Last updated on 13/08/2021
It’s way up there with pranayama breath practices that calm the nervous system and compassionate self-talk that soothes the amygdala
80% of the signals that go via the vagus (10th cranial nerve that’s known as the wanderer because it’s so long and impacts so much of the body and brain), go up.
This means it’s far easier to change the way we feel by using our body and our breath than it is to tell ourselves to calm down (or however else we might want to feel).
Strong movement can be even better than breath work as we can use our bodies to express how we’re feeling and get it out of our system.
We need to be that bit calmer to be able to manage a mindful breath practice (although the more we practice – as with all these self-care tools – the easier it gets to remember them when we need them most).
Strong movement can mean different things to different people. It can mean different things on different days.
By thinking about what helps you burn off those excess stress hormones and honour the body’s natural fight/flight response in a healthy way, you’ll be more likely to remember to do them.
I have a chronic pain condition which means I can’t do anything high impact without making that worse.
This doesn’t mean I can’t work somatically to help myself but that I have to be more creative.
I start each morning with some yoga, meditation and EFT. Some days, the yoga is minimal. Other days, a stronger practice helps me burn off the extra cortisol I may have woken up with so helps me feel more grounded and less anxious and stressed, even when I have a lot going on.
I adore swimming and whether I’m in a pool or the sea, it’s a wonderful way to let go of rage, stress, anxiety, fear, horror and any number of feelings. I can use my upper and lower body to splash it all out (being careful around other people, obviously).
Cycling is my main way of getting around and I used to laugh at myself when my cycling was in a busy town and a driver would nearly hit me and I’d pedal after them as fast as I could in order to ask them to be more careful around more vulnerable road users.
Obviously, I never caught up to them but that faster peddling helped me honour that stress trigger and process it somatically in the moment.
I don’t see myself as a ragey person generally and part of my journey has involved becoming more assertive so I see this response as quite healthy in myself. If I were more prone to aggression, I might choose something more soothing. You know yourself best.
While I’m really looking forward to being able to drive, I do wonder what it must feel like to be trapped in the driver’s seat when stressed by someone’s dangerous driving and chasing after them obviously not being advisable. On my bike, it amuses me. In a car, I’d be looking at other ways to manage potential road rage!
I also have a mini trampoline which is wonderful for low impact ‘dancing’ (I use the term loosely). Again, depending on my mood, I can – was going to say ‘Dance it out’ but I’m no Ellen Pompeo or Sandra Oh…
There are so many things we can do with our bodies to get moving, feel our feelings (in safe way) and let things go rather than holding onto them.
Other ideas include:
- lifting weights (wonderfully empowering as we build strength and stamina and confidence in our capacity to handle life’s stresses)
- Sun Salutations and other more dynamic yoga poses and sequences
- a run
- push ups
- a Body Combat class or similar
What are your favourite ways to use your body to release stress and anxiety?
My favourite is currently off limits (my shoulder is much better but am being cautious after so many set backs). I’m hoping they’ll be back in my repertoire later this summer – handstands and cartwheels.
They transform my perspective, make me BEAM with delight and also use lots of energy.
Any time I’m presenting, I like to find somewhere shortly before I’m up to do a couple of handstands against the wall or, if space allows, cartwheels. Or (again, when my shoulder’s up to it), Wheel pose.
In their absence, I find a space (if a toilet is big enough and not too smelly, that can be perfect) for Chair pose or Warrior II
Lion pose can also be wonderful – the way I teach it is to imagine up to six things that are stressing you out and imagining yourself roaring them away
I know people who do back flips and all sorts of things I haven’t been able to manage since I was about 12. That’s THEIR strong movement but I most certainly get the mental health benefits from my own equivalent.
The stronger and fitter we are, the stronger that movement can be. And as we get fitter, we’re increasing our allostatic load and heart rate variability, too – this means that as well as being good for our overall health, our emotional and mental resilience gets a big boost, too.
If we’re ill or travelling or have any reason for not being able to do what we normally do, we can take some time to thing of other ways in which we can adapt our approach to get those benefits.
If you’d like my support, you can find out more about how we might work together HERE
If my approach appeals, you can get in touch to book a free, no obligation telephone consultation
You can also find lots of ideas in 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing (White Owl, 2017).
And, of course, you don’t need me or anyone else to simply experiment. What kinds of exercise and activities do you enjoy the most?
You may want to start a log and note how you feel before, during and afterwards.
Another benefit is better sleep!