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How to Regulate Your Nervous System with Somatic Yoga Therapy

Updated: Apr 15

Somatic Yoga Therapy is about re-establishing a relationship with your body, about coming home to yourself and finding an experience of EASE. A large component of how this works is through learning how your body communicates to you through your nervous system.

Almost every Embodiment Yoga Therapy session begins with inquiry, which leads to awareness of where you are at in this given moment through the lens of your nervous system. Play with this practice to see what this feels like in your own body.

Inquiry Practice - Somatic Yoga Therapy Opening Sequence

This practice begins with self-inquiry. Notice your breath. Notice your body. Remember that the practice is in noticing. It is ok to feel sensation and it is also ok to feel nothing at all. Sensations can be emotional or physical. They can feel fast or slow, cold or hot, intense or subtle and they can also feel numb or absent. All of these things are messages that your body is simply expressing.

Once you have noticed your body and breath, see if you can place your nervous system, using the following chart.

If your body and mind both feel FAST, begin your practice with movement. Allow the energy that feels pent up within you to express. Allow your breath to move and invite sensation in whatever ways feel comfortable for you.

If your body and mind both feel SLOW, begin your practice with INTENTIONAL REST. Choose a restorative yoga posture that opens the chest and settle in as fully as you can with the eyes open and alert. If the sensation is stronger than a feeling of slow and is closer to heaviness or depressive feelings, I suggest practicing the last option in this list, where I have suggestions for responding to numbness.

If your mind feels fast, but your body feels slow, this is akin to an animal feeling trapped and planning its escape. You may wish to respond with a gentle movement, such as cat/cow while you focus on slowing down your exhale breath. As you feel yourself starting to settle, you may wish to transition into a sphinx pose, with the floor pressing into your abdomen and your elbows propped under your shoulders. As you hold the pose and continue to focus on your breath, you can slowly move your head from side to side, looking over each shoulder. This works with the polyvagal nerve to reset your parasympathetic nervous system, bringing you back into regulation while also allowing your body to move out of feeling physically stuck.

If your body feels fast but your mind feels slow, this is the classic frozen-at-the-podium scenario, where you forget what you were going to say in front of a large group of people. Respond to those jittery bodily sensations by bouncing your heels in a standing position with a rhythmic, steady inhale and exhale. If you find it helpful, you can swing your arms and allow the exhale to have a relieving ‘HA’ sound. Remember to keep your breathing rhythmic and avoid going into a rapid or panicked breath pattern.

If you can't place yourself on the chart or if what you observe is neutral, numb, heavy, or depressive, this is as much of communication as the other options I have already mentioned. Respond to this sensation of neutrality by connecting with a rhythmic breath where you dance the arms through a three-part inhalation. This can be practiced from standing or seated and I encourage you to keep your eyes open as you move. On the first inhalation reach your arms forward. On the second inhalation, reach your arms wide, and on the last inhalation reach your arms toward the sky. With your exhale, bring your hands to your heart and plant a seed of hope for yourself. You may feel neutral right now but there is the possibility to feel a glimmer of hope, no matter how small. Create space for this possibility with your breath.

After you have responded to the sensations within your body, take time to reflect in your journal about what you have observed.

This is a small example of how a Somatic Yoga Therapy session begins and is not a complete practice. Once we have begun the conversation with the body, the continued practice invites you to move toward somatic wholeness emotionally, physically, mentally, and energetically. Over time, we recognize the somatic shape that you have held in your body and together, create a new shape, new pattern and a new story. For some examples of somatic and embodiment yoga therapy practices for releasing trauma held in the body, read some of my other blog posts on releasing trauma held in the eyes and the hips.

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