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The 5 Step Self-holding Exercise

Table of Contents

by Heidi Hanson

artist, writer, trauma survivor

The 5 Step Self-holding Exercise is an exercise I compiled from various sources that has been really helping me a lot lately with anxiety, stress and symptoms related to PTSD.

Synonyms (alternate titles):

Extended Sequence Self-Holding Exercise, 5 Step Self-Soothing Exercise, 5 Step Self-Calming Exercise


Sometimes, when I am in a very high state of hyperarousal (fear) and mental chaos, it takes a while to calm down using just one self-holding exercise. It can take up to 15 minutes. When I do this 5 Steps exercise, because there are 5 steps it ensures I am doing it long enough for it to be effective and I almost always reach a much calmer state.

Tip: I get really good results when I do this Exercise while also doing the Exercise “Slowed Down Thinking” or “Ultra Slowed Down Thinking.” I recommend doing this exercise a few times so you can concentrate on the exercise itself and master it, then experiment with adding Slowed Down Thinking in and see what happens.


To little by little decrease our level of activation. To reach a state of “calm alert.”

Here is an illustration of the exercise to reference:

The 5 Step Self-holding Exercise for Self-Regulation of PTSD Symptoms


It doesn’t matter which hand (Right or Left) goes in which position. Experiment to find out what feels right for you.

Make sure to do the Felt Sense to the best of your ability as you do this exercise. That means, feel and notice all the sensations as they pass though you, like watching a stream and noticing the colors, shapes, energy, sounds and motion.

  1. HEAD SIDES Place your hands on either side of your head. Think about how you are creating edges for your thoughts. You are creating the sides of a container that contains your thoughts. Feel the sensation between your hands.
  2. HEAD FRONT-BACK Place one hand on your forehead and one hand on the back of your head. Feel the container around of your thinking. Feel the sensation between your hands.
  3. FOREHEAD – HEART Place one hand on your forehead and one hand on your heart. See if you can sense some sensations between your hands.
  4. HEART – STOMACH Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly – it can be over or near your belly button. Feel the sensations between your hands.
  5. SOLAR PLEXUS – BASE OF HEAD Place one hand on your solar plexus – the point above your belly and right below your rib cage – and the other hand behind the base of your head – halfway covering the base of your head and halfway onto your neck. The middle of your hand should be over the deepest indentation.

By the end of this sequence, you should feel calmer than when you began, and be able to face the challenges of everyday life better than when totally hyped up.

Congratulations! You had the willingness and put in the effort to learn to manage your own symptoms, to learn self-regulation.

Did you feel calmer?  Then you get a Star for working on Trauma Healing Goal #2 – Self-Regulation:

Star for Meeting Trauma Healing Goal #2 Self-Regulation

Did you get a sense of feeling safe in your body and environment? Did you take note of the fact that you were not being traumatized in the moments of doing the exercise and for those moments were safe? Do you feel like there may be a chance to feel safe in your body at some point in time? If so, you get a Star for working on Trauma Healing Goal # 1 Finding Safety:

Star for Meeting Trauma Healing Goal #1 Finding Safety

Note that this Exercise is actually a combo of three other Exercises:

(Steps 1. and 2.) Mental Container / Mental Calm Exercise (created by me)

(Steps 3. and 4) Peter Levine’s 2 Step Self-Soothing Hand Positions Exercise (Peter Levine)

(Step 5.) Fear-Soothing Self-Holding Exercise (from a spiritual teacher I studied with)

Actually, the instructions for Peter Levine’s 2 Step Self-Soothing Hand Positions Exercise are a lot more comprehensive than the instructions in this article (as this is meant to be read after that article as they appear in the book) and that article also includes Peter Levine’s advice and comments on the exercise. I recommend reading that article to really understand this exercise – click here to go to the article.

Also, working on developing and deepening your “Felt Sense” helps make all somatic therapy exercises more effective. Click here for an article about how to do the Felt Sense.

Note that you can create your own Self-holding exercises based on what you need. Just hold the intention to calm your nervous system and find whatever placements feel the best for you – for example if you happen to have an upset stomach placing your hand on that specific uncomfortable area could be soothing.


Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer in Asheville, North Carolina currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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10 Responses

  1. Hi, Heidi!

    Thank you for sharing a tool that can be used anywhere at any time. The visuals that you included made it easy to understand. Do you recommend doing this sequence more than once in one sitting?

  2. Thank you Ms.Heidi for sharing your expertise that makes me relax and calm doing the 5 steps in self-holding exercise.

  3. Hi Heidi,

    I am a yoga teacher focusing on trauma sensitive yoga and found your illustrations very helpful. Could I please seek permission from you to republish this with credit given under your name? Look forward to hearing from you.

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