What is Somatic Meditation?

interoception meditation somatic meditation Sep 16, 2022

The word somatic means embodied, or “relating to the body.” When we meditate in a somatic way, we pay attention to our body — not trying to change anything, or improve anything, but to observe and relax into whatever the felt experience of the body is that day. 

This approach to yin yoga and to meditation is extremely loving. It’s about accepting ourselves wherever we are, and however we feel. 

It’s hard. And beautiful. It changes us to be so soft and gentle. But paradoxically it doesn’t change us because of our interest in changing. It changes us because we let go of trying to be better.

We practice giving our mental attention to the body rather than to other people, other places, or other things. 

It’s simple to explain, and probably sounds pretty great, right? We’ve all heard that phrase “Listen to your body,” and we might even know how jittery and anxious we feel when we’re disconnected from ourselves.

But what happens when we try to listen to our body? Usually we get frustrated because our body hurts. Or our thoughts drive us crazy, and convince us that there are a million more important things to do. Or we fall asleep because we’re so exhausted.

If we try to meditate or practice yin yoga by ourselves in quiet, without a recording to listen to, most of us will give up a few minutes into it, and decide to do something more productive — like clean or answer emails.

If we meditate or do yin yoga using a different technique, like breath awareness or mantra, maybe using an app on our phone or just follow along with a teacher who talks the whole time, we might feel better for a few minutes, and feel like we had a little respite from the world, but rarely do we really tap into what the felt experience of the body is, in its entirety. 


The real work of somatic meditation is learning to stay with the body in quiet and relax everywhere. 

To explain a bit further, somatic meditation and a somatic approach to yin yoga is where we practice dropping all the thoughts (the good, the bad, the indifferent) and focus instead on feeling specific parts of the body.

We can focus on feeling just one part of the body at a time (as in the 5 Essentials, which you can learn more about here in my book), or focus on how the entire body feels at once.

Somatic meditation is about training our brain to focus on how our body feels. It’s a completely different and rather new skill for most of us. Rather than focusing on problem solving or conceptual understanding, which most of us are rather good at, somatic meditation asks us to let go of all those spinning thoughts, let go of obsessing over how our body looks, let go of thinking about politics, and stop worrying about how other people perceive us. 

Somatic meditation trains us in something called interoception, which is just a fancy word for feeling. Interoception means feeling things in your own body. When you feel hungry, you’re using your power of interoception. When you feel your hands are hot, or your jaw is tense, you’re using your power of interoception.

This is different from using our intellect, or our conceptual mind. When we use our intellect, we can wrap our minds around the idea of something, but it doesn’t automatically mean we do it.

For example, we may know that meditation would be good for us, but we still don’t do it. We understand it conceptually, but not experientially. 

The good news is that somatic meditation can be done anywhere, and by anyone, and it doesn’t take very long to learn. The 5 Essentials make it especially easy to learn, and more accessible than other styles of somatic meditation that don’t have such specific, and beginner-friendly steps.

There are no religious or moral beliefs that you have to agree with before starting a somatic meditation practice. I learned about somatic meditation from a western Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Reggie Ray, but what I found is that his instructions were very similar to some of the instructions I learned from my Indian Tantric meditation teacher Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati. There are also similar instructions found in the Mindfulness movement. 

All of this is to say that somatic meditation, in its essence, shows up in many different traditions, and is not reserved solely for people who believe in the Buddha, or the Goddesses, or the Benevolence of the Universe. 


You can be an atheist and practice somatic meditation.

You can also be a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, or a Hindu and practice somatic meditation without any conflict.

Physically speaking, there’s no “one right way” to meditate in this approach. You don’t have to sit in lotus position, or even sit upright at all. You don’t have to be flexible to practice somatic meditation. You don’t have to be happy or healthy.

You can meditate on your back, in your bed, or sitting in a chair. You can meditate on a cushion or sitting on a couple yoga blocks. 

You can meditate when you feel cranky, when you feel sick, when you’re doing really well financially and also when you’re struggling financially.

You can use the somatic meditation techniques you’ll learn here while you’re doing the dishes or before you fall asleep at night. 

It’s extremely practical and effective. 

If you're looking for some instruction about how to relax your tongue during meditation, check out my free guided meditations! There's a 10-minute "Relax the Tongue" practice in there that I think you'll love. 

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