Welcome to Week Five

Our Social Engagement System

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

The social engagement system is linked to the ventral vagal state. How we gaze through our eyes, the tone of our voice and the expression on our face are elements of our social engagement system.

Through the social engagement system we communicate a sense of safe connection with each other.  

Practices this week focus on heightening awareness of your social engagement system.

Notice the subtle shifts in your nervous system states as you become more and more aware of  how integral your social engagement system is, in safe connection.

I look forward to continuing this journey with you!

@2018, Charlotte Nuessle

Preparation, Daily Practices and Reflection


Live Q & A with our guest expert, Deb Dana, LCSW

Tune Into Your Nervous System: Discover Its Rhythm and Movement


I. Preparation:

Plan to arrive on Zoom by 1:25 pm PST, to settle in.

To prepare for our Live Q & A, with Deb, reflect on:

  1. When it's challenging to tune in.

  2. Any question that's come up in the course.

  3. Where you could use support now on this journey.

You'll have time to ask a question or two and share about your experience in the course.


II. Daily Practices:

A. Daily Practice (4x) Continue practicing a recorded yoga sequence for 5 minutes or more. Incorporate ujjayi breathing.

B. Homework (3x)  Listen to the chant, Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, and any previous chants/songs. Notice the effect of listening to this chant. Consider how music shapes your nervous system.

Sculpt your womannequin through each state of your nervous system. End by sculpting an expression of Ventral vagal connection. Mini-journal, before and after, and notice how your system responds to sculpting your womannequin.


III. Reflection:

Journal about 2 - 3 main takeaways from the Live Q & A with Deb. Share about your practices and the Live Q&A, with your practice partner.


@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 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.


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


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.


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





Week Five Bonuses


Gesture (Touch) and Sound (Mantra)

See handout below.



Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (Salaam)


Transcription below.



Gesture (Touch) and Sound (Mantra)



This handout was created and generously shared by my local colleague, Laura Winslow. I adapted this practice using an open vowel “AH” sound instead of those below. Explore and enjoy!


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Index finger to thumb – This means Wisdom and Knowledge


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 Middle finger to thumb – This means Patience       

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Ring finger to thumb – This means Health and Energy


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 Little finger to thumb   – This means Intuitive Communication


The Mudras and Mantras used in this approach are from the book, Meditation as Medicine, by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. and Cameron Stauth.  


PO Box 66, Jacksonville, OR 97530

(541) 210-1952/Fax (541) 245-9077/Email: yogaforrecovery@gmail.com




Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (Salaam)


Od yavo' shalom aleinu  (x3)
Ve al kulam (x2)

Salaam....Aleinu ve al kol ha olam,

Salaam,  Salaam (x2)


This has been interpreted: 

Still, Peace will come upon us


Peace will come upon the whole wide world
Yeah, peace will come.


I heard this performed by the Portland Peace Choir and just love it.

There’s a nice recording on YouTube with Hal Walker and 2010 Inamori International Peace Choir.


Additional Resources


The Alphabet of the Heart, was created by Dr. James Doty, Neurosurgeon and Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford.

Dr. Doty shares a classic meditation practice. It involves focusing attention on a quality that nurtures and nourishes you, as you touch your prayer bead (or digit on your finger) and take in the meaning and the felt sense of each quality. 

His practice includes use of prayer beads. You can also adapt this practice by using the practice attributed to the Forest Yogis, the Gesture of Traveling Toward What You Value Most, from Session Four. Count on the digits of your fingers rather than prayer beads.

You can read download a free poster or listen to his free podcast where he describes research on each of the 10 qualities of the Alphabet of the Heart. http://www.jamesrdotymd.com/alphabet

He also wrote an autobiography. It's warm, easy to read and inspiring, “Into the Magic Shop.”