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.)
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.
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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