Relaxed teenage girl sitting cross-legged and meditating on a chair in a living room

Proprioceptive and Somatic Movement Helps Build Resilience

By Barbara Neiman, author of The Adopted Teen Workbook

Proprioceptive movement activates the muscles and joints, informs where the body is in space, and links the body to feelings of resilience. A verbal prompt the therapist might use after a client states their feelings might be: “Would you like to try putting that feeling into a physical movement?” The therapist might ask: “What movement would describe the feelings you have right now?” Offer the client a moment to find and explore their own authentic movement from within. If the client needs suggestions, some examples of proprioception are: stomping, pushing, shaking a heavy object, pounding, climbing an imaginary ladder, or holding/lifting a ball. Below are sample proprioceptive activities and additional examples for non-movers, moderate, and active movers.

A therapist can utilize somatic movement and proprioception in a seated or standing position at the client’s and therapist’s comfort and safety level. Here are some examples.

1) A movement of pulling toward or pushing away such as safely pushing on a wall or squeezing a large ball.

2) Pulling on a stretch band, while placing a foot on one end and pulling the other end upward, can release tension and provide self-regulation and grounding.

3) Place the hands together with the fingers upward and press the hands together

4) Squeezing a ball can be a safe start for non-movers.

5) Stretching the arms to the front of the body with an inhale and spreading and pushing the arms to the sides with a deep exhale breath, can be a nonthreatening starting movement (similar to a swimming breast stroke).

6) Inhale and press the arms upward and above the body, then exhale while making a fist and pulling the arms downward. Saying a word out loud such as “Ha” increases the intensity of the exercise.

Here are simple exercises on a continuum for clients who are non-movers, moderate, and active movers—and for self-regulation. The last activity is a quiet visualization to release feelings.


1) Feel the body sink into the seat. Feel the heaviness of the hands on your lap and the feet on the ground, sinking into the floor. Allow the body to sink and let go.

2) Pushing Hands: Press hands together in front of the body with fingers pointed upward, and press palms together.

3) Pull on a stretch band in your lap while seated.

4) Cross Crawl: Seated, touch your right hand to the left knee. Repeat using the left hand and cross to the right knee. This can be done standing and with a fuller movement sequence. Repeat several times. See moderate movers for a more active level.

Moderate Movers

1) Seated Cat and Cow: While sitting in a chair, hold onto the side of the chair and look upward and arch the back. Then hold the chair and round the back and lower the chin with the head down. Repeat several times.

2) Cross Crawl with Elbow: Seated with the right arm bent and hand pointed upward, touch your right elbow to the left knee. Repeat using the left elbow and cross to the right knee. This can be done standing and with a fuller movement sequence. Repeat several times.

Active Movers

1) The Star: This can be done seated but is more active in a standing position. While standing, stretch the arms upward in a V shape. With the legs, do this wide stance with legs apart also in a V shape so your body is like an X. Then while pressing the right foot into the ground, push up reaching with the left hand. Repeat this on the other side, pushing the left foot into the ground and pushing up with the right hand. Notice how it feels if you do both sides now at the same time. Notice how the center of the body feels at the core.

For self-regulation if overstimulated

While using a stretch band, place a foot on one end and your hand on the other end. Pull upward or horizontally. This is effective especially for children, and can release tension and provide self-regulation as it provides proprioception. The band can be tied to heavy furniture also. Repeat ten times.


After somatic movement, an open- or closed-eye meditation can offer integration of the senses. It can also be used at any time for relaxation.

Releasing feelings into a river

Sit quietly, with closed or open eyes. Imagine a path lined with trees and rocks along a fast-flowing river. Imagine feeling safe walking along the path and picking up small rocks and flowers. Breathe in and out slowly. Imagine throwing rocks and flowers into the river as you release your feelings. Imagine watching your thoughts and feelings rapidly flow away from you down the river. Continue to breathe and calm yourself as you disengage and release your feelings.

Barbara Neiman is a pediatric occupational therapist of thirty-five years, yoga teacher, body-mind centering practitioner, and national speaker on trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness strategies for professionals and adoption. Barbara is author of Mindfulness and Yoga Skills for Children and Adolescents and the card deck, My Calm Place. She is an adoptive parent who accompanied her young adult on a birth search journey.

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