You may have heard how travelling can enrich your life. Of course, when coming across new cultures, foods, traditions and by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations you learn more about yourself. (Especially, through how you respond to unexpected circumstances.)
For me it is something a bit different: when I travel, I get touched by life. I notice simple things that I wouldn’t otherwise: beautiful architecture, raindrops on leaves, the colour of the sky, how animals interact with each other and with us. It reminds me of the experiences I had during the lockdown in 2020. I spent a lot of time by myself looking at the sky from my balcony or nearby parks in London marveling at the beauties of nature. (Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all fun, but looking back I can now appreciate the positive impact it had on my life.)
When we are in a relaxed state, we are less judgmental, more curious. Our horizon literally expands and we have the capacity to take more in, to notice small details. This relaxed state of the nervous system is called Ventral Vagal system or state, it is linked to maturation and the expansive “both/and” approach to life. This is the state of safety and connection with others. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get into that state without a lockdown or being on vacation? I am going to give a more detailed explanation of this through the lens of Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porgess.
When it comes to embodiment and neuroscience the most easily digestible chart of the Polyvagal Theory has been created by Deb Dana in a form of the Autonomic Nervous system ladder.
On top of the ladder is the Ventral Vagal activation, when we feel at ease, but empowered and energised, we feel connected to ourselves, to others and to nature, we can easily see the big picture and not get caught up in anxious thoughts or overwhelm. In this state we feel sufficiently supported to take calculated risks. This is where we are ready for adventures, let that be travelling or inner explorations.
The aim is not to stay in Ventral Vagal constantly – it is completely natural to swing between all states and not just be in one – but to build the capacity to move in out of these different states.
The first step towards this is understanding how each state feels in the body, then recognising the signs when we are getting close to moving into being agitated and frantic (sympathetic activation/fight or flight) or feeling numb, shut down, can’t see a way out (Dorsal Vagal activation/ freeze). Having bodily awareness (interoception) can help us recognise each state early on, before they reach peak. Simple exercises, like centring can help us enhance the ability of recognising how our body responds and what those responses mean. When you get to a centred state that is your baseline, you, on your best day. This can be different for each and one of us, so it is good to be familiar with what your baseline feels like to you.
The next step is to find and expand our window of tolerance in a safe environment. Most recommended practices work with the body-mind connection and can help you understand how to regulate your nervous system. What does this look like in every-day life? If you have access to a lot of ice, it can be cold immersion a la Wim Hof once a week or a simple cold shower in the morning.
If you decide to give the Wim Hof method a try, I recommend that you do it with a qualified practitioner for the first time. When you immerse yourself in a pool of ice or when the cold shower hits, the only thing that stops your body from shaking is you keeping calm, regulating your nervous system. The more still you can be, the less uncomfortable the experience is, the more you can relax into the experience, the more enjoyable it becomes. It sounds weird, but it’s true, by deliberately relaxing your muscles, you send a signal to your nervous system that you are safe, there is no need to fight. There is a bliss point after about 20-30 seconds, when everything feels expansive, possible and calm at the same time.
The more you perform these practices, the more in charge you become of your body and nervous system – this is now not just about being aware of your state e.g. I feel anxious, I feel agitated or shut down but learning to manage your state. These abstract sounding embodiment practices will translate into very practical results: the ability to keep calm during an argument, knowing what to do when you feel down or learning how to get ready for public speaking.
By mastering nervous system regulation (and emotional regulation), you become the captain of your ship: you can set boundaries with others without feeling too overwhelmed, you can manage your anxiety better, you can overcome procrastination and start projects that you have been planning to for years and as a result you can manage many of your deep-rooted fears so they don’t interfere with living the life you want for yourself.
I speak from personal experience, a couple of years ago I would not have dreamed of holding workshops and speaking in public, now the only emotions I feel before a live webinar are excitement and anticipation.
The work I did was incredibly deep, but fairly quick as it was mostly working with the body rather than attending years of traditional therapy talking about my childhood trauma. (which can also be incredibly useful, by the way)
Embodiment is powerful because instead of fighting with the ego, it uses direct access through bodily wisdom, like a ring road that avoids the busy city (your brain/ego) and gets you to your destination quicker.
If you join our upcoming Introspective Explorers Society you can learn many of these techniques. At the end of this 12-week programme you will come away feeling invincible, with the bodily knowledge, a toolbox of practices and your own personal map to guide you through the difficulties life may throw at you. We would love to have you!