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Juniper Journal

Exploring the benefits: How somatic exercises can aid in weight loss

Plus, other benefits of somatic movement and exercises to try.

Exploring the benefits: How somatic exercises can aid in weight loss
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For some people, exercising isn't just about the physical benefits. It's about their mental well-being, how it makes them feel, how it helps them deal with the stressors of everyday life — and it's precisely that balance between body and mind that somatic movement centres itself on.

But exactly what is somatic movement? And can it help you achieve your weight and fat loss goals? Let's find out.

What is somatic exercise?

The dictionary defines 'somatic' as "of or relating to the human body as distinct from the mind" [1].

The concept of somatics isn't new — in fact, it was first introduced in the 1970s by Thomas Hanna, Ph. D., a philosopher, somatic educator, and author of the book Bodies in Revolt: A Primer in Somatic Thinking [2].

But as of late, 'somatic' has become a bit of a buzzword in the world of wellness — and while internet trends are not always to be trusted, this one might be.

Applied to fitness, 'somatic exercise' refers to a type of movement that is slow, mindful and body-oriented, focusing on the mind-body connection and aiming to increase body awareness. It focuses on the internal experience of the movement (rather than its end result) to help you better understand your physical sensations and what your body is trying to tell you.

What are the types of somatic exercises?

There are several types of somatic exercises and techniques you can try, including:

  • Body scans. Body scanning helps you pinpoint areas of discomfort in your body, simply by lying down or sitting comfortably and mentally scanning your body from head to toe to identify any areas of tension. Once you do, focus on that area for a few moments, breathing in and out until you find relief and relaxation, and continue the scanning process.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR is the process of tensing a muscle group for 5 seconds and then releasing it, as a way to promote relaxation.
  • Yoga and Pilates. There are many different styles of yoga (including somatic yoga) and most emphasize the mind-body connection, combining body movement with relaxation and breathwork — and so do certain types of Pilates.
  • Martial arts. Many types of martial arts require a high level of mindfulness and body awareness, particularly Aikido, Tai Chi and Qigong.
  • Dancing. Yes, something as simple as dancing can be somatic. Dance and movement therapy (DMT) specifically is a type of somatic therapy that dates back to 1940, and it is based on the idea that movement is our first language, which we can use to better understand our emotions [3].
  • Walking. Walking can be a type of somatic exercise when paired with meditation and mindfulness.

What are the benefits of somatic exercise?

Somatic movement can be great for your body and mind. Some of its benefits include:

Better mind-body connection

We've mentioned this 'body-mind connection' a couple of times before and that's because somatic exercise gives you a deeper understanding and awareness of how your emotions impact your physical well-being (and vice-versa).

This enhanced awareness can lead to powerful therapeutic benefits, helping to address deep trauma and emotional issues.

In fact, a small 2017 study found that somatic experiencing (a type of somatic therapy) could be an effective therapy tool for PTSD [4], and other research suggests that Laban movement analysis (another somatic technique) can help us emotionally adapt to challenging situations [5].

Stress relief

Somatic movement involves slow and gentle movement patterns that don't really get your heart rate pumping, but rather help you relax tight muscles and let go of tension. Plus, mindfulness, which has been proven to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety and depression,  is a big part of somatics [6].

As it helps reduce stress, somatic exercise can also improve your sleeping habits — in fact, somatic therapy can be used for treating insomnia [7].

Pain relief

Somatic exercise is helpful for relieving pain because as you practise it, you pay special attention to your bodily sensations, particularly if any areas of discomfort or injury need addressing.

While there isn't a lot of research around the pain relief benefits of somatic movement, the small studies that have been conducted are promising.

For example, in 2014, researchers found a 10-minute body scan to have immediate benefits for people experiencing chronic pain [8], while another study from 2013 found that PMR may help reduce symptoms of neck pain [9].

Better flexibility and balance

A lot of the somatic exercises we listed before help improve your physical well-being in many ways. For example:

  • Combining slow movements with deep breathing can help stimulate your blood flow and warm up your muscles for better mobility
  • Yoga has been shown to improve balance [10]
  • Martial arts increase flexibility and coordination
  • Pilates helps with flexibility and balance, while also improving core strength [11]

Somatic exercises for weight loss: Do they work?

Although by itself, somatic movement will likely not result in weight loss, it can be a great addition to your usual fitness routine, because of all the benefits we listed above.

The truth is that losing weight is a mental game just as much as it is physical.

In order to maintain a healthy weight, you need to create healthier habits that you can stick to. Psychology is what underpins these long-term changes, which is why taking care of your mental well-being is just as important as eating a healthy diet or working out regularly.

Plus, by reducing stress, improving your sleep and helping your mental health, somatic exercise can help keep your cortisol levels under control, preventing you from overeating as a coping mechanism (what's referred to as emotional eating) and gaining weight.

And of course, all the physical benefits of somatic movement — less pain, better flexibility and coordination, more strength — are only going to enhance your usual workouts, indirectly contributing to weight loss.

If you want to start losing weight but are not quite sure how, Juniper's Weight Reset Program might be just what you need.

As a part of this program, you get access to a team of weight loss professionals, including health coaches, who can help you understand the role somatic movement can play in your weight loss journey and what else you need to do to reach your goals.

Taking a holistic approach to weight loss, Juniper's Weight Reset Program provides you with all the tools you need to become your healthiest, most confident self.

Do somatic exercises help with belly fat?

Somatic movement can indirectly help you reduce stomach fat, mainly thanks to its stress-relieving benefits.

Ongoing or chronic stress can lead to cortisol-induced weight gain, which usually shows in the stomach area. The excess cortisol tells your body to store more fat, often leading to what's called a 'hormonal belly.'

Somatic exercises can help prevent and minimise this by keeping your cortisol levels in check.

But again, these exercises are only one part of the equation and there are other habits you should adopt in order to lose belly fat (and keep it off), like eating a high-protein and reducing your alcohol intake.

Image credit: Getty Images

For some people, exercising isn't just about the physical benefits. It's about their mental well-being, how it makes them feel, how it helps them deal with the stressors of everyday life — and it's precisely that balance between body and mind that somatic movement centres itself on.

But exactly what is somatic movement? And can it help you achieve your weight and fat loss goals? Let's find out.

What is somatic exercise?

The dictionary defines 'somatic' as "of or relating to the human body as distinct from the mind" [1].

The concept of somatics isn't new — in fact, it was first introduced in the 1970s by Thomas Hanna, Ph. D., a philosopher, somatic educator, and author of the book Bodies in Revolt: A Primer in Somatic Thinking [2].

But as of late, 'somatic' has become a bit of a buzzword in the world of wellness — and while internet trends are not always to be trusted, this one might be.

Applied to fitness, 'somatic exercise' refers to a type of movement that is slow, mindful and body-oriented, focusing on the mind-body connection and aiming to increase body awareness. It focuses on the internal experience of the movement (rather than its end result) to help you better understand your physical sensations and what your body is trying to tell you.

What are the types of somatic exercises?

There are several types of somatic exercises and techniques you can try, including:

  • Body scans. Body scanning helps you pinpoint areas of discomfort in your body, simply by lying down or sitting comfortably and mentally scanning your body from head to toe to identify any areas of tension. Once you do, focus on that area for a few moments, breathing in and out until you find relief and relaxation, and continue the scanning process.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR is the process of tensing a muscle group for 5 seconds and then releasing it, as a way to promote relaxation.
  • Yoga and Pilates. There are many different styles of yoga (including somatic yoga) and most emphasize the mind-body connection, combining body movement with relaxation and breathwork — and so do certain types of Pilates.
  • Martial arts. Many types of martial arts require a high level of mindfulness and body awareness, particularly Aikido, Tai Chi and Qigong.
  • Dancing. Yes, something as simple as dancing can be somatic. Dance and movement therapy (DMT) specifically is a type of somatic therapy that dates back to 1940, and it is based on the idea that movement is our first language, which we can use to better understand our emotions [3].
  • Walking. Walking can be a type of somatic exercise when paired with meditation and mindfulness.

What are the benefits of somatic exercise?

Somatic movement can be great for your body and mind. Some of its benefits include:

Better mind-body connection

We've mentioned this 'body-mind connection' a couple of times before and that's because somatic exercise gives you a deeper understanding and awareness of how your emotions impact your physical well-being (and vice-versa).

This enhanced awareness can lead to powerful therapeutic benefits, helping to address deep trauma and emotional issues.

In fact, a small 2017 study found that somatic experiencing (a type of somatic therapy) could be an effective therapy tool for PTSD [4], and other research suggests that Laban movement analysis (another somatic technique) can help us emotionally adapt to challenging situations [5].

Stress relief

Somatic movement involves slow and gentle movement patterns that don't really get your heart rate pumping, but rather help you relax tight muscles and let go of tension. Plus, mindfulness, which has been proven to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety and depression,  is a big part of somatics [6].

As it helps reduce stress, somatic exercise can also improve your sleeping habits — in fact, somatic therapy can be used for treating insomnia [7].

Pain relief

Somatic exercise is helpful for relieving pain because as you practise it, you pay special attention to your bodily sensations, particularly if any areas of discomfort or injury need addressing.

While there isn't a lot of research around the pain relief benefits of somatic movement, the small studies that have been conducted are promising.

For example, in 2014, researchers found a 10-minute body scan to have immediate benefits for people experiencing chronic pain [8], while another study from 2013 found that PMR may help reduce symptoms of neck pain [9].

Better flexibility and balance

A lot of the somatic exercises we listed before help improve your physical well-being in many ways. For example:

  • Combining slow movements with deep breathing can help stimulate your blood flow and warm up your muscles for better mobility
  • Yoga has been shown to improve balance [10]
  • Martial arts increase flexibility and coordination
  • Pilates helps with flexibility and balance, while also improving core strength [11]

Somatic exercises for weight loss: Do they work?

Although by itself, somatic movement will likely not result in weight loss, it can be a great addition to your usual fitness routine, because of all the benefits we listed above.

The truth is that losing weight is a mental game just as much as it is physical.

In order to maintain a healthy weight, you need to create healthier habits that you can stick to. Psychology is what underpins these long-term changes, which is why taking care of your mental well-being is just as important as eating a healthy diet or working out regularly.

Plus, by reducing stress, improving your sleep and helping your mental health, somatic exercise can help keep your cortisol levels under control, preventing you from overeating as a coping mechanism (what's referred to as emotional eating) and gaining weight.

And of course, all the physical benefits of somatic movement — less pain, better flexibility and coordination, more strength — are only going to enhance your usual workouts, indirectly contributing to weight loss.

If you want to start losing weight but are not quite sure how, Juniper's Weight Reset Program might be just what you need.

As a part of this program, you get access to a team of weight loss professionals, including health coaches, who can help you understand the role somatic movement can play in your weight loss journey and what else you need to do to reach your goals.

Taking a holistic approach to weight loss, Juniper's Weight Reset Program provides you with all the tools you need to become your healthiest, most confident self.

Do somatic exercises help with belly fat?

Somatic movement can indirectly help you reduce stomach fat, mainly thanks to its stress-relieving benefits.

Ongoing or chronic stress can lead to cortisol-induced weight gain, which usually shows in the stomach area. The excess cortisol tells your body to store more fat, often leading to what's called a 'hormonal belly.'

Somatic exercises can help prevent and minimise this by keeping your cortisol levels in check.

But again, these exercises are only one part of the equation and there are other habits you should adopt in order to lose belly fat (and keep it off), like eating a high-protein and reducing your alcohol intake.

Image credit: Getty Images

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