Read time: 6 min.
Issue 08 * 20 January 2024

From Tension to Transformation: Discover the Power of Somatic Movement for Anxiety, Depression and Wellness

Pioneer of The Human Method, movement and wellness expert Nahid de Belgeonne shares solutions for regulating emotions due to mid-life anxiety, burnout, sleep deprivation, depression and chronic pain.

Bethan Cole

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Somatic Movement Coach

Nahid de Belgeonne’s book ‘Soothe: The Book Your Nervous System Has Been Waiting For’ compounds two decades of her experience treating an overload of emotions in mid-life and older women – anxiety relief, chronic pain relief, panic attack help, depression treatment, inflammation reduction, stress management and nervous system regulation. “I wrote the book as a guide to rewiring your brain through movement for better emotional health,” explains Nahid clearly. From 2006 to 2019 Nahid ran the Good Vibes studios in central London – teaching mindful yoga in a fitness setting – they also offered weight training and boxing. What she learned from this was that: “people would come into yoga, they would come in really stressed and they weren’t really relaxing.” Nahid describes all the problems listed above plus sleep issues, IBS, chronic stress and burnout.

The Body-Brain Connection – The Science Behind Somatic Movement, Feldenkrais and Breathwork

Nahid did research into the nervous system, the spinal cord and brain. “We once thought we were a brain with a body, we now know we’re a body with a brain,” she considers, “80% of communication comes from the body up. We think we developed the brain for thinking but actually, we developed it for movement when we were hunter-gatherers.”

How Does Somatic Movement Work?

“The issues I deal with are chronic states,” relates Nahid, “stress, anxiety, burnout, sleep issues and stomach issues. The sideline is physical issues and mobility issues.” Her book and her work focus on slow, small, considered movements which shift the focus of the brain. “If you are always anxious you are training your brain to be anxious. When you are focussed on something new, the brain then focuses on these new and novel movements.” She describes someone always hunching their shoulders up around their ears who needs to let go of the contraction – the beginning of that process is anxiety or stress in the brain and the end of the process is the muscle. “We need to rewire the brain through movement,” she says. Muscular tension tells us ‘I am in an alarmed state, I’m under attack.’ Tense muscle contraction also has an effect on organs and blood flow. “Movement is something quite profound,” continues Nahid. “Movement is feeding new info into the nervous system and interrupting anxiety. The brain gets interested in it and disrupts the habit.”

Nahd de Belgeonne’s Practical Somatic Movement Coach Tips to Alleviate Anxiety, Depression, Chronic Pain, Sleep Problems and Stress

1. The first things that I do with clients are to get them to breathe lower down - not their lungs; to feel the parts of their body that move with the breath; to locate themselves in space (feet on floor, back against the wall etc) and to locate themselves in time -acknowledging that every inhale and exhale takes you out of stories of the past and worries of the future - it signals that you are right here, right now.
To break out of habitual patterns, you need to interrupt the process.

2. Please breathe in and out through the nose.

3. Anxiety Relief
Put your feet on the floor, and on your exhale press your feet into the floor gradually, on the inhale release the additional pressure of your feet on the floor, and keep repeating it until your feelings of anxiety have reduced.

4. Chronic Pain Relief
Lie on the ground and tune into how lying down releases muscular effort in your back. Bend your knees and stand into/on your feet whilst still lying. On your inhale slowly roll your pubic bones away from your last rib so that your lower back lengthens towards the floor. On your exhale roll your pubic bones slowly back in the direction of your feet so that your back gently lifts. You are rolling your pelvis like a rolling pin on the floor. You are looking to roll in each direction for the duration of each breath. Go slowly, be curious about the movement and after a few iterations, pause. Lengthen your legs again and notice the resting position of your pelvis and see if your pain has reduced in intensity.

5. Stress Management

Try box breathing:
• Inhale for four seconds
• Hold your breath lightly for four seconds
• Exhale for four seconds
• Hold your breath lightly out for four seconds

6. Nervous System Regulation
When you experience a stressful event, or something that causes you alarm, you can recover from it by physically removing yourself from the scene. Also, breathe and/or close your eyes. Then you can reset your nervous system by taking a slow 6-second inhale followed by a 6-second exhale, do a few rounds of this breath and then go back to your day.