In today's fast-paced world, stress and anxiety have become an integral part of our lives. Many people struggle with hyperarousal, a state in which our nervous system is on high alert, making it challenging to find calm and relaxation. But there is hope, and it comes in the form of somatic exercises rooted in the Polyvagal Theory. These exercises can help you transition from a state of hyperarousal to optimal arousal, promoting a sense of well-being and calm. In this blog, we will explore 15 somatic exercises that I utilize when providing therapy in Denver. You can incorporate them into your daily routine.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple yet powerful exercise that can shift your nervous system from a state of hyperarousal to a state of calm. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, follow these steps:
Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest still.
Exhale slowly through your mouth, focusing on your breath and the rise and fall of your abdomen.
Continue this rhythmic breathing for a few minutes, feeling the calming effect on your nervous system.
2. Square Breathing
Square breathing is a structured technique that helps regulate your breath and bring your body into a state of equilibrium. It's called "square" breathing because each phase of the breath is of equal length. Here's how to do it:
Inhale for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Exhale for a count of four.
Pause without taking a breath for a count of four.
Repeat this pattern for a few minutes to regain control over your nervous system.
3. 7/11 Breathing
This technique involves extending the exhale phase, which can activate the calming parasympathetic nervous system. Here's how to do it:
Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of seven.
Exhale even more slowly through your mouth for a count of eleven.
Focus on the extended exhale, allowing your body to relax with each breath.
4. Drinking from a Straw
Drinking from a straw is a unique way to stimulate the vagus nerve, which plays a significant role in regulating the autonomic nervous system. The next time you have a drink, try sipping it through a straw to activate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.
5. Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR)
Progressive muscular relaxation is a systematic exercise that involves tensing and then relaxing various muscle groups in your body. By doing this, you can release physical tension and signal to your nervous system that it's safe to calm down.
6. Bouncing a Ball
Engaging in rhythmic activities like bouncing a ball can help regulate your autonomic nervous system. The repetitive motion and focus required in such activities can shift your body from a state of hyperarousal to a more balanced state.
7. Shaking or Stomping Out Excess Energy
Physical movement, such as shaking or stomping your feet, can release pent-up energy and stress. These exercises can help discharge the excess energy that accumulates during hyperarousal.
8. Brisk Walking/Marching on the Spot
Brisk walking or marching in place can stimulate your vagus nerve and create a sense of calm. Even a short walk or marching session can help regulate your nervous system.
9. Playing Drums
Engaging in rhythmic activities like playing drums can provide a sense of grounding and relaxation. The rhythmic beats can help synchronize your autonomic nervous system.
10. Stress/Squeeze Balls
Squeeze balls or stress balls can help release tension and stress. When you squeeze them, you activate your hand muscles, helping you sequence the energy/tension that is stored in your arms and hands.
11. Heavy Work
Activities that involve lifting, pulling, or crab walking can engage your muscles and provide a sense of grounding.
12. Rolling Over a Yoga Ball
Using a yoga or therapy ball to roll over your body can provide a gentle massage and promote relaxation. This exercise can also stimulate the vagus nerve, helping to calm your nervous system.
13. Warm Water
Immersing yourself in warm water, whether through a bath or a pool, can have a soothing effect on your nervous system. The warmth can help you increase oxytocin and reduce adrenaline.
Listening to soothing and calming music or sounds can be a powerful way to shift from hyperarousal to optimal arousal. The right music can trigger positive emotional responses and promote relaxation.
15. 54321 Mindfulness Exercise
The 54321 mindfulness exercise is a grounding technique that helps you reconnect with your senses and find calm. Here's how to do it:
Identify five things you can see around you.
Acknowledge four things you can touch.
Recognize three things you can hear.
Notice two things you can smell.
Pay attention to one thing you can taste or imagine tasting.
Polyvagal Theory provides a comprehensive understanding of how our nervous system responds to stress and trauma. Therapy in Denver, along with these somatic exercises, can be instrumental in helping individuals transition from hyperarousal to optimal arousal.
Therapy can be a safe space for exploring these somatic exercises and developing personalized strategies to manage hyperarousal.
By incorporating these 15 somatic exercises into your daily routine and seeking guidance from therapy in Denver, you can begin your journey toward finding calm and optimal arousal.
The road to resilience and well-being begins with an understanding of your body's responses to stress and trauma. By harnessing the power of Polyvagal Theory and somatic exercises, you can regain control over your autonomic nervous system and experience a greater sense of calm and balance in your life. If you are looking for a therapist in Denver, a safe space, and guides along the way, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me.
Porges, S. W. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. W. W. Norton & Company.
Ogden, P., Minton, K., & Pain, C. (2006). Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy. W. W. Norton & Company.
Denver Mental Health Services. (2022). Therapy in Denver, CO. https://www.denvermentalhealthservices.com/
Please note that while these exercises can be helpful, they are not a replacement for professional mental health advice or treatment. Always consult with a qualified therapist or healthcare provider for personalized guidance and support.
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Dennis Guyvan, a therapist in Denver, CO. He provides individual in-person/online therapy and life coaching in Denver, CO and online coaching worldwide . Schedule your free 30-minute therapy consultation with Dennis Guyvan.