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Releasing Trauma and Stress Safely: The Somatic Awareness and Release Method (SARM)

Updated: Nov 18, 2018

All mammals are born with the capacity to release trauma and stress through body movement.

Imagine a dog napping on a sidewalk on a busy residential street. The dog dozes in a state of bliss, oblivious to trucks and cars careening by. Suddenly, a biker hurtling down the street at high speed comes to a screeching stop in front of the napping pup. Dog and biker jump backwards with a howl. The dog eyes the biker, then shakes itself vigorously for several seconds as though coming out of a bath. It trots off with a spring in its step as if the near catastrophe never happened.

The dog used the shaking movement to release the trauma as soon as it occurred. Mammals of all types allow their bodies to process trauma this way: cats, deer, and raccoons, for example.

Unfortunately, as intelligent as humans can be in our minds, we have been conditioned to lose the innate intelligence of our bodies. This represses the body’s natural way of releasing stress and trauma. For example, we are given sedatives at hospitals to stop the shaking of shock after a car accident. Our bodies naturally tremble when we feel big emotions, but we may feel like others are staring at us when we tremble. Few people are taught to allow these sensations.

Dog shaking after cold water
A dog shakin' it out to recover from the shock of cold water.

Trauma and the Brain

Traumatic situations temporarily turn off the part of the brain responsible for clear thinking and executive reasoning, the frontal lobe. Bringing it back online requires a bottom-up approach that engages body first. The frontal lobe’s turned back on once there is a connection to the body. This is called entering the “window of tolerance”, where we are neither anxious/panicked nor frozen/shut down. The window of tolerance provides stability in navigating difficult situations.

Somatic Awareness & Release Method

The Somatic Awareness & Release Method (SARM), developed by hOMe PYM founder Caroline Culverhouse, MSS, LSW, E-RYT, provides a body-first method to bring us back into the window of tolerance where the frontal lobe can guide us. It offers movement patterns that safely release areas of the body that are frozen, collapsed, or congested due to trauma or stress. The movements are safe and accessible for everyone.

When a client becomes dysregulated, the practitioner gently guides the client to notice how their body is feeling, then offers a subtle way to move as the body wishes to move. The movements are effective at calming the mind, relaxing the body, and producing the neurogenic tremors that release trauma that has been trapped in the body, sometimes for decades.

The foundational SARM movement practices include swaying, rocking, bouncing, pulsing, spiraling, squeezing, grounding and shaking. In particular, it incorporates pre-verbal patterns of soothing used by attuned caregivers of infants, babies, and toddlers. The method also uses specific yoga poses to directly stretch and release the areas of the body that hold the most trauma and stress, including the hips, shoulders, tops of the legs, and back of the head.

Culverhouse developed SARM over a decade working with traumatized clients and with her sensory-oriented daughter. She integrated her training in yoga and breathwork with her education in the foundations of trauma therapy established by leading trauma researchers such as Peter Levine, Janina Fisher, Bessel Van der Kolk, and Babette Rothschild to provide a safe, gentle, accessible method for regulating the body.

One SARM exercise to try at home is to turn on gentle music and let your body move as if there were a baby in your arms. Does your body rock back and forth? Do you sway? Do you gently bounce? For the entire song, allow your body to move as it intuitively does. Engage fully with your breath.

Anyone can use SARM methods to help themselves work with the mind-body connection. Mental health professionals, bodyworkers, physical therapists, and other body-mind-spirit professionals will find benefits in using the method to help distressed clients to calm and to regulate.

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