6 Somatic Exercises for Kids

Somatic exercises are a natural and intuitive way to restore the body-mind connection and release tension and stress. By incorporating somatic movement into your child’s routine, you can empower them to regulate their emotions and nervous systems and reduce anxiety.

somatic exercises for kids

What Are Somatic Exercises?

Somatic means “of the body.” Somatic movement can refer to exercises that release pain or tension and support the connection between body and mind.

Using one or more somatic movement methods to teach kids to cope with stress-related body tension and anxiety can help them regulate and calm their minds and process their emotions. 

An intentional approach to helping your child process and release stress will help them navigate life with a healthy mindset, allowing their nervous system to let go of life’s difficulties.

Somatic exercises can be helpful for a child who has anxiety and works beautifully together with mindfulness exercises to reduce anxiety. Try modeling some of these somatic movements into your own life, and show your child when to do these movements themselves. 

Notice if your kiddo is showing stress after school or your teen is having social stress. Ask open-ended questions and show them how to release by doing some intuitive somatic exercises with them. 

Using somatic movement in different forms as needed during life’s ebb and flow is okay. Sometimes, they might be needed more frequently, and some life phases may require less. 

It is important to note that a child who has endured significant trauma may experience the release that happens during somatic exercises very intensely. In this case, I recommend using somatic movement in the advice and care of a child therapist.

Mindful Walking 

Using somatic movement to take a mindful walk with full body awareness is an exercise kids of most ages can do, but I find this simple exercise perfect for teens’ mindfulness practice. Instead of walking to achieve a fitness goal, the intent is to focus on how you are feeling. 

How to do it:

Mindful walking is as simple as walking out your front door and around your neighborhood, a path nearby, or a wooded area. Take time to notice your body and the nature around you. 

Take deep breaths, and think about how the air feels in your lungs. Let the air flow through to your limbs and fingertips. Notice your footsteps and the pace of your breath, and slow your mind as you soak in nature.

Somatic Breathing

Somatic breathwork can make a huge impact on calming the nervous system. There are several methods for doing somatic breathing exercises, such as deep breathing, paced breathing, and alternate nostril breathing.

Niraj Naik, the founder of SOMA Breath, says that when you practice deep breathing, you relax the body as the vagus nerve (the longest nerve in the nervous system) is stimulated. This helps lower blood pressure and reduce tension in the mind and body.

Another way to stimulate the vagus nerve is through paced breathing, according to Niak.  

“Paced breathing means you carefully control how long and deep you breathe in and out. By doing this, you can match your breathing rhythm with your body’s calm-down system, called the vagal tone, making it work better.”

How to do it:

To practice the somatic exercise of paced breathing, sit comfortably and be aware of your body while you bring attention to your breath. 

Bring your breathing steady, and try inhaling for 2-4 seconds and exhaling for 4-6 seconds. Find the length of breaths that is right for your child, making sure the exhale is longer than the inhale. 

Once you find the right combination for your kiddo, guide them to focus on a specific object, a soothing image or sound, or their breath to focus and be free from distractions.

Yoga for Somatic Movement

Somatic yoga differs slightly from restorative yoga, but both include focused breathing. Somatic yoga poses bring body awareness and movement aimed at releasing tension from muscles and joints, whereas restorative yoga focuses more on stillness. Yoga for somatic movement mostly uses sitting or supine positions. 

Yoga has many mental and emotional benefits for people of any age. It guides access to the deeper parts of one’s self. As our bodies and minds connect, somatic yoga poses can guide that process to release tension, stress, and negative energy.

How to do it: 

Find a comfortable area big enough for you and your child to practice these poses together. Do each pose for a couple of breaths and cycle through them until your child’s body and mind are more centered, calm, and aware. 

  1. Cat cow pose
  2. Constructive rest pose
  3. Child pose variation with head on arms
  4. Seated neck rolls
  5. Wind release pose

If your child is young and you want to introduce them to the idea of yoga, try this yoga for kids and parents to keep it accessible and simple!

Body Scanning

A body scan for somatic movement and awareness is the same as a body scan for mindfulness. This somatic exercise can help your child grow self-awareness, bring them back to the present moment, and support the mind-body connection. 

You can use this guided meditation script to lead your child through a body scan for kids or follow these basic steps. 

How to do it:

  1. First, find a comfortable spot, model deep breathing, and read at a measured pace with a calm voice. 
  2. Gently guide them to focus on their body and explain that they will scan and tune into how different areas of their body may feel.
  3. Guide them to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth and explain that any feeling is neither good nor bad; it just exists.
  4. Guide them to imagine a ball of soft, glowing light and send it down to their feet to begin the body scan.
  5. Start at their feet and work their way up to their calves, thighs, stomachs, arms, and so on, up to their head as they check in with each area of their body to assess the feeling. Do they feel tension, anxiety, nothing, calm?
  6. When ready,  guide them to open their eyes and slowly sit up. Tell them they have done very well on their body scan journey!

Butterfly Hug

A butterfly hug is a super easy somatic exercise tool that is gentle for kids and can be done literally anywhere. It helps to calm the nervous system in a super simple way. 

How to do it:

Cross your arms over your chest as if you’re hugging yourself. Similar to the photo of the little girl, each hand will be a little below the opposite shoulder. Then, with deep breaths, tap your hands simultaneously on your upper arms/shoulders. Any pace and pressure for tapping work, so guide your child to find what feels good.

Somatic Stretches

Somatic stretches involve intuitive movement to release body tension built up from stress. Sometimes, muscles get stuck in a state of stress. Somatic stretching is an easy way to process and change muscle memory. 

Unlike intentional stretching, this somatic exercise is more unintentional and natural. It’s similar to stretching when you stand after sitting for a long period. 

Below are some examples of somatic stretches to try. Remember that these don’t have to be done perfectly. Let your child make intuitive movements for their own body and nervous systems. 

How to do it:

Neck Release: Stand quietly with your feet rooted to the ground. Slowly hang your head to release tension in your neck and shoulders. Take deep breaths and rotate your head slowly from shoulder to shoulder. 

Seated Cat-Cow: In a seated position, expand your chest and arch your back. Then, contract on the next breath.

Seated Torso Circles: While sitting cross-legged, rest your hands on your knees and rotate your torso clockwise and then counterclockwise. It helps to do this in time with your breath. This can be a little bit challenging for kids. It helps to model it for them and let them feel the movement with their bodies as best as possible.

Find more ways to regulate your child’s nervous system here.

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