5 minutes for nervous system hygiene
I lie down on my back. My fingers are interlaced under the back of my head. First I look right in front of me, then turn my eyes to the left. I now look at the leftmost point on the ceiling that can be easily reached by my glance. It looks like the ceiling has some fly spots over there. Another cleaning job pending… But I'm not inspecting the cleanliness of the ceiling here - I'm doing an exercise for the nervous system suggested by Stanley Rosenberg. So I postpone my thoughts about using a telescopic handle mop and continue looking. Soon I feel a yawn brewing in my jaw, throat, and chest, and I allow myself to make a big loud yawn. No wonder you yawned, you might say, staring at the ceiling seems pretty boring! Not this time! This yawn is not out of boredom. It is a sign of self-regulation of the nervous system.
In his book “Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve” published in 2017, Rosenberg talks about the vagus nerve and its role in our physical and psychoemotional health. Based on his many years of experience as a craniosacral therapist and S. Porges' Polyvagal theory, the author states that the lack of proper functioning of the vagus nerve has a considerable impact on various disorders such as anxiety, depression, migraines, back pain and so on.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that extends from the brain through the chest all the way to the abdomen. In addition to participating in many other vital functions, a well-functioning vagus nerve is involved in the self-regulation of our nervous system and helps us reach a state of emotional balance. There are a number of various exercises that help to activate the vagus nerve and increase its tone. On top of polyvagal exercises, there are also many different ways to train the nervous system and we explore some of them in somatic therapy sessions.
Polyvagal exercises are simple but truly effective and accessible for most people, therefore I would like to spread the word and share a short practice for engaging the vagus nerve with you today that you can easily do at home. Rosenberg calls this exercise the Basic Exercise. While performing this exercise, eye movements activate the suboccipital muscles at the back of the head, where the centers of vision are located in the brain. According to the author, this exercise helps to align the first and second cervical vertebrae and recalibrate our nervous system into the most optimal state for us that is needed for social engagement.
How to do Rosenberg’s Basic Exercise?
While lying comfortably on your back, interlace your fingers together and place them at the back of your head. Allow your head to comfortably settle in your hands. If this position is not comfortable for your arms, you can place one hand under your head instead, just make sure that both sides of the back of your head are equally supported. Leave your eyes open.
Without turning your head, turn your eyes and look to the left, as far left as your eyes feel comfortable to look.
After a while you may feel a sense of relaxation in the autonomic nervous system. It might present itself as a yawn, a deeper sigh or a spontaneous swallowing of saliva. This usually happens within the first 30-60 seconds. This shift may be very subtle, therefore if you cannot sense it - don’t worry, simply bring back your gaze right in front of you after about a minute has passed.
Afterwards, again without turning your head, move your eyes to the right side and look at the furthermost right point that feels comfortable for another 30-60 seconds or until you yawn, sigh or follow a need to swallow.
Bring your eyes back to the center. Take a minute to check how you feel. Maybe there is some change within since the beginning of the exercise.
Practicing this exercise daily or at least a few times per week can become a habit of keeping your nervous system in good hygiene and balance.
Explore this and many more exercises by joining me for individual or group Nervous system support practice. The simple yet effective exercises that we practice during our sessions are integrating various Polyvagal Theory based exercises (offered by S. Rosenberg, D. Dana and others) with Experiential Anatomy and Basic Neurocellular Patterns - Developmental Movement (B.B. Cohen) practices.
The goal of the program is to enable you to develop new habits for self-regulation and develop the ability to connect with the embodied reality of your nervous system so that you can apply these new skills in your everyday life.
Sessions are available online as an individual practice with me or in a small group setting (contact me regarding the times and availability).
More information here