Tune Into Your Nervous System with Yoga:
Discover Its Rhythm and Movement
Below you'll find all the materials you need to get started this week.
Inside the program I’ll show you how to trust signals that are coming from inside, from your own nervous system. At the heart of your journey is dedicating some time everyday to explore simple practices that are based in adaptive yoga and self-awareness.
It’s a transformational process, to step back and gain new insight into your own system and needs so you can build a stronger foundation in supporting yourself and others.
Remember, I created this course for anyone that is dedicated to personal self exploration through building their inner strengths of self-awareness, self-acceptance and kindness. And it’s also for professionals that integrate Mindfulness into their work with others.
How This Program Works
I designed this program with you in mind.
While the core curriculum is the same in each program, our time together, is unique to you, and your community of peers for this round.
Okay. Let's get into it. Here's how the program works:
How to Contact Me
Reach out anytime if you have a question. The best way to contact me is by e-mail. You'll usually get a reply within 24 hours.
My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prep Your Tech
(1.) Right now, download and login to Zoom. (It's free.)
(2). Use this quick guide to make sure you've got the right tech setup.
Don't ever hesitate to ask me a question or share your candid thoughts. Simply reply to this email, or any email I send during the program.
An Overview of How We'll Move Through the Program
The Course Flow
You'll find a recorded interview with Deb Dana, LCSW, a guest expert, to help you gain clarity. She trains clinicians in how to regulate themselves. Deb co-authored a book with Stephen Porges, PhD., Clinical Applications of The Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (forthcoming from W.W. Norton).
Then, in each session there will be integration experiences to bring the learning home. These may include tools of yoga such as breathing and meditation exercises; gentle movement; self-reflection; journaling and sharing. Each week, you’ll have recorded practices that are integral to understanding this material experientially, more from the inside out.
There will be also be a Q&A with Deb Dana during the course.
Things To Consider When Building Your Personal Practice
Follow a practice that you enjoy about 4 times a week to let the experience land. This supports you in building a personal practice.
Think about when you'll want to do practices, 15 - 20 minutes or so. Is it easier to set aside time when you start the day or before a meal? Find a time to be consistent. It helps you follow through.
I'll give you practices inside the program to try, so you can see what works for you.
Getting Your Bearings:
Practices and Reflections
Here’s how you’ll want to get ready for our course:
- Start to watch interview with Deb. Reflect on the three states of ANS that she describes: Dorsal Vagus, Ventral Vagus and SNS.
- Mini-Journal (2 mins): Note how you feel as you learn about these ANS states.
3. Practice 2 mins.: Integrate Exhale with Movement and Counting (video).This movement based practice is intentionally safe + simple. If making your exhalation conscious is unfamiliar, make it conscious every time you practice, throughout this course.
If you’re already familiar with incorporating breath and movement with conscious exhale, reach out to me with an e-mail. We might explore together, ways to adapt and deepen your practice.
4. Get familiar with Ujjayi breathing (audio), 2 mins. practice.
Everything else is offered as a bonus to deepen an understanding of your practices.
reading and Reflections
Reading: About How to Practice, Yoga Means to Join, and Deb's article, A Beginner's Guide to Polyvagal Theory.
1. How do you experience a sense of grounding, of settling in?
- Describe what you experience, what you notice in your body, in your breath, in your mind, in your emotions.
- Journaling for a few minutes helps to track your experience. You’re free to include drawing, painting, color, words, images, memories, sound/songs, inspiration...
2. What are 2 - 3 favorite ways to ground and settle yourself? “On” or “off” your yoga mat or meditation cushion…..
Share about these with your practice partner.
@2018, Charlotte Nuessle
Interview With Guest Expert, Deb Dana, LCSW
Below you'll find a table of contents arranged by content and time.
What are the States of Our Autonomic Nervous System?
States of our Autonomic Nervous System 9:18
How each state has something to offer 8:04, 40:26
Autonomic Nervous System Hierarchy 8:04, 12:08, 19:52, 38:55
Dorsal Vagal System 8:28, 40:54
Sympathetic Nervous System 9:55
Ventral Vagal System 10:45
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS): Anatomical Perspective
ANS: Anatomical Perspective 20:32
Understanding new research re: PVT in light of previous understanding 24:44
Social Engagement System
Basics of Social Engagement System 26:58
Tone of Voice 1:00:30, Chanting Om 1:19:15, Music and States/Shifts 1:20:15
Neutral Face 1:01:00
Social Engagement as doorway to Ventral Vagal 1:15:02
Neuroception and Becoming More Self-Aware
What is neuroception? 30:22
Why do we need to bring awareness to neuroception? 33:04, 50:02
What are the messages we’re getting? 34:11
Top down 35:30
Ancient Ways of Knowing 55:25
Common experiences of dys-regulation 1:00:50
ANS State comes first; then Story 17:12, 18:33, 33:42, 35:38, 39:18, 1:12:39
What is regulation? 1:22:33
Sensations of co-regulation; beliefs about being independent 28:00
How our system was shaped 43:06, 59:54, 1:01:42
What our society values 1:04:15
Understanding co-regulation and self-regulation 1:04:15
Each of us has different needs for co-regulation 1:05:00, 1:10:00
Beyond right and wrong 1:25:15
Other ways to co-regulate 1:26:00
Rupture and Repair 1:24:15
In Death and Dying 1:33:10
How to Re-pattern NS 37:25
Context: Shifts in ANS - up and down the ANS hierarchy 13:22
Notice and Name 16:23
Self-awareness: What does my system need right now 1:10:00, 1:12:52
Rewiring with Remembered/Imagined Reciprocity 1:13:24
Be with Difficulties while Safely Regulated 50:33
Moving through States with Social Engagement System 1:16:15
Repairs Create Resilience 1:24:40
Deb’s mannequin exercises 1:30:45
Self-care: each of us will respond differently 1:38:40
Deb’s Guided Meditation, Feeling Face Heart Connection 1:41:47
Into our Day 1:28:00
How We Shift States in our Nervous System
Vagal brake 46:45
Toning/exercising the vagal brake 1:21:04
Shifts toward Ventral Vagal work while in other States 39:28, 40:30, 48:56
As we relate to and are impacted by our culture 51:42
NS Flexibility and Reactivity 1:22:00
Deb Dana's article, "A Beginner’s Guide to Polyvagal Theory," is on her website. You can read it by clicking here.
About How to Practice
The most important thing
“If you’re forcing, you’re not listening.” ~ Tom Myers
Practice tuning in and listening. It’s super helpful to notice when you’re forcing and not listening. Let go of any judgment. Just come back and give yourself a chance to begin again.
About becoming more embodied, not a “right” way
Our human experience is informed by our nervous system, by a journey of evolution that is writ large inside us and communicates extensively through the body’s signals, not only the thinking mind.
Staying open to these signals as much as possible, allows us to more fully accept and embody our experience. This helps us experience the shifts that are going on in our nervous system, all the time.
We can aim toward becoming more fluid, more spacious. We can become more and more aware and gradually accept the shifts that go on all day long in our nervous system, and point ourselves back toward safety and connection when we notice we’ve shifted away.
Why We Practice
There are different reasons why we practice. What we practice in our 20s will be different than how we practice in our 60s. Our practices need to evolve as we do.
It is helpful to reflect on why we practice now.
Here are some examples of why we might practice:
Some area is experiencing pain, discomfort
Ex: low back pain, neck and shoulder tightness
Feel more confident - develop strength, balance
Move to repattern injury, inherited predispositions, or to address repetitive movements
Engage consciously with our breath
Honor emotional needs like depression or anxiety and make shifts to feeling grounded
Steady the mind
Develop kindness to ourselves; practice kindness
We first aim to do no harm to our own body or to anyone else.
How to Know if This Practice is a Good Fit?
This is how we can start to determine whether a practice is serving us:
Whether we feel lighter after doing the practice.
Whether our body feels more resilient, more able to come back after a challenging situation. How our energy responds, if we feel more balance inside.
Whether we feel more kindness toward ourselves, toward our circumstances.
We may not be able to make measurable gains in the short run but we want to avoid doing any harm.
Learn From Your Practice
Each of our bodies is unique and what’s right for me may not be right for you. What’s right for you today may not be right tomorrow. And what’s right tomorrow might surprise you! Your body might be happy in a movement that used to feel uncomfortable.
There is no right way, there’s just finding your unique way. Learn as you go.
Instead of trying hard if a certain movement or practice is uncomfortable:
Let go of that movement
Practice what does feel good
Do something else that you enjoy
Be kind to yourself and notice how you respond to your own kindness
Notice how it feels to listen to your body’s messages
Please reach out if you have any questions about any of the practices.
Yoga: To Join
Gentle, adaptive yoga is one way to explore easy, practical ways to connect with your own needs as you tune into your inner experience. Offering yourself kindness as you practice opens the door to feeling more safely connected with others.
In yoga you emphasize learning through experience. Through practice you become more self-aware and grounded. Creating this inner stability helps you understand and respect your unique needs and circumstances.
An aim of adaptive yoga is to alleviate unnecessary suffering for yourself and live and contribute fully as is appropriate in your life.
Body and Mind Joined in Your Nervous System
An obstacle to caring for yourself can be earlier conditioning. An example is that you were likely taught that "you" are separate from your body, that your mind exists as an entity separate or distinct from the body. Perhaps that you don't need to pay attention to your body's messages, for example you don't need to drink water when you're thirsty. You don't need to stop working when you're exhausted. What's important is to pay attention to your mind's continual stream of thoughts. Notice if you've picked up the notion that thinking is more important than sensing your body's signals.
For all of us there are unconscious, habitual attitudes and beliefs have shaped our choices and actions toward our bodies. We may even think about our body unkindly, resenting its needs for care.
If you experience this, be gentle with yourself. This is a common experience for many. It has been for me.
Actually the idea that your mind is somehow separate from your body couldn't be further from the truth! Research has shown that your nervous system profoundly influences your mind and brain from the "bottom up." A full 80% of the signals received by your brain come from your body.
These are signals of your nervous system that you experience as subtle messages from the body. Your nervous system is running in the background all the time. What's happening in your nervous system influences how you experience life.
A basic teaching of the yoga tradition is that we each have a capacity to join with something that’s favorable but seems like it is separate from us in some way. For example, often in starting a yoga practice, partnering with the breath may seem foreign or unfamiliar. Or it might be unfamiliar to move in unusual ways or experience how much your body can relax.
While I'll go on to describe joining specifically with your breath below, the concept of joining can apply to everything from the food you eat and the relationships you're in, to the way you go about work. For example choosing to follow a special diet to support a health need might be a way to join with your body and support its natural healing.
Joining can also refer to a relaxed yet alert state of attention that is cultivated through practice, regular practice. 15-minutes a day of being conscious in practice will start to turn your brain toward this state of relaxed, alert attention. Gradually your mind becomes more naturally attentive and relaxed.
Joining can be about joining with any qualities you value: for example, greater kindness toward yourself, calmness of mind, or taking more responsibility to be loving in relationship.
Join with Your Breath
Your breath is one of the most direct ways to shift your nervous system. By paying attention to your breath, skillfully deepening it without strain, you support your nervous system to shift toward feeling safely connected. Conscious breathing is a reliable way to shift your nervous system state toward more inner balance.
The breath is considered a true guide and a great tool to practice joining with your inner experience. As you become more aware of your breath you might try this idea on, that you are joining with your breath.
The breath reflects your physiological state - how your heart is beating, oxygen is circulating, whether there are difficulties in breathing easily. It is an indicator of vitality: full, relaxed breathing is often seen as a sign of "good energy." Take two breaths and imagine joining with your breath. Visualize how your breathing shifts when you feel or have felt healthy.
Breath also mirrors your mental state - when you're worried or upset your breath changes. For two breaths imagine that you are relaxed or enjoying yourself in a favorite place on a beautiful day. Notice your breath. Now imagine how your breathing changes when you are in pain, for example, you just stubbed your toe.
Joining with the Breath Develops Attention
Your breath is a wonderful teacher, guiding you inward. As you practice conscious breathing you'll start to recognize that you can strengthen your ability to focus your mind's attention where you want it to go.
Unless you've practiced paying attention to your breath, this will probably feel brand new. Learning to notice your breathing is subtler than paying attention to physical sensation like stubbing a toe.
With a regular, gentle practice of turning toward the breath, for example 5 minutes a day, you gradually discover how your breath and your nervous system shift. Giving this kind of attention to your breath trains you to slow down and get curious, be present.
Otherwise, left to its own wanderings, attention is generally distracted and follows along well-worn habits, like overthinking something. For example, when you sit for a 5-minute breathing or meditation practice, you might become aware of the countless ways your attention gets pulled this way and that. Thoughts arise like the car needs snow tires; I wonder how my family is doing; or how I will manage my health care insurance payments. No problem, this is everyone’s experience.
Daydreaming can reflect a positive function of the brain that allows new ideas to emerge. However, when your attention isn't trained this positive function is not as accessible for creativity. You tend to experience thoughts in habitual ways, a feeling of being stuck in a revolving door or caught in old grooves. It's a reminder to continue to strengthen your mental muscles of attention to be present.
You Need Steady Attention for Self-Awareness
Training yourself in practices of tuning in, like breathing and other awareness exercises, helps cultivate steadiness of mind. A steady mind is necessary to be able to attend to subtler levels, for example the shifts of your nervous system. Paying attention to your nervous system is even subtler than tuning into the breath.
The autonomic nervous system functions automatically. It functions below the level of conscious thought. For example, notice an experience of a little flutter in the belly "that's easy to ignore or override," quoting Deb Dana. It's different from noticing sore muscles that come from working in the garden. You need to pay attention or you can miss it.
You can develop this kind of subtler attention.
Making a Choice to Join with Yourself
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
― E.E. Cummings
Where you place your attention can also be described as what you choose to take in and join with. What you choose to focus your attention on, shapes your system going forward.
You're choosing to join with your experience. As Linda Graham and others have described, you practice turning toward your experience instead of away from it, instead of resisting it, wishing it were different, or wanting to pretend it isn't there. To turn toward getting curious about the subtlety of life changing from moment to moment, and witness those changes in your breath and in your nervous system.
This kind of choice shifts you toward more moments of self-caring and kindness.
And the result is greater self-acceptance, which is like a mother that gives birth to being at peace with yourself, right where you are, while also making room for you to change and grow.
Reference to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:
Classically yoga was an oral tradition for centuries. Teachings were passed on from a living teacher. The teachings were committed to memory by the student. Patanjali is considered perhaps the first person that recorded the teachings of yoga philosophy in writing.
The philosophy that Patanjali wrote was a collection of sutras, pithy, short teachings. The teacher would expound on the sutras in discourse. The student would memorize the short, pithy sutras. Memorizing long commentaries about subjects wasn't practical.
In the roughly 200 yoga sutras that Patanjali recorded, several refer to body-based practices of yoga poses. A handful describe understandings about the breath. The majority of teachings relate to how we can shape the mind to reduce suffering.
In slokas III.l and III.2, Patanjali discusses dharana and dhayana, concentration and meditation. Bouanchaud writes about dharana, concentration: "Concentration is keeping the mind stable while directing it toward a particular object... In posture-based yoga, a first step toward concentration is observation of the body and breath."
Regarding the commentary on sloka III.2, dhyana, meditation, he asks the reader to consider: "Do I have the patience for my concentration to open to a new and direct grasp of the object?"
Here, direct grasp implies that we have come into relationship with the object (our diet, our movement practice, our breath, our partner, our nervous system) over a time of regular, sustained practice. Through practice of concentrating on the object, (returning our attention again and again) we have come to know it (ourselves) in a new way.
May it be so! We need commitment to begin and then to sustain a practice. Please reach out with questions and let me know how I can support you.
@2018, Charlotte Nuessle
References and inspiration for my work has been informed by these and many others! Forgive omissions, errors.
Doug Keller, https://www.doyoga.com/
Leslie Kaminoff, https://principles.yogaanatomy.net/
Gary Kraftsow, https://www.viniyoga.com/
Robin Rothenberg, https://essentialyogatherapy.com/free-videos/
Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00067/full
David Zemach-Bersin, http://davidzemach-bersin.com/
Tom Myers, https://www.anatomytrains.com/
Rick Hanson, http://www.rickhanson.net/
Deb Dana, http://www.debdanalcsw.com/
Linda Graham, https://lindagraham-mft.net/
Trauma Sensitive Yoga:
David Emerson, http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/
Bessel van der Kolk, http://www.traumacenter.org/about/about_landing.php
Main Practices + Bonuses
Most weeks I'll share bonuses because we all need a little support. These Intro Bonuses are all about setting the tone for your health and wellness practice. Below are a few I think you'll find useful this week. Enjoy!
Get Started with: Ujjayi Breathing
Click on Ujjayi Breathing, above, to listen to the audio recording.
Integrate Exhale with Movement and Counting
Support for the Core
Opening the Front
Warm Welcome - Open Vowel Toning
Bonus! audio link:
- Relaxation to Relieve Fatigue - recorded for women on a healing journey, practice the art of letting go. Click here. (Adapt the language for your circumstances.)