtle but empowering technique to help them strengthen their emotional awareness. From here, you can encourage them to explore ways to release the emotion, such as the ones listed below. For children or adults who aren’t verbal, art and movement can be a great way to express ourselves.
Somatic tools to help move through emotions
Here are some somatic tools to help move through emotions when you experience or notice them. By moving through the emotion instead of bottling it up, we prevent build up in our nervous system and viscera, or organs. The next time you or your child are experiencing an overwhelming emotion, try employing one of these tools to see if it helps restore a sense of balance.
- Sound, such as music or sound baths, can be a great tool for those who are not verbal.
- Movement is also a helpful tool for nonverbal expression.
- Sharing or journaling the emotions.
- Art and creative activities
- Meditation or mindfulness practice