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Unearthing and Excavating Trauma: How Breathwork is an Embodied and Somatic Practice

May 2, 2022

blog post illustration

Unearthing and Excavating Trauma: How Breathwork is an Embodied and Somatic Practice

Because of breathwork’s inherent ability to help us drop into and observe our internal landscape, we are able to bring attention to the areas where trauma is being held.

May 2, 2022


photo of Kristen Grace

Kristen Grace


Our bodies absorb the traumas we experience, altering our energetic frequency. Misalignment of our energies from trauma can manifest in feelings such as fear and anxiety, inability to focus, perfectionism, chronic lack of energy, and other heavy feelings. Many studies have found that traumatic experiences settle in the body and exhibit physical symptoms such as headaches and digestive issues, as well.

Embodied, somatic practices allow us to discover how and where we are storing trauma in the body and learn to release it.

Understanding our Bodies from the Inside

We can understand our bodies from the inside and from the outside. We usually experience our being from the outside. For example, we notice where we place our feet in downward dog.

Understanding the body from the inside – a process known as interoception, or our brain’s perception of (and anticipated reaction to) bodily sensations – is a vital aspect of somatic practices. Thomas Hanna, philosopher and teacher, defined somatics as "the study of the self from the perspective of one’s lived experience, encompassing the dimensions of body, psyche, and spirit." Somatic practices bring awareness and consciousness to the parts of our being that are sometimes neglected.

The Relation Between Embodiment and Somatics

One of the symptoms of trauma, as Dr. Van der Kolk notes in his book The Body Keeps the Score, is disembodiment. As trauma survivors are in a near constant state of warning, their bodies learn to ignore innate, internal communication.

Breathwork is inherently an embodied experience. Embodiment is experienced when we are fully aware of the sensations in the body. Breathwork allows us to be the observer – noticing how our lungs expand and contract, the qualities of the air, how it feels in our bodies, breathing into tension in the body, feeling places that are physically tight. By encouraging embodiment, breathwork is a somatic practice. Somatic practices encourage embodiment, and embodiment deepens somatic experiences. The oxygen we consciously and continuously breathe in during an embodied somatic breathwork practice can unearth and excavate trauma stored in the body.

Releasing Trauma Induced Sensations with Breathwork

Dr. Van der Kolk points out that trauma is universal to the human experience. Although there are more intense traumas (abuse, natural disasters, etc.) there are also lesser recognized forms of trauma (rejection or emotional withdrawal, for example), and Dr. Van der Kolk believes that these more common traumas can be equally as calamitous to the human psych and body.

Because of breathwork’s inherent ability to help us drop into and observe our internal landscape, we are able to bring attention to the areas where trauma is being held. Then, we can send the breath to those areas, creating a deep release, while also activating the parasympathetic state of deep rest, digest, and relaxation.

Releasing trauma through breathwork may lead to a multitude of physical or emotional sensations during the session including tingling, shaking, crying, verbalizations and numbness, along with sadness or anger. After a breathwork session, though, many people notice a deep release (both physical and mental) which may be experienced as an overall lightness, clarity, happiness, or peace, among other blissful feelings.

updated on May 3, 2022

photo of Kristen Grace

Kristen Grace


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