5 minutes for nervous system hygiene
I lie down on my back. My fingers 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 the thoughts about the 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. 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 different ways to train the nervous system, we explore some of them in somatic therapy sessions.
The period leading to Christmas is often no short of stress and haste, therefore we would like to share a short practice for the vagus 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 in 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.
Wishing you moments of relaxation! (We deny any liability for detecting spiderwebs in the corners of the room and/or an immediate urge to grab a mop.)
If you would like to practice with a group, join Polyvagal theory exploration groups in Vilnius or join us in an individual practice online. For more information follow the posts on www.ikunytapraktika.lt or contact us at email@example.com