Simple Somatic Experiencing exercises

My starter toolkit for settling your nervous system

Richard McLean
4 min readMay 18


I’m doing the Somatic Experiencing (SE) professional training — an intensive part-time training over three years.

What is SE?

SE is a body-based approach to resolve symptoms of stress, shock, and trauma. One of the things I appreciate about SE practice is its simplicity.
Small things can have a big impact.

When we’re under stress, the instinctive reaction of our nervous system is to move us to ‘fight or flight’. And afterwards it’s not always easy to calm down and come out of those response patterns.

SE focuses on restoring self-regulation by working with with our biological/physiological responses to stress. In doing so, SE helps people to restore their sense of vitality, relaxation, and wholeness.

Tools for all of us

I’m only just starting out on this journey, but I’m building my SE toolkit. From my training, I’ve picked up a number of simple exercises that don’t require any special skills or training. And whilst they’re helpful for people suffering from the effects of trauma, they can also help anyone — they are practical and deceptively simple exercises, which you can use time and again in moments of stress or anxiety.

Anyone can do these exercises.

You can practice these exercise on your own, whenever you’re feeling stressed, anxious or unsettled. They are tools you can use every day to help you settle, ground and self-regulate.

The only thing they take is a couple of minutes of your time.

[I don’t claim any credit for these exercises. I didn’t come up with them or anything. I’m just keen to share them with people — the more people can use such tools, in their personal and professional lives, the better.]

Sit comfortably

Sit comfortably on a chair.

Notice your overall experience. What is it like to be you right now?

Breathe normally.

Feel your feet on the floor. Move your feet on the floor. Slowly wiggle your toes. Slowly shift your weight from one foot to the other and feel your connection with the floor.

Feel your bottom on the chair. Feel your back against the chair. Sense into where you meet the chair. Find a place of comfort and connection. Allow the chair to support you. Take a moment to feel supported by the chair, stablised by the floor.

Look around

Look around you. Move your head. Pay attention to your surroundings.

What colours do you see?

Name six or more colours you can find where you are. It’s OK to name the same colour more than once if you see it in more than one place. Take it slowly, don’t rush — there’s no prize for getting to six quickly! Pay attention, notice different shades

Look all around you for colours — to your left and to you right, in front of you and behind you, look up and look down, look at things that are near to and far away from you.

Find something pleasant

Let your eyes go where they want to go, allow them to see what they want to see.

Find something in your surrondings that is particularly pleasant for you. It could be a colour, a shape, a shadow, or an object. Allow your eyes to settle on it. If appropriate, touch it, smell it. Be curious — what is that attracts you to it? Is it the texture, some other quality? Does it have a particular association for you or hold a memory?

Stay with it and savour that pleasantness.

Hold yourself

Whilst seated, cross your right arm over your chest and place your right hand under your left arm, tucking it in to your left arm pit. Then cross your left arm over and place your left hand over the upper part of your right arm; you are giving yourself a hug.

Pay attention to your body.

Let yourself settle into the position; allow yourself to feel supported by it. Allow yourself to feel contained in the natural container that is your own body.

Hold yourself with kindness.

Watch and see if anything shifts with your breathing, sensations in yor body, and how you feel in your space. If it feels ok for you, sit like this for a while — you can hold yourself like this for a couple of minutes, maybe ten minutes, or as long as you need.

Peter Levine Demonstrating the Self-Holding Exercise by Heidi Hanson

A containing hand

[HT Kavi, who taught me this one.]

Whether standing or seated, place your hand on your chest.

Feel the warmth of your hand.

With your hand, gently push your body slightly back, and hold your hand there.

[It can be as simple as that.]



Richard McLean

Chief of staff @ElsevierConnect (Academic & Government group). Mainly writing about getting from A to B, teams, & digital product stuff. Personal account.