Yoga for Mental Health

What is Somatic Yoga?

Somatic yoga is ‘yoga from the inside’. The focus is on sensing your way in and out of the poses. It differs from other styles of yoga because it focuses on how movements feel to you from inside, rather than how they look to anyone else. It’s about being gentle,  mindful, and deeply sensing your body in every moment−without any pushing, achieving, or trying to get somewhere.
“Soma” is the Greek word meaning “living body”, somehow hinting that there’s a difference between ‘the body’ and ‘the living body’.
Viewed from the outside, a human being is a body with a certain shape and size. However, when you look at yourself from the inside, you are aware of feelings, movements, and intentions. You realize that you are a very different and fuller being than just a body. What you feel and experience from the inside out, your living, sensing, internalized view, is soma.
Somatic Yoga is all about feeling and exploring. We explore both movement and stillness in a mindful yet playful way. It’s a gentle and nourishing practice that brings us back to our softness and innocence. This can help you develop a more self-compassionate relationship with yourself and your body. Because of these reasons, somatic yoga is such a great style of yoga for anxiety and depression.

Why You Should Give Somatic Yoga a Try

If you who have been following my work, you already know that about 4 years ago, I started experimenting with integrating different movement systems into my yoga practice and teaching.
These are the observations I made that started me on this new path:
  • When I allow my body to guide my movements (rather than external form or asanas) I am much more present inside my body making me feel whole and relaxed.
  • Continuous micro-movements make my mind calm and bring me into the present moment, much like meditation does, but faster, with more ease, and without feeling stiff or tense in my body.
  • Working with my body in a gentle way brings deep levels of release, softness, and ease in my body and mind.
  • Movement exploration that does not work with pre-defined asanas, meets us where we are at and allow us to express tension and emotion and as such helps us cope with sadness, calm anxiety, manage depression, and restore vitality.
  • A meditative and mindful approach to the body calms the nervous system and regulates my emotions.
To bring a more somatic approach to my yoga practice, I started taking classes in other movement modalities like Feldenkreis and Hanna somatics. I found these to be beautiful complements to my training in hatha, yin, and restorative yoga as well as my studies in contemporary dance, mindfulness, and relaxation therapy.

Teaching Somatic Yoga

Somatic yoga is a newer form of yoga that is growing in popularity thanks to its mindful approach. Somatic yoga combines somatics, a movement practice concerned with how things feel from within, with yoga. Somatics was developed by Thomas Hanna in the 1970s. It helps retrain the brain to allow muscles to relax fully and go back to their natural state, undoing habitual learned movement patterns that can lead to pain.
Yoga as we know it has become about following a teacher’s instructions regardless of how it feels for you. Most people teach yoga as clearly defined asanas (yoga postures) and guiding students into that perfect alignment. Somatic movement encourages you to explore what you feel and use that to inform your movement. There is a big difference between trusting your own senses and forcing yourself into a particular shape.
Somatic yoga encourages you to get in touch with your own senses, your own authority, and move in a way that feels good to you−continuously exploring new ways of moving and being. Your practice becomes guided from the inside, rather than outside.
Somatic practices bring you into relationship with your own body. They lead you towards embodiment, towards knowing and being with what the body knows of itself.
Many people start with faster-paced styles of yoga, but come to see it’s not really fulfilling what they need. Somatic yoga appeals to those who want to nurture themselves, really inhabit their own bodies, and practise true self-care from the inside out.

Yoga as a Somatic Movement Practice

Yoga is a somatic practice, but often it is offered and practiced in a way that doesn’t lead to embodiment. Rather than feeling and experiencing ourselves, someone is telling us how to move and then we “do” the movement without actually feeling it.
In a yoga class, a teacher might offer cues that are of a “doing” quality. A somatic cue would invite the student into their own curiosity. A cue might appear as a question or evoke imagery. A yoga practice becomes more of a somatic practice when we release the sense of “doing” and allow for more of an experiential approach.
Something you could try while practicing asana is to ask yourself the question: “Am I comfortable?” When the cue is to look up at your top hand, is your neck comfortable? If not, can you find more support and can you make another choice?
Not much scientific research exists about somatic yoga, but it’s said to have benefits including helping stress and anxiety, improving pain and injury, and supporting digestion, hormone and sleep issues.

Somatic Yoga Training Online

Somatic yoga is taught in individual and group classes. Much of the instruction is verbal, so classes work well online and in person. You practise on a yoga mat and don’t need any other special equipment. Although there may be yoga poses you recognise in a somatic yoga class, there is less of a focus on making them look a particular way and instead a chance to go within and explore your body in a different way.
Movements are often small, generally slower and frequently done with the eyes closed. A somatic yoga sequence might include guided breathwork, meditation, body scans, periods of relaxation, a focus on releasing tension and guided movement.
Many people are so used to action that it can be challenging to accept smaller, slower movements and allow your body, mind and nervous system to truly rest. But this is exactly what makes somatic yoga so healing and therapeutic.
Because it focuses on how you feel and cultivating self-awareness, it allows you to get more in tune with your own body and can help you manage pain. It is also a very mindful practice and can be a bit like moving meditation, so is really useful for people that struggle with seated meditation.
The majority of somatic movements are done on the floor, seated or lying down. Fully supporting the body on the floor produces steadiness of body and mind.
A grounded body allows the energy of the mind to safely explore movement potential with less exertion.  The student is more likely to remain in a state of relaxation and can explore with lighthearted curiosity!
When we engage with our practice somatically we stay with the questions, what am I feeling? Is this nourishing? Does this work for me? How could I be more comfortable here? Can the learning come from my body? We listen to our unique way of being here in an inclusive way. We practice personal agency, we become empowered to know that we have choice and that we each know our experience and our body better then anyone else. This is also one of the foundations for trauma-sensitive yoga classes. Somatic practices are about getting to know ourselves more intimately; entering a safe and informed practice that responds to our ever-changing needs as dynamic organisms; reclaiming the ability to make our own choices about our bodies. In order to create any change we first have to know what we are doing, we have to notice our habits.

Somatic Yoga for Mental Health

During my first yoga therapy training, my teacher told us: “When the dis-ease is in the mind, work through the body. When the dis-ease is in the body, work with the mind.”
I’ve seen this affirmed in my own work. Students and clients experiencing mental health challenges benefit most from working with and through the body. It’s this somatic approach that allows the mind to unwind its tightly knitted knots. Then, we can heal the stories from our past that are creating discomfort and rewire our brain and nervous system for safety, confidence, and resilience.
Somatic Yoga offers an essential ingredient to balancing our nervous system and improving mental health and emotional well-being. That’s why I love educating yoga teachers on bringing a more somatic approach to their classes. In our 1-year Somatic Teacher Training, we teach how you can become a therapeutic yoga teacher and teach yoga for mental health, bringing a somatic approach to your teachings.
Read more about our 80h Somatic Yoga for Mental Health Teacher Training here and become a therapeutic yoga teacher for mental health this year.


Deniz Aydoslu, MSc, E-RYT, is a criminologist and Yoga for Mental Health Teacher and teacher trainer. She researches and teaches on the intersection of embodied movement and mental health, including yoga, somatics, dance, mindfulness, and relaxation therapy. She creates soft yet powerful healing spaces where people can reconnect to their bodies, feelings, and heart so that they can live with more resilience, authenticity, and joy.

Deniz is the founder of Somatic Yoga for Mental Health and runs teacher training programs for yoga teachers and (mental) health professionals. She is a Yoga Alliance Certified Continuing Education Provider.