Picture new parents with babe in arms… picture a musician deep in the flow of a favorite piece… a child on a rocking horse… the crowd during the ballad at a summer concert… or sitting on the dock of a lake feeling the waves gently coming in.

What do these all have in common?

The swaying, the rocking, the shifting of body weight in a calming, co-ordinated way.

Don’t you feel calmer just thinking about it?

These moments of soothing movements are often instinctive, well-grooved habits.

Simple Self-Soothing Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

One of my favorite parts to teach in the Breath & Bliss Immersion is the section on rolling and floor-play. As a former professional Contemporary dancer, I have a very comfortable relationship with the floor as a place to explore my body’s association with gravity. We spent many, many hours learning to roll and tumble and explore moving in both subtle and grand ways within the floor space.

Exploring in this way with ease, while keeping the joints comfortable, takes a fine balance between just enough muscular tension and just enough yielding to the force of gravity.

Yes, this all begins with rocking and rolling… (cue the guitar solo!)

Here are a few rockin’ ideas to get you started!

First, lie on your back on a mat or even in bed, and sense all of the parts of yourself that are in contact with the supporting surface beneath you. Let your exhales act as permission to yield.

Now using as little effort as possible, roll your head from side to side. FEEL the unique architecture of your skull as you shift from right to left. Use less muscular effort, and then even less effort.

For a delicious version of this, just add the soft inflatable Coregeous® Ball under your head!

In Ardha Savasana (knees bent, feet on the floor), place the ball behind your head and neck where it feels best supported. (depending on the length your neck, there will likely be some overlap of the ball on the upper trapezius and/or the base of your skull.)

Tune Up Fitness® trainer Lisa Hebert gently massages the neck by rocking her head side to side

Now repeat the subtle head and neck motion: smaller, less effort. Bring back memories of lazy summer days in the pool on an inner tube, with nothing but your daydreams to occupy your mind.

For an extra soothing treat, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket and try the first version again. Maybe even hug a pillow or bolster.

Wrapping your body in a blanket will make your rocking and rolling extra soothing

This time as your head rocks to the right, let the rest of your body spill over along with it: slowly, less effort, more like a massage for your tissues as they are gently compressed and rolled with the weight of your head, your shoulders, your hips.

Try an inhale on the way over to your side and an exhale to come back on to your back. Try going slower, and effort-ing less. (See a theme here?)

All of this is a great way to bring you into a deeper state of Parasympathetic dominance–to allow you to feel calm and grounded.

Bonus points if you are willing to hum while you rock, as humming helps to stimulate the Vagus Nerve.

How the Vagus Nerve Soothes Your Nervous System

The Vagus, Latin for “wanderer,” is just that: the longest of the 12 cranial nerves in your body. It starts at the brainstem and cascades its way to contact your heart and lungs, moves past your diaphragm into your visceral organs.

The Vagus is also involved in our Social Engagement System: It innervates the muscles of the face that allow us to convey and read each others’ emotions and reactions. The Vagus Nerve is also intimately linked to your HRV (Heart Rate Variability), your immune function and the adaptive responses of your Autonomic Nervous System.

In the words of Dr. Stephen Porges, in The Polyvagal Theory, its role is to support “Health, Growth & Restoration,” which in turn dampens the Sympathetic activity of “Fight, Flight, Mobilize.”

The Parasympathetic component of the Autonomic Nervous system (ANS) is often referred to as “Rest & Digest” or sometimes “Rest, Digest & Assimilate”. One of the many ways to nudge the nervous system into a parasympathetic state is to rock your body, rhythmically, in synchronization with your breath.

The first “simple” version of cervical rotations has a stimulating effect to the branches of the Vagus that run on either side of your neck, engaging the myelinated branches of the Vagus that innervate the facial muscles.

Intuitive Movements to Bring Peace and Calm

In the following video, I show a more dynamic version of improvisational, intuitive movements to soothe the nervous system. Have a look, then find a nice open space on your own floor and practice rolling instinctually around. Don’t worry about doing these self-soothing exercises right… just let your body rock and roll you for a while. Then sit up and notice how you feel.

 

Amplify Parasympathetic dominance, awaken the Social Engagement System and you are well on your way to feeling calmer, more grounded and in a place that can optimize health, growth, and restoration.

Join me at an upcoming Breath and Bliss Immersion if you’d like to delve deep into the science and practice of renewal and recovery…

 

Photo credits: All images and video of Lisa Hebert created by Lisa Hebert

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Lace

The floor-play aspect gives an interesting way to explore movement in a very relaxed way. We usually associate relaxation with passive stillness. This is a great alternative!

Stacey Cabrera

I am so grateful to have fallen upon this article. The poly vagal theory is so interesting. Many of the excercises are accessible to most. The vagus nerve is so interesting, very relaxing and calming.

Kristin Kandyba

Love this! I’m very interested in learning more about poly vagal theory, and in fact just started listening to the audio book Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve on my way home from YTU level 1 training. Best part is is the most of these exercises are simple and accessible to most people. And I can’t help but think about how my cats love rolling around on the ground, especially in the sunlight (same for dogs!)

Karen McGoven

Just loved this article! Couldn’t wait to use it with my students. Great for restorative classes. The rocking and rolling combined with somatic movement are perfect right before savasana.

Mar

This reminds me of when I was a dancer, while at first it made me sad to think how much mobility I had lost, I turned it around and started rolling on the floor. I loved it and it soothed me to no end. Things are going to get better.
Thank you!

Lisa Hebert

Once a dancer, always a dancer. It’s a part of you and your soul. It affects how you experience the world and gives you a unique lens through which to see movement.
So happy this experience was soothing and positive!

Lisa

It’s very interesting to have the exercices first and the part of how and why we feel this way after. I will try for sur, it’s very well explain .

Mélanie Ouellet

I love these intuitive movements.
They respect the amplitude of these main joints. Here’s an inspiring way to increase your joint mobility.

Josee Dupuis

I remember this extra formation breath and Bliss. Thank you again Lisa. It’s a real pleasure. Xx

Melaina Landriault

This is wonderful information which engages the want yo know more. Lisa you are a gift to this world. Thank you Teach for all that you offer and hold in space.

Blessings
Melaina Landriault

Elise Guadalupe

I love how this article started out as a feel-good tip and then quickly became a great anatomy lesson on the Vagus Nerve. It spoke to my love for self care and to the nerd in me. Excellent information and teaching tips.

Maria del carmen restrepo

I love the idea of soothing movement to relax and calm down the nervous system, I believe is the most easy way to restore the muscles in your body after excercice or an hour of practice. When in savasana i like to move very slowly my head from side to side, but the idea of using the coregeous under the head is great. I’ll try it.