Moving Energy

“Traumatic memories are not caused by the “triggering” event itself. They stem from the frozen residue of energy that has not been resolved and discharged; this residue remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and spirits”

  – Peter Levine

It is believed that PTSD develops when we cannot complete the process of moving in, through and out of “immobility” (or the Freeze response). Animals instinctively know how to discharge all their compressed energy after a major activation in their stress response (i.e., being chased by a predator) and as a result seldom develop adverse symptoms. Human beings, however, tend to stop or interrupt this process, causing the stress response to be overly active and over reactive. As a result, our coping is more likely to become maladaptive and no longer functions to serve us in the way it was designed to do[1].  Just as the primary experience of trauma can disrupt our body/mind connection and impact the nervous system’s functioning, so too does the impact of bearing witness to it.

Somatic therapy (or somatic experiencing body work) incorporates techniques to help individuals develop more awareness of their bodies and their sensations, calling upon emotional resources to help them ground and regulate their nervous systems when they are feeling overly activated or triggered[2].

A somatic therapist can use a few different techniques to help release trauma or negative emotions from the body.  Here are some of the more common ones[3]:

  • Body awareness– one of the first steps in learning to identify and release areas of tension in the body. This also involves calling up emotional resources by learning to recognize calming thoughts and feelings.
  • Grounding- the root of mind-body focused interventions, in which we can live life, fully experiencing ourselves- connected in the world around us.[4] This is the act of connecting deeply to your body and the earth. Grounding involves sensing the body, feeling your feet on the ground, and calming the nervous system.
  • Pendulation –alternating between something stressful and something not stressful to help release tension. For example, being guided from a relaxed state to one that feels similar to the traumatic experience. This may be repeated several times to allow for a release of the pent-up energy. Feelings of discomfort or anxiety may be experienced while the energy is released however, guidance back to a relaxed state occurs each time so that the individual can learn to do this for themselves over time.
  • Titration- being guided through a traumatic memory while being asked to observe any changes in the body which, are addressed as they occur. This can give one the experience of replaying past situations with new physical tools.
  • Sequencing – paying close attention to the order in which sensations of tension leave your body, which can provide an emotional release.
  • Resourcing – recalling resources such as relationships, personal strengths or skills, or special places that evoke a sense of safety and/or calm, which act as an emotional anchor.

Tools for moving energy:

Although not an exhaustive list, these are some tools that may help move energy out of the body and help shift emotional states:


Using mental imagery and your imagination to achieve a more relaxed state of mind (

Moving your Body (Exercise)

Dancing, shaking, acting out physical feelings (a common technique in Somatic Experiencing Body Work) or Qoya (based on the belief that the body stores and processes a wealth of information that your mind can’t, Qoya taps into that wisdom through movement and the creative expression of dance).

Moving our bodies and engaging in exercise has at least 3 potential benefits[5]:

  1. It is an antidote to a persistent freeze response.
  2. It increases containment and self-control via increased muscle tone.
  3. It dissipates the buildup of stress hormones and helps regulate on going stress levels (increases endorphins and reduces adrenaline levels).

Spiritual Practices

  • Ceremonies (spiritual, cultural or religious)
  • Praying/Meditating/Deep breathing/Chanting/ Yoga /Qi Gong/Tai Chi/Reiki
  • Smoke CleansingAn aspect of many cultures and religions around the world, sacred smoke is created from burning medicinal or sacred plants. In North America, smudging is a practice common to Indigenous Peoples. Many, but not all, Indigenous cultures in Canada smudge but may have different beliefs associated with the smoke, as well as different ceremonies and protocols.
  • “Forest Bathing” or “a healthy walk in the woods” is a nationally recognized form of wellness that can be an invigorating and restorative experience. Forest therapy, or Shinrin-yoku, was developed in Japan in the 1980s and there is large mounting scientific evidence surrounding its benefits.
    • Research indicates that volatile substances in the forest air, called phytoncides (wood essential oils) can affect our physiology and our mood. The antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees have proven to decrease blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones[6].
    • Plant based essential oils and negatively charged ions (which we are also exposed to when we are near moving water) can increase immune function, increase energy and our ability to focus[7].

For more information on cultural and healing practices, visit our Trauma Recovery section of this website: Cultural and Healing Practices | Trauma Recovery (


Moving energy can be as simple and primitive as yawning, crying, shaking or laughing. Laughter provides both short-term and long-term benefits for our mental, emotional and physical well-being as it induces physical changes in your body such as stimulating circulation, increasing endorphins, improving immune function, relieving pain and improving mood. [8]

The residue of energy that trauma leaves behind, trapped in our systems, in our survival physiology and in our organs and tissues needs to be able to find a way out. The practices above are some examples of ways to assist the movement of energy. For more information on regulation, the polyvagal theory and restoring health to our nervous system, visit

[1] Levine, P. A., Frederick, A. (1997). Waking the Tiger: Healing trauma. North Atlantic Books: USA.

[2] Retrieved from

[3]   Retrieved from

[4] Retrieved from

[5] Rothschild, B (2010). 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery: Take-charge strategies to empower your healing. W.W. Norton: NY.

[6] Li Q, Nakadai A, Matsushima H, Miyazaki Y, Krensky AM, Kawada T, et al. Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2006;28:319–33.

[7] Retrieved from

[8] Retrieved from the Mayo Clinic