Have you ever heard of somatic therapy? Join the girls this week as they welcome a guest, Angela Rockwell, somatic therapist to learn all about the mind body experience of somatic therapy. Ever get a whiff of a familiar smell and immediately feel your shoulders tense and jaw clench, but not really sure why? Maybe somatic therapy is for you! Angela includes some examples we can all relate to, a mindfulness practice, and she even tells us a little bit about psychedelics!
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All right. Welcome to this week's episode of wellness Smith. Today, we have a special guest, Angela. She is the owner and primary practitioner of taco cat wellness, a trauma informed somatic therapy practice. Her yoga practice began in Los Angeles after being peer pressured by a friend for months to come to class. I think that's kind of like how everyone's yoga journey kind of starts formerly in a larger body, she found many yoga spaces to be non-inclusive and has sought to change that through her teaching style and work in reformative social justice. Her instructional style is inclusive, accessible, and trauma informed, focused on bringing a balance of both awareness and relaxation into the body. Angela believes that both mental health and yoga should be accessible for all regardless of lived experience or identity intersection. Seeing yoga as an extension of radical self care. She currently offers free livestream community yoga classes each week that focus on calming the nervous system and reconnecting with our physical and emotional selves. Angela has completed graduate coursework and clinical psychology, industrial organizational psychology and applied behavior analysis. She is a certified somatic trauma therapist and also holds credentials in, in yoga, yoga nidra applied polyvagal yoga theory, somatic experience. Somatic attachment and psychedelics outside of yoga. She enjoys getting outdoors, vegan, cooking, writing, thrifting, and being a cat mom. Hi, Angela. And welcome. Thank you for having me. We're so excited, especially because neither of us knows a ton on this topic. I think it was actually you that I had asked a few weeks ago, like Angela, what is this? And you sent me a couple Instagram pages about somatically. Yeah, I would say it's a practice that has been around for so many years and something that is. I guess I would say coming into popularity or mainstream psychology, but when you really look at it, these are physical embodiment practices that have been practiced by indigenous cultures for many, many decades. And I think really wonderful that it's becoming popular in the field of psychology, mental health overall. Yeah. So Angela, how would you for someone who's never heard of somatic therapy before how is it different than other therapies? Yeah, I would describe it as somatic therapies, really looking at the concept of the mind, body, spirit and emotions are all interrelated and interconnected. So we're not dealing with just one aspect while we leave the other parts of you wanting or needing more. Somatic therapy is really looking at the whole person and what they need both from a physical standpoint and from a mental standpoint. So an example of how I would use sematic therapy might be working with somebody who is in ed recovery. Let's say to somebody who has like a binge restrict site. They may feel like physical hunger. But they're used to telling themselves like, no, not right now, not right now, not hungry, not actually hungry and not honoring that hundred Q during a one-on-one session. We might discuss what it physically feels like to be hungry. And then what feelings that evokes. So depending on a person's lived experience, this could be tied to a previous experience of say scarcity and childhood. So like, paydays and then bingeing on actual payday. And so as that person has aged, they're kind of maintaining that binge restrict cycle. So we're going to look at that from both an emotional standpoint and also a physical standpoint. So it's very holistic. You're looking at kind of all of those aspects and not just like taking one thing, like talk therapy and having them talk through that childhood trauma, but also going the extra step and, you know, like having them feel it in their physical body. Yeah, exactly. So oftentimes what happens is on talk therapy. And this is not to say that there's anything wrong with talk therapy. I use talk therapy in my somatic experiencing practice. It's to say that talk is only maybe scratching the surface and we're still holding onto these physical sensations associated with the emotions in the body. So it's like, I personally can think of being a. In a bigger body as a kid, a chubbier child in a dressing room, and like trying to squeeze into like limited to pants as like a 10 year old and crying in the dressing room. Right. And having this feeling well, I can talk about that in therapy, but that doesn't change. How, when now in my thirties, I go into a dressing room. I start to get tears in my eyes. You know, for no particular reason, when really there is a particular reason it's that I have emotions that evoke sensations around this particular experience. So somatic therapy would work to kind of tap into that and then help the brain sort of renegotiate the relationship with that experience. You're limited to example really hits different because I remember being a kid and I guess mine's a little bit different. It was with, I don't know if you guys remember this or if they still make them, but like children's sizes, there was always a slim version. And I always wanted to be the slim version, but I was not the slim version. So that's like my version of the limited too. I think most people have a limited to. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, Do you, is there a specific population that you would say benefits most from sematic therapy or would you say everyone what's kind of your your audience look like for the most. I would say that just like cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy, everyone can benefit from both cognitive behavior therapy and sematic therapy. My particular demographic tends to be folks with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, a neurodivergent. Like ADHD or autism. And then also folks who are in ed recovery or folks who also experienced self-harm or suicidal ideations. Those sound like populations that would really benefit from getting a little bit more in touch with the body. Yeah. I see a huge benefit with the folks, especially who experienced a disordered eating. Yeah, definitely. I remember a conversation that you and I had the other day about kind of how everything around us in a traumatic experience can sort of wire the brain to be nervous about that. Whether it's a certain environment or a certain sound or smell. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that might relate to somatically? Yeah, absolutely. So I tend to think about it in terms of what wires together fires together. So let's say that you are we're back at the limited to experience, and there's also this sense of bubble gum and vanilla body spray. In addition to your pants, not fitting and you're crying and being upset at that whole situation. Right? 10 15, 20 years go by. You're walking through the mall and you get a whiff of bubble gum, vanilla body spray, and you start to feel your shoulders tense up towards your ears. Maybe a knot in your stomach. And you're like, it's time to do TFO. I'm done being at the mall now, but you can't really explain why you just have this feeling. That would be a perfect opportunity to explore the sensations somatically. So if we were, let's say at a one-on-one session, having a conversation about this experience, I might ask you to re-imagine yourself in that space. And then while we're having a conversation and your shoulders start to tense up again, and you start to feel that knot in your stomach, what we're going to do is actually tap in to those sensations, allow ourselves to. Relaxed and experience them and then have a supportive conversation together where. we are reestablishing, what that scent means to your brain reestablishing, what that space means to your brain. And over time, we are reconditioning your brain in such a way where you're no longer holding these feelings, both physical and emotional around bubble gum, vanilla bodies. Right. And I'm just curious. So for something, and I'm sure this, you know, differs a ton depending on what the experience was, but for, you know, in our example where it's something like. You know, the limited to situation, does it typically take several sessions, like going back into the body and feeling those emotions and, you know, going through them to resolve that trauma? Or is that something that, you know, people are able to resolve and one session. I would love to say that this could be a one and done thing, but generally these are emotional and physical. Sensations that are deeply rooted, and we're going to need a little bit of heavy lifting, so to speak as far as extraction goes. And while some people can experience the benefits of somatic experiencing and somatic therapy immediately, I generally will recommend a long-term relationship seeing somebody weekly and the kind of tapering off over time so that they can receive the full benefits of somatic experiencing and somatic therapy. Yeah, that makes sense. Especially because I feel like people spend so much time trying to push away those sensations and get away from that kind of feeling of danger in the body, whether it's perceived or real. I mean, if you're perceiving it, that's what it is. So it must take kind of a bit of online. Yeah, there's definitely an unlearning process. It's just like, we take like the framework of intuitive eating right. Of rejecting diet culture. It's not like you can just say that and then it's done. That'd be cool, but that's not If only. If only. And so somatic experiencing is the same way where it's like, we can have, we reframe a new narrative around an experience, but your brain is a lot smarter than that. And so we really need to get in there. So it believes what we're telling it by way of not just the words, but also the sensations. Yeah, but that totally resonates with me in my own practice, especially with people who have been dieting for like 15, 20, 30 years. And we get to a point where we're like, okay, we're going to stop doing that now. And it's really difficult to like uncover all of those physical hunger cues once again, when we've been effectively stomping them out for so long. But it's definitely possible. Okay. Wait, let me ask you another question. I'm really into it, but that's, I'm just going to ask my next one. Is that funny? Yeah, go ahead. Okay. Great. So going back to what you had kind of mentioned a little bit ago in the beginning of our limited to Maltra, if it's just like, we always have just talking about one idea the whole time, which is great. But how do we know if we're holding tension in the body and what should we check for? Because I think people kind of have a disconnection to the body, which I'm talking about most of us don't really even know what that exactly. Yeah, I would say here, I'll give you both an example where you both relax your face for me while we're talking. will. you feel like before. than it sounds true. Oh, whenever someone tells me to relax something, I'm like, no, I'm not relaxing. I know now you're like, I'm really consciously thinking about it super intensely. Now I mentioned that because one of the things, and I don't know if this resonates with either of you, but periodically throughout the day, or to do really bizarre things with my face. And I'm like clenching my jaw and like grabbing my chin on typing and all this other stuff. And I mentioned that because that's one of the first. One of the primary places where people will hold tension in the face and then the jaw. And it's often a space that we don't spend a lot of time consciously relaxing. And I'm not saying we need to like, get wild and like add in facial yoga or any of that stuff, but just simply noticing and relaxing. the face. And then as we're doing that, asking yourself, okay, my face is feeling relaxed. Now, was there a reason that I would. Clenching my jaw. Oh, well, I have this deadline coming up. I have this deadline coming up. What else is that? What other physical sensations is that potentially a Vogue? Of course, this is assuming we want to dive in and explore why we're feeling, how we're feeling, which is the bread and butter of sematic therapy. But what I would say to folks is. Where you have chronic pain outside of injury. So I think those of us, especially over 30 are like, oh, well my lower back, or maybe my hips and asking yourself, okay, is this something that I only feel these sensations and a particular time of day in a particular setting and it kind of deep diving from that point and exploring a little bit further. Like, oh, I noticed that I have a ton of low back pain when I am, you know, doing X, Y, or Z. What emotion do I have around that particular activity? It's so interesting. Even just like the associations that we might make, because I have a lot of traveling anxiety, which is difficult because I'm traveling all the time. I always have some sort of like, you know, just nervous stomach the day before or whatever, for whatever reason. I also, like when I'm at the airport, I'll have like this big duffel bag and I have like over my shoulder. But when I traveled my husband, he puts the duffel bag on his shoulder. And so I don't have to carry it, but when we're there, I still feel that like pain in my shoulder when I arrived to the airport and it like adds the whole like anxiety and I'm like, I'm not even holding the bag. Like why is my shoulder hurting? It's really interesting. I only recently kind of figured that out, but I have that sensation. And I would say like part of where that could be coming from is now that you are no longer the responsible party to hold this bag because your partner is holding it. You still have anxiety about needing to have access to whatever's inside of it. Therefore let's have a little bit of the shoulder pain to remember that we have such a heavy bag to be responsible over in case all these hypothetical terrible things happen while I'm traveling. Yeah, that is so, so interesting. And I can like, see it on him. It really it's like I have to visualize like him holding the bag and then it kind of like fades a little bit. I'm like, okay, like he's got the bag, like everything's fine. But yeah. Wow. That's fine. Yeah, it's fascinating. He has such a memory like that, that we're not always cognitively aware of. Absolutely. And that's one of those things where I, when I have my one-on-one sessions with clients, one of the ways that we kind of begin session is by arriving in, and that's sort of a sematic experiencing visualization flash in theory, relaxation practice. And part of that is. Folks can actually become aware of what sensations they are feeling in the body, because I feel like we spend a great chunk of. our day trying to be disconnected from it. Even though, you know, along the lines of got to work out, got to sleep, got to eat, got to wash my face, do all these things we're thinking about the body, but we're not necessarily actively aware of the sensations that experiences. So, I know you mentioned also Angela, that you're a yoga teacher. So do you use sematic therapy in your yoga practice? And how does that kind of. I try to integrate sematic therapy techniques into my yoga practice. One of the ways I do that is by teaching all of my classes through a trauma informed lens, just something that was covered in my somatic, experiencing education. Part of. that's around, you know, consent to touch and giving cues And just verbage a written language around that. The other thing that I really try to do is help people connect and be aware of what they're experiencing in their body. And so I do that the start of classes by bringing people through a body scan. Generally, and then working in through practice and then giving specific cues through the duration of practice for them to kind of check in with particular sensations, their body parts. And this is really interesting for me as also a yoga teacher, because. Everyone kind of goes into yoga thinking like, oh yeah, you get there and you lay on your mat and you just let it all go. And it's really relaxing. And I'm always really quick to say in my classes, like this is not always a super relaxing chill space or experience for everyone depending on what you're bringing into the room. And sometimes yoga can be less of a letting go and more of like a letting in. Can you explain why maybe. People might struggle in that environment to kind of let it all go and release the body. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Outside of more than likely being in a public space with a bunch of random humans on the floor. There's, there's the other side of it. Where if you think about today's society, there's a lot of like hustle, boss, bib, all this kind of like work until you die sleep is for the week. And so coming into the class and having an opportunity to just. B for 45 minutes an hour or whatever is one. The brain doesn't know what to do with that level of low stimulation in so many ways. It's not a computer screen and it's not a conversation. It's not like a techno rave dance party. It is very chill by contrast to the regular hustle of data. So there's that component is one allowing the nervous system to sort of recalibrate and be like, oh, we're chill here. This is okay to allowing the nervous system to go, wait a second. This is totally different than what I'm used to. Maybe it's not chill and maybe I'm not okay. How come it's so quiet in here quite as weird. Why is this happening Right. now? Actually, I don't like it. We should leave. Right. There's a couple of things That can happen for folks in that experience. I would say people with live traumatic experiences, PTSD, neurodivergency is like autism or ADHD. You might have a more challenging time allowing the mind and the body to settle. Whereas some people, they crave it all day long and they know that's where they can get. And I think part of it from a somatic perspective is people's nervous, nervous systems learning that that space can be comfortable, can be a potentially safe environment, but as the teacher or the person facilitating the class, never for us to decide. Right. That totally makes sense. Do you have any, I'm not really sure if there's anything that's so straightforward or if this is so individual, but people who find that they can't relax in these quote unquote very relaxing environments, like a yoga class. Is there anything that they can kind of do to help insight that relaxation? Yeah, What I might say for some people is like the music and yoga class can be like too chill for those folks. So I might say having a preferred playlist in your headphones, your AirPods, while you're working your body into the class and giving your mind a space to kind of hang out outside from. Quote unquote like yoga, relaxation vibe, that might be a good way to slowly integrate yourself and your nervous system into that kind of space. Another option would be, I teach livestream classes. I love people. You know, I liked them to have the opportunity to do it from home in a space that they're generally more comfortable in. So I think starting out and a livestream way, or just like a YouTube recording that can be. A good way for folks to, again, recalibrate the nervous system and sort of get into this frame of mind that this space can be comfortable. It can be safe, it can be warm, inviting, relaxing, all of the good comfy, cozy things. Right. But I feel like when we ask people, who've maybe never been in that space who maybe don't spend a ton of time in these quiet, relaxing environment. Telling them like, Hey, you gotta get in your car. You gotta go park and pay for a class, register, wear clothes, you know, and then go be somewhere for an hour. That's like that's a lot. And that's a lot to be anxious about leading up to the actual class, but there's pretty low commitment to say, like Google stretching, watch a five minute video, see how you feel with that. And if it stresses you out, you know, we'll try it again tomorrow. But for three minutes, Yeah, it really makes me think of kind of the idea of working with or against your nature. Like for some people it's the most supportive thing to listen to that relaxing music, and it really helps you get in the zone of being ready to. Chill or do yoga, whatever it is. But for some it's not. And if the teacher is talking a lot, you and I were talking about this last week, it's like, if the teacher's talking a lot, sometimes that's great for people and helps them kind of disconnect a little bit when you're too like in the body and then there's other time or when it feels unsafe in the body. And there's other times when you're like, gosh, you want me to just stop talking because I'm ready to like, just to be quiet and relaxed. It's super, that's super interesting. This might be a whole other episode and of itself, but in your bio, you kind of mentioned having some training in psychedelics. Can you tell us a little more about. Yes. So we live here in Oregon where currently psychedelics are decriminalized, but does not specifically make them legal. And what I, I feel like it really could be a whole podcast or a whole episode. I know I was literally telling Vanessa, like, I'm at touch on this, but hopefully we can just have you back and talk a whole thing, but I would love a bird's-eye that's what I said. Let's just give everyone a little teaser. Yeah, this is a good, teaser. So what I would say, or what I have to say about psychedelics is really bad, specifically looking at for the use and treatment of anxiety. And depression specifically in instances where folks have been either medication resistant or EMDR resistant or maybe just standard or more traditional therapeutic models, haven't worked for those folks dosing at controlled levels with the support of a clinician can be incredibly beneficial. There's some really wonderful research out there. That has positive findings for folks who are experiencing medication resistant, depression, anxiety, and the use of Phillip fibrin to treat the symptoms there. So what I'll do for some individuals using a somatic experiencing lens is I don't guide anybody through their use, but we'll provide journal prompts or a script. It's all very individualized ahead of this. Person's use. Thanks for them to either somatically experience. During that time journal on some people will be like a video journal and then share that with me and we'll talk about it during our sessions. But essentially I don't guide anybody, but really provide resources and support around if folks want to explore that avenue. On their own, how to do so in a way that is evoking the right emotions. Sometimes the psychedelics things pop up that maybe we're not ready for and without assistance, it can have a hard time getting through. And that's, I would say one of the benefits of providing guided resources to people ahead of those experiences. Yeah, totally. I feel like helping them know what to expect and then kind of guiding them after that is really powerful. And I just have one question. I don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole. Like, Emily mentioned, I'm sure we could do a full episode, but. Do you ever have anyone that doesn't react well to the psychedelics? And then you decide to like discontinue. Usually, what I do is I'll tell people it's something that I support and I wait for them to come to me with it. And then once they are kind of in that frame of mind, like, Hey, I want to try it. We look at how to go about doing that. I'll tell people though, if you have a history of, you know, having negative experiences around substance use, if you have. Trauma that, you know, you're blocking. So perhaps somebody has a lived experience in youth. And they're like, oh, I remember little fragments of it, but maybe not the whole thing. And I really want to just like, sit and focus on that while I am experiencing with psychedelics. I would caution them against that without the support or supervision of somebody or another, another guide or a trusted person during that experience. I think it really does have a lot to do as they say with that and setting, if you are. I think of it this way. If you're in the woods with a friend and you've got your dog and all your snacks, and you're really set up for success, chances are, you're not going to have a bad time. If you were binge restricting home day, take some psychedelics and then plan to spend the next three hours looking in the mirror. You're probably going to have a bad time. Yeah, I can definitely see that going poorly. Yeah, like don't, don't ever look at yourself in the mirror when you're on psychedelics, like cover your, cover your mirror app, unless that's specifically what you're doing, but like, probably don't do that would be my general is my general feedback to people like don't do that. Go outside, allow yourself to be in your body. hang out in the dressing room at limited to, you know, yeah, yeah, full circle. So if someone has had a limited to experience and is listening to this and it's like, that's me, I need sematic therapy. How do they find a somatic therapist? Is there like a list or a registry somewhere? Yeah, you can look at sematic somatic, experiencing international. You can also check through and body lab, which is who I did my certification through. And then good old Google will lead the way. As well as hashtags on all social media, I can generally find you a good human or at least put you in the right direction. And Angela now you're taking private clients, right. Yes, I am taking one-on-one and group clients. And where can people find you if they're interested? People can find me my website, which is taco cat wellness.com. They can also find me on social media at Angela underscore rock wellness or at taco catalog. So yes, go give Angela a follow. She will teach you more about sematic therapy. Thank you so much for being here. This was such an enlightening conversation. Thank you so much for having me. Angela is going to now take us through a little exercise about so Matic therapy. Usually we kind of like to leave listeners with a little practical application. Angela, I know you mentioned this is not to be done while driving, right. Otherwise you can tell everybody about it and lead us. So I'm going to guide you through a body scan, visualization exercise. This is one of the ways I like to support my clients to arrive into our sessions. And it's also another way that I like to end sessions. So sometimes bookmarking at, at either end. And we'll go ahead and get started. I do recommend that again, you don't do this while you're driving and that you're in a comfortable spot, either seated, maybe laying in bed. Both of those are great options. So when you're ready and in a comfortable fee or comfortable space, laying down, begin by bringing your attention into your body, you can close your eyes. If that's comfortable for you. Begin to notice your body seated wherever you're at feeling the weight of your body on the chair or on the floor. Just noticing here, taking a few deep breaths, not doing anything to change the natural pattern of your brain. And as you take a deep breath, bringing more oxygen, alivening the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply, you can notice your feet, their weight and the pressure and the vibration. Noticing your legs, filling them against your seat. Any pressure, pulsing, heaviness, or lightness, continuing to breathe here. Notice your back against the surface. Allow your shoulders to melt away from your ears, bringing your attention into your diaphragm. Noticing whether it is tense or tight, taking a breath and allowing it to soften. Noticing your hands, they tense or tight. See if you can allow them to feel heavy, to be soft, bring awareness to your arms. Feel any sensations there again, letting the shoulder be. Notice your neck and throat, let them be soft with the job, move away and your face and facial muscles. Be soft. Continue to breathe here. On your next inhale. Notice your body, whole body being present. Take one more deep breath. Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Continuing with your natural breath. And when you're ready, allowing your eyes to flutter open, if they were shut, you have arrived.