Welcome to Week Three

Co-regulation - How Our Nervous System was Shaped

safely connected in nature.jpg

(To listen to the audio recording of this introduction click here.) 

For most of us, one of the most tender things applying Polyvagal Theory, is taking to heart the research that our species really depends on feeling safely connected. Our culture prizes pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Acknowledging that our nervous system relies on safe connection is a really different message.

Each of us is unique in how we meet our needs for connection. Some of us need more regular contact and others need less. Some of us get connected through playing sports or making music. Others might feel connection by being quiet in nature, spending time with a friend or pet that we care about.

Our nervous system was shaped in relationship to whomever was in the role of our primary caregiver/s. Even if we didn’t get our needs met in that primary relationship, we still have this need for social connection. We might want to avoid it, ignore it, or override it but it’s part of us.

Our very survival depended on this relationship.

These early experiences of how we were shaped continue to influence us in the background, below the level of our conscious awareness, until we take an active role in reshaping our nervous system, by:

  1. Becoming aware of our nervous system states and responses.

  2. Extending self-care and prioritizing becoming self-aware, even when it’s uncomfortable and not familiar. It often feels like being in very new ground.

  3. Reshaping our nervous system. Extending kindness to ourselves in the places where we need it. Having a clear intention in our yoga and awareness practices to prioritize self-awareness, self-caring and self-kindness.

As you start understanding your own nervous system and needs more, you gradually get more attuned to the states of others - the folks you care about, interact with and serve.

This really is a lifelong journey of bringing attention, care and kindness to yourself and your relationships.

In this week’s materials read reflections about how my system was shaped. Explore practices of gesture, sound, breath, meditation, and adaptive yoga to turn toward yourself with kindness.

Sculpt your wommanequin, into expressions of your nervous system states.

Spend time mapping your nervous system states, going back to the exercise from Week One.

Dip your toes into the stream of co-regulation and experience how your nervous system was shaped.

Week Three Recordings

Part I

Part II

Preparation, Daily Practices and Reflection

I. Preparation

  • Watch Deb’s Interview, 1:04:15 - 1:07:51, plus any other portions of the video you have time to watch.
  • Co-regulation is a primal need yet not generally understood in our culture.
  • Start to get curious how you were shaped around co-regulation.

 

II. Daily Practices and Homework

A. Daily Practices (practice each 3x)

Mini-Journal (3 mins, 3x) about what you experience in your nervous system in one practice, below:

1. Feeling Good from the Inside Out Meditations: Practice one 3x- Feeling Connected in Nature, with a Pet, with a Loved One.

2. Touching the Heart of Kindness (video) Practice 3x. Watch first, then feel free to adapt it, shorten it.

3. Womannequin sculpting:

Sculpt (3x) your womannequin into your own expression of:

  • I feel good….
  • I’m in a tough spot - I need a hug!
  • My energy is shifting
  • I was blue and now I’m ready to try again

4. Continue mapping your nervous system.... 3x this week. This exercise was introduced in Week Two.

 

B. Homework (1x)

Practice (5 mins.) of Variations in Down Dog and Kneeling Lunge. (video) Explore bringing conscious exhale into movement and incorporate counting. Deepening the exhale shifts our ANS toward VV engagement.

Optional: Start to watch this video of Dr. Stephen Porges talking about the Origins of Compassion. Click this link to watch it.

 

III. Reflection Questions

  1. Is there a place in your body that needs some extra soothing? Ex: kindness, compassion, awareness, caring touch. What is one next step you can take toward being kind to yourself in your yoga practice?

  2. What is your favorite/easiest place in your body to connect your awareness with breath? Any places where it's difficult to connect with your breath?

  3. From a place of feeling grounded in kindness toward yourself, consider how your nervous system was shaped: how your primary caregiver was able to meet your needs and whether there was a "mismatch," as Deb calls it, in places/experiences where your primary caregiver was unable to meet your needs. Practice coming back to a feeling of being kind and connected to yourself. 

 

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

Three Resources to Strengthen in this Course

1. Self-awareness

First bring attention to your ability to shift attention where you want to focus it. You notice how it feels to walk on the ground, you notice where you feel lengthening, you notice how your body feels when you’re outside in the air.

The capacity that you can notice your own experience.

2. Self-caring

You care enough about yourself to invest a little energy regularly, to shift your nervous system.

Most of us have experienced times in our lives when life’s difficulties felt overwhelming. Those moments shape our system, especially if they’ve gone on.

Now we have the opportunity, the wisdom, the support, to begin again. This is a great time to begin again.

In my career I’ve known many whom I would consider elders that began a self-care practice of incorporating movement and other practices when they were in their 80s and 90s. Across the board, it contributed significantly to their happiness, social connection, and well-being.

3. Kindness

Kindness is key.

To have the kind of relationship with your body that brings greater ease and that you can continue deepening through life, learning to extend kindness to yourself really pays off.

Think little ways. Brushing your teeth. Eating fresh vegetables. Moving every day. A few moments of conscious breathing.

More and more, replace “grumpf” with, “wow, I get to be alive today.” See the mountains. Feel the wind on my skin.

And, to thine own self be true

Simple practices like the ones you’re exploring, can trigger challenging emotions, bring up memories of tough times and stir the pot.

A rule of thumb is to aim toward building inner strengths from repeating what truly feels supportive. If you feel yourself being pulled into something that’s hard where you lose your ability to be present, it’s fine. Just stop. Do something else. Stand up. Stretch.

Notice that your system is ready to shift with some support. And get curious how to be kind to yourself.

Ways to Practice Shifting the Nervous System

or to bring awareness to elements of social connection....

1. Movement

Moving the body shifts the nervous system. There’s endless ways to move! Yoga, adapted appropriately, has been shown to lower cortisol, a stress hormone. Cardio exercise supports healthy heart functioning. Flowing movements, like chi qong, increase energy flows. Taking walks in nature nurtures a sense of connection. Dance is a form of expression. Sports is a way to play with others.

Move with awareness - present centered - over and over. The gift of being present is that we use the practice of movement to cultivate our mind’s attention. We relieve mental suffering when we strengthen our capacity to be present, direct our attention where we want it to go rather than following well-worn patterns like worry and self-doubt.

Bonus learning for this course:

Focusing on the breath is a resource available in each moment. In the practices of this course, learn how to incorporate breath with movement and apply that in your movement practices.

2. Breath

Taking several deep breaths is a reliable tool to settle, to steady the mind, to relax the body. Dedicating several minutes to explore gently deeper than normal breathing, aware of breathing, relaxed and full, is a simple tool to shift the mind into more balanced awareness.

After shifting the nervous system through some movement practice it is much easier to turn attention to the breath.

First:

Bring your awareness to the sensations you experience in your body. The body’s sensations are present centered.

Then:

Once you’re settled and can notice body sensation - like the support of the chair under your legs - bring attention to your breathing.

This practice seems simple but actually, continuing to bring kindness and warmth to yourself as you turn your attention inward, is a huge practice for all of us.

See how you can gently deepen your breath. Focus on the exhale calms the system.

Always keep the exhale as long as or gently longer than the inhale. Never force your breath.

Learning for this course:

Know from your own experience, that breath shifts the nervous system.

3. Touch

Petting a dog or cat, extending a handshake to someone you’ve just met, sharing a hug with someone you feel safe and connected with, massaging the stress away from your temples - these are examples of how touch shifts our nervous system toward feeling safely connected.

Consider self-massage using oil, like Abhyanga from the Ayurvedic tradition.

Learning for this course:

Explore one or more of the practices that incorporate touch. Notice how your system responds.

Consider how you enjoy giving and receiving touch. Find a way to bring conscious, considerate, caring touch into your life.

4. Sound

Sound is another part of our Social Engagement system, how we as mammals look for cues of safety with others.

Listening to a lullaby, hearing someone tell a story, enjoying music, singing with others or chanting Om are some examples.

Explore how voice is a way to extend messages of safety and connection to others.

Learning for this course:

Discover new ways and revive familiar ways you relate to sound and music. Listen to a piece of music while being self-aware, tracking your breath, your inner experience. Observe the shifts that happen in your nervous system as you listen.

Check out a practice of sound, or of singing, in the course. Be kind to yourself. No “shoulds” or “have to.” No right or wrong. Just like a scientist, “hmm, this is interesting.” See if you can get curious about it.

5. Eyes

The give and take of being seen and seeing others is so important to us all. It is primal. When a young baby can’t read the expression on her caregiver’s face, the infant becomes very distressed.

The eyes communicate that we are safe. It’s how we know each other.

Learning for this course:

Practice the eye exercises. In our modern times we use and overuse our eyes in routine ways. Explore other ways to engage with your eyes, as an act of self-awareness, self-caring, and kindness.

6. Co-regulate

In addition to how we learn to manage our own system’s needs, we turn to each other for being met.

Each of our systems were shaped uniquely. We were wired with an imprint even before life began. Then we were imprinted by how our caregivers related to us. How our needs were met. Or not.

We have different needs from each other. It’s a journey to discover whether we enjoy spending more time with others, need more quiet time because our system gets overloaded, how we enjoy connecting with others - on walks, in book discussion groups or one on one.

Learning for this course:

Utilize the time in our group and with your practice partner to consider your needs around connecting with others.

It can be that when our needs for connection haven’t been met, we minimize them, telling ourselves things like we don’t really need to connect with others.

As profoundly social beings, we all need connection, safe connection with others.

Consider how this understanding can shape new choices in your life. Try on a new way of connecting. Notice your experience. Be kind to yourself.

This is a journey of discovering, not a goal to arrive at, not one size fits all. Make more space for what’s true for you.

 

7.  Strengthen Mental Resources

Check out this Taking in the Good practice, another gift to give yourself, moments at a time.

Taking in the Good

Dr. Rick Hanson offers a very user friendly model called Taking in the Good. It’s a model of how to accelerate your brain’s potential (and thus your mind’s potential) for learning. It’s a simple meditation and awareness practice that you can apply to places of personal development where you might have experienced something that was difficult for your nervous system, or younger times when your needs were not met, for example.

The first part of this model is to recognize the very many good things all around us in this very moment. Though neither you or I live in a perfect world we have many opportunities to experience beauty, caring, friendship, creativity, acting on our own behalf, and happiness, each day in countless ways.

 

Negativity Bias

Throughout evolution the brain had to prioritize learning from bad things that happen. If your ancestors missed a cue, for example the sound of someone approaching, s/he would not have survived to pass on their genes. 

If their brain didn’t learn quickly, then you and I wouldn’t be here now.

The brain evolved to overfocus on the negative and pretty much skip over the positive. There will be another chance to smell the roses but not if you become someone’s lunch!
 

Learning for this course:

To help balance this tendency, practice becoming aware of the good or neutral things in your day. The warmth of the covers on your bed. The kindness in the eyes of the grocery clerk. Simple everyday things.

Instead of just letting that goodness slip through your fingers, “what’s the big deal?”, take it in. Let your body feel that goodness, let yourself absorb it. Let it become part of you. Stay with it for a few seconds at a time so that it registers in your memory.

You’re giving your brain the signal, “Pay attention to this. This is good!”

Stay with the good and let the good feelings linger. Practice this in small ways all day long.

Jump on for my short course to deepen your understanding.
 

Integrate

Journal, share, ask questions, reflect, be curious, do something new. Give yourself this time to explore.

Make space for who you are and who you are becoming! Share your light with us.

 

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

 

 

 

Sharing a Body Scan

 

What’s unique about this practice is reporting out to your Practice Partner. This is a way to explore deepening your connection with yourself and with someone else.

We want to aim toward creating a safe space with the understanding that even with best intentions, we are not in control of what might arise inside for another.

 

Tip:

It's so helpful to just be heard. Instead of thinking about how you'll respond to your partner, or what you'll say when it's your turn, as much as you can make space for your experience in the moment - whether it's comfortable, or if you feel tense.

 


Prep for Exercise:

With your partner, listen to the Guided audio Body Scan, in Session Two Resources. It's about 7 minutes.

As you listen, incorporate self-awareness. Or draw on Deb’s Name and Notice practice. Find it in the Table of Contents for Deb's Interview.

 

After listening to the Guided Body scan together, pause, and journal for about 3 minutes about what you noticed.

Report out to each other, what you experienced.

 

How to listen:

Set a timer for two minutes. One partner shares, the other listens. 

Pause for a few moments in silence.

Switch roles: set the timer, the other partner speaks/listens.

Then have a more conversational back and forth, to continue exploring what you noticed.

 

 

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

 

 

 

My Grandma

My maternal grandma lived with us when I was born. I don’t really have memories of her. She died when I was about 3 and a half years old.

Over the years when I saw my older brother and first cousin at a holiday, they would tell me about how much grandma loved me. How I'd hang onto her apron strings when she baked for the family every week.

She would push me in a stroller for walks around the block and neighborhood. How grandma loved her flower garden.

I love our garden. And spring flowers so fragrant. I've loved having raspberries as an adult - we had them growing up.

Years ago when I did a rebirthing session and drew a mandala of my experience afterwards, it was my grandma that had greeted me at birth. My mom loved me. Yet there was a way that my grandma was with me, 24/7. I bonded with her deeply.

My uncle told me once that I started speaking about a year later than most children. He said that they thought it was because grandma spoke both pigeon English and Low German and I didn’t know what I was supposed to speak!

Grandma had immigrated with her husband and two children from Slovakia, in 1910. 

A Forgotten Resource

I didn’t know to look toward her love until I began exploring inner critical voices some years ago. I was coached to reflect on where I might find support as a young child. I honestly didn’t know - it was confusing.

Then I talked about how my grandma had died when I was young. There was a big part of my heart where she lived in my early life. This came through some one on one reflections with a trusted coach.

The memory was in my body, not in my mind. When I was actively learning to take in the good and savor it, through Rick Hanson’s work, I went inside to an earlier time to feel the support I had needed at that younger age.

In a partner sharing I connected back to memories of stories about my Grandma with more potency, knowing that I was building on something precious. How I connected back to her was through the memory of me sitting on her lap. I don't have a memory of this, but there is an old photo of her holding me on her lap.

The words for me are, “She had my back.” I felt safe, safely connected and it was/is that place in my body, that was/is rock solid for me. A strong, peasant-like, sturdy woman connected with the earth.

I have internalized that over time, and still go there to find comfort. And can definitely continue to grow this feeling as a resource.

It helps me know how important safe touch is for me. Feeling held. It’s primary for me. Touch soothes me right down.

 

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

 

 

One Place I Learned Co-Regulation

This woman, Mariah Fenton Gladis, blew open my faith in connection. In a good way.

Back in the late 80s, I attended several workshop she gave called Exact Moments of Healing. A Gestalt therapist, Mariah was diagnosed with ALS. You can watch an inspiring TED talk she gave, Arrive Already Loved: https://youtu.be/8l7XPR02_sU

After spending time with her previously, it was with her work that I sought comfort when I was 34 years old. At that time I had been residential staff at Kripalu Center for 17 years, I was single, not drawing a salary (we offered our work as selfless service).

I had just been the primary caregiver for my Dad during his final illness and death. His dying wasn’t easy. I was without the support of Hospice, and felt my voice was not valued in making important choices about his end of life.

I felt tremendous grief and the burden of guilt. I had vowed to my Dad that I would make his death as comfortable as possible and then circumstances made it impossible for me to live out my vow.

It’s been a journey to make peace with this experience. That experience of loss was layered on top of other very early losses that had a cumulative effect on me. That was 26 years ago. I’ve come so far in healing, thankfully.

At that workshop Mariah played this song for me after I shared about my Dad’s death. I offer it to you in the spirit of her love. https://youtu.be/KEXQkrllGbA

I share this to illustrate how music shifts our nervous system states.

This song might touch you or you might not resonate with it. It’s all good. Be true to what resonates with you.

 

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

 

 

 

Week Three

Main Practices + Bonuses

 

Touching the Heart of Kindness

 

Variations in Down Dog and Kneeling Lunge

Continue to deepen exhale by suspending breath out after exhale.

 

CHARLOTTE'S WANDERER

 

Bonus! Audio:

Tuning In - Tension/Release Body Scan

This guided relaxation helps you experience the shifts between tension and relaxation that happen in your muscles. As with any practice, the more you do it, the more natural this kind of letting go will become. You can easily carry this awareness into daily life activities - when you get ready to drive your car, make a phone call, prepare a meal. Take three breaths and just let yourself relax first. Then go on about your activities with a renewed awareness of your body’s signals.

 
 
 
 

Integration Week: Homework and Daily Practices

Integration Week is a great opportunity to practice, explore and review the course so far. 

Homework

A. Reflect on your daily practice. Write down what you'll focus on during Integration Week and send it to me by Thursday.

Keep it short and specific. Focus on bringing awareness to your body experience.

Examples:

  • I'll spend ten minutes a day journaling about body sensations.

  • I'll practice the body scan... (# x's).

  • I'll do a 15-minute yoga practice (# x's).

  • I'll sing a song that shifts my nervous system toward feeling safely connected (# x's).

  • I'll journal about the choices I'm making re: shifting toward V.V. and how I experience those shifts.

Reach out if you need help with this.

B. Watch the entire interview with Deb if you have time, even if you already have.

 

Daily PracticeS during integration week

Explore shifting states, 1:30:45 in Deb's interview. Every day, model your wooden womannequin to move through each state.

Mini-journal (3 mins) Notice the response in your body from modeling the womannequin. 

 

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

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