Integrating Altered States using Somatic Techniques

Apr 4 / Sascha Anna Vriend
Have you considered the critical role of somatic techniques in integrating altered states of consciousness? Across disciplines, from traditional meditation practices to clinical psychedelic-assisted therapy, the exploration of altered states has been pivotal in understanding the human psyche. Integration of these experiences into our physical being—through somatic techniques—provides a grounded and practical approach to achieving lasting transformation and insight. This article delves into the science and application of somatic practices, offering a clear pathway to embodying the profound insights gained from altered states for meaningful personal development. 

7 minutes to read

In this article, we'll explore the critical role of somatic techniques in integrating altered states for deeper healing and authentic self-expression.

What is the role of Somatic Techniques in Integration of Altered-States of Consciousness?

In our quest for self-discovery, growth and transcendence, we can explore various practices that expand our consciousness and help us tap into the deeper roots of who we experience ourselves to be.

These practices include working with  altered states of consciousness, most often through techniques such as meditation, breathwork, and the use of psychedelic substances. While the profound insights gained during these altered states can be awe-inspiring, it is the integration of these experiences that holds immense importance. 

The value of integrating altered states at the cognitive and emotional level is often cited in the current literature, which highlights the benefits of neuroplasticity and changing rigid thought patterns, neurobiological alterations and emotional catharsis. However, there isn’t sufficient emphasis placed on the value of somatic or embodied integration.

Yet, it is precisely by integrating these experiences into our physical being that we can catalyze some of the deepest healing and transformation.

Basics Principles of Altered States and Somatic Integration

In a nutshell, altered states of consciousness allow us to transcend our ordinary perception of reality and tap into different layers of our consciousness. These states often provide us with profound insights, heightened awareness, a deeper connection to our authentic selves and in some cases, a deeper connection to the world around us and the mysteries of the unknown. Without proper integration though, these experiences can remain ephemeral, peak yet fleeting moments, leaving us longing for lasting change.

While cognitive and emotional integration focus primarily on reflection, meaning-making, reprocessing and intention-setting, somatic integration involves bringing the insights gained during altered states into our physical bodies. It’s about embodying the transformative experiences and allowing the new physical experiences to inform our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, leading to more lasting and meaningful change. By integrating these experiences on a somatic level, we bridge the gap between the ethereal and the tangible, aligning our mind, body, and spirit.

5 Benefits to Using Somatic Techniques for Integration

As a somatic therapist and clinical psychologist working with integration of altered states, I’ve observed  five key ways that somatic integration are beneficial:

  1. Healing Trauma: Altered state experiences can bring unresolved traumas and emotions to the surface. By integrating these experiences on a somatic level, we create a safe space for the body to process and release stored trauma, leading to profound healing and emotional well-being.
  2. Authentic Self-Expression: Altered states often offer glimpses into our true essence and potential. Somatic integration allows us to embody this authenticity, helping us break free from societal conditioning and express ourselves more authentically in our relationships, career, and creative pursuits. It allows us to unlearn all that holds us back from being who we wish to be at the deepest level.
  3. Embodied Emotional Intelligence: Integrating altered state experiences on a somatic level enhances our embodied emotional intelligence. This is not just what we “think we feel” or the verbal expression of what we feel, but the conscious awareness of where these emotions are stored and processed throughout our entire body. We develop a deeper understanding of our emotions, allowing us to better tune in, self-regulate and respond rather than react to life's challenges. This leads to healthier relationships, improved and more intentional decision-making, and a greater sense of inner harmony.
  4. Physical Vitality: Our physical bodies store emotions, tensions, and energetic imbalances. Somatic integration enables us to release these blockages, restoring balance and vitality to our physical being. By integrating altered state experiences, we can experience improved physical health, increased energy levels, and a greater sense of well-being.
  5. Spiritual Connection: Although transpersonal or spiritual work is in itself a dimension of integration, the connection between somatic and spiritual integration is imperative. Altered states often provide profound spiritual experiences, connecting us to something greater than ourselves. By integrating these spiritual experiences somatically, we cultivate a deeper sense of spirituality and interconnectedness which is not only cognitive but a felt connection, allowing us to live more purposefully and aligned with our higher selves in real terms, not only in philosophy or intellectually.

For a great resource for learning about the power of the body to in processing transformative experiences and trauma, I recommend reading the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

Three Practical Techniques for Somatic Integration:

In my professional practice I’ve learned about many ways to incorporate somatic techniques when integrating altered-states experiences.

Here are three key practical tools to consider when you’re integrating your own altered-state journey: 

  1. Mindful Body Awareness: Cultivate a daily practice of mindful body awareness, paying attention to sensations, tensions, and emotions within your body. This practice helps you develop a deeper connection to your physical being and facilitates the integration of altered state experiences. 
  2. Movement and Breathwork: Engage in conscious movement practices such as yoga, tai chi, or dance, combined with intentional breathwork. These practices help release stagnant energy, promote body-mind integration, and enhance the somatic integration of altered state experiences. It is crucial to remember that not all breathwork is equal, and that whilst some gentler forms of breathwork can be grounding and relaxing, other more cathartic forms such as circular breathing can be activating and expansive. Choosing the right forms of body-work to experience being in the body in a safe and constructive way is key.
  3. Seek Professional Guidance: If you find it challenging to integrate altered state experiences on your own, consider working with a qualified therapist, somatic practitioner, or integration coach capacitated in mind-body practices. These professionals can provide guidance, support, and specific techniques to facilitate somatic integration, promoting deeper physical connection to yourself but also within a rational context, keeping in mind principles of harm reduction and safety.

"This is not just what we “think we feel” or the verbal expression of what we feel, but the conscious awareness of where these emotions are stored and processed throughout our entire body."

The real value in Somatic Techniques for Integration

Altered state experiences have the potential to be catalysts for profound personal and social transformation and growth, yet a significant portion of their value lies in the integration of these experiences on a somatic level. By consciously bringing the insights, healing, and wisdom gained during altered states into our physical bodies and daily lives, we unlock the transformative potential of these experiences in a way that ensures lasting, meaningful and palpable change. Somatic integration ultimately allows us to embody our true essence, heal past wounds and connect more purposefully to ourselves and our environment, leading to a more fulfilling and purposeful existence.

I invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the comments below. How has altered consciousness impacted your life? What somatic techniques have you found valuable in your integration process? Let’s continue the conversation and uncover how we can best integrate these practices into our lives.
Sascha Anna Vriend is a seasoned clinical psychologist trained in theory and techniques of body psychotherapy, various mind-body therapies including therapeutic yoga and breathwork, as well as altered states integration. With years of dedicated practice, Sascha brings a wealth of experience and a compassionate approach to her work, guiding individuals through their healing journeys with an emphasis on the interconnectedness of mind, body and consciousness. She believes in being of service within an inside-out philosophy, where transformation starts within the individual and emanates to their relationships, community and wider ecosystem. Sascha currently runs a private practice and community-based therapeutic events in the Lisbon area. She also co-founded Recíproco in 2022 with Amánda Efthimiou, a retreat-based and online training platform designed to support professionals in the psychedelic space to provide informed, integrative and multidisciplinary support for clients exploring altered states of consciousness.   
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