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Peter Levine’s Self Holding Exercises for Sufferers of PTSD – PART 1

Table of Contents

by Heidi Hanson

artist, writer, trauma survivor

I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the 2013 Trauma Therapy Webinar Series produced by NICABM, National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine.

In the interview with Peter Levine that aired April 3, 2013, at 21:07 Levine introduces some basic but effective techniques one can do with oneself at home to anchor and calm the nervous system through body positioning. I have been struggling with PTSD for 6 years. By far some of the most effective therapeutic techniques I have discovered are these self-applied somatic therapy exercises, or what I call “Self Holding” exercises created by Peter Levine. Ever since watching the webinar I have been using these exercises on myself; there have been times where nothing else worked.

I decided to include these exercises in the illustrated book I am working on. Following are the illustrations along with the text created for the book. Note that I created the titles for these exercises; Peter Levine did not offer specific names for them.

Click here to read a Spanish translation of this article.

Click here to read a Russian translation of this article.

Exercise: Self Holding

Peter Levine Self Holding Exercises
Illustration: Peter Levine Demonstrating the Self-Holding Exercise by Heidi Hanson

Synonyms (alternate titles):

Self Hug


While experiencing PTSD, we may feel scattered, broken, shattered, blown apart, chaotic, fractured, or split.  Our thoughts and nervousness may become overwhelming, out of control, all over the place. We may even forget we have edges.

This exercise helps us feel, for the first time perhaps in years, “contained.” Peter Levine explains that,

“This helps us become aware of our container. The body is the container of all of our sensations and all of our feelings; it’s all in the body.” 

This exercise helps create an internal state of calm because to know where we end, to know experientially (inside our body) that we are located in a specific location in space, brings a sense of calm and relief. Being scattered and not knowing where we begin and end is unsettling, even if it is unconscious.

Peter Levine continues,“(This exercise) brings a “settling” feeling, (the person) feels less overwhelmed. When the person can feel the container, then the emotions and sensations do not feel as overwhelming because they are contained.”


To feel the body as container. To develop our container.


Place one hand under the opposite arm, and then place the other hand over the upper part of the other arm; you are giving yourself a hug.

Pay attention to your body.

Let yourself settle into the position; allow yourself to feel supported by it. Allow yourself to feel contained.

Watch and see if anything shifts with your breathing, bodily sensations, and how you feel in space. See if you can sit with it a while and let it shift your perceptions of yourself and the world somewhat before coming out of it.

Congratulations. You have just taken a step to nurture yourself and help sooth your trauma related symptoms.

The next exercise is very similar. I actually use this one the most often.

Go to Part 2

Sources for this article:

NICABM, National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine 2013 Trauma Therapy webinar series.

Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing

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