What?! I can give myself dose of sanity, and no nasty side effects?
Yes, you can enjoy more receptivity and less reactivity by using this self-care practice! No expiration date or fees apply, but, there’s a catch: you must use the practice. Not only will your sanity quotient increase, but you’ll give yourself a hefty dose of loving kindness, habibi. Your relationships will improve; loved ones, friends, acquaintances…heck, everyone will appreciate your capacity for self-regulation!
Orienting – A Pathway for Genuine Self-Care
The brain has basically two modes – reactive or receptive. When you’re in reactive mode, you can’t think or see straight. Instead, you can reduce reactivity and invite receptivity in mind-body. Do this: through the day, scan the body and note sensations. Whether you note a spike in reactivity (shallow breathing, tightness, clenching, emotions commonly labeled fear, anger, anxiety, etc) or not, pause and apply this practice outlined below.
Orienting takes consistent attention. Stress reactivity (a.k.a., survival physiology) has become habitual pattern for lots of folks. I’m talking about the Fight/Flight modes that are in play when there’s a perception of danger, and Freeze mode when there’s a perception of life-threatening danger.
In day-to-day interactions and activities (assuming you don’t live in a war zone, meaning on-going physical, sexual and emotional violence within your country, community, home or workplace), survival physiology is not typically called for. Such reactivity is corrosive to relationships and hard on the body. Narratives driven by anxiety, fear and anger intensify bio-physiological distress and erode a sense of safety, clarity and resilience.
At the heart of genuine self-care is engagement of the body-mind’s capacity for receptivity and grounded response.
Orienting: A Three-Part Process to Settle the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
Scan the body and note sensations, narratives and emotions, then…
1) Breathe; specifically, exhale. With mouth open, exhale; close the mouth and let the in-breath take care of itself. Do this 3 – 5 times. Then let the breath resume its natural rhythm.
This invites the autonomic nervous system to settle.
2) Orient using your senses, especially the eyes. Focus attention on the external environment and let your eyes “take in” what they see. Then notice something that evokes pleasure or curiosity.
This focuses you in the here-and-now and helps settle the ANS and emotional states. (Some people find it easier to start with this step and then attend to breathing; that’s fine.)
3) Bring to mind goodness in your life, for instance, of loving someone or feeling loved, or of gratitude.
This focus invites more “ventral dominance,” versus fight/flight dominance or survival physiology.
Breath, visual orienting and awareness of goodness or gratitude invite receptivity. This stimulates ventral dominance, which is required for a sense of safety and grounded, yet flexible social engagement or connection. You optimize receptivity when you’re not unnecessarily flooded with stress chemicals that mobilize the body for survival. You become more present, resilient, open and available to connect with yourself and others.
Anytime, anywhere, you can expand your capacity to settle the body-mind. This is your super-power, so use it! Onward!
Sources include the work of Peter Levine (author of Waking the Tiger and other seminal works), Stephen Porges, creator of the Polyvagal Theory (https://www.stephenporges.com/) and generous guidance from Bend-based Advanced Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, Janice Castelbaum (http://www.janicecastelbaum.com/)
Music to soothe: Once Upon a Time in Paris – Erik Satie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKRY63Buv6A