There is a lot for the nervous system to get activated about these days.

And those of you engaged in processes of sensitizing yourself even more to the world – bodywork, therapy, mindfulness practices, anything that tenderizes your heart – can feel your own self, and the turmoil of the world, so much more. You become more resilient, yes, and also more open.

How to not turn away, to take it in, and still move through your life with care for yourself?


image – agniezska sadowska


Sit down. Take off your shoes and socks and massage your feet. Start with one. Use a massage ball, or knead the ball of the foot with your hand. Then the big toe mound, the whole outside arch, all the way around the heel. Use your thumb to work its way back up the inside arch to the big toe mound again, then interlock your fingers with the toes and flex and extend the front of the foot, rotate the ankle one way and the other. Wake that sucker up. Put it on the ground and feel the difference from one to the other. Then do the same to the other.

Press both feet into the earth. Do it barefoot in the grass even (seriously, the soaking wet grass). Let the earth rise up and support you, let yourself sink down into the earth and notice the natural rebound back up. Flex the ankles a few times. Feel up the outside line of the leg, up the inside line of the leg. See how activating the outer (lateral) arch of the foot and the inner (medial) arch activate the outer and inner lines respectively. See if there is corresponding emotion or feeling. As you press your feet into the ground again feel the backs of the knees, the base, the pelvic floor, the belly and the sacrum, the sides of the body, and the elbows as you let them dangle heavy beside you. Then up the front of the spine all the way to the top of the head and beyond. And then the feet again.

Notice this dynamic relationship between surrendering downward and lengthening up. Find your breath and go slow to allow yourself to drop into sensation. Find the dose of pressing the feet into the ground that feels just right. Explore the difference between a little more weight into the lateral arches and then the medial arches, and notice if there is corresponding activation, alertness, fogginess, sleepiness, or a change in your energy either way. Again, find the dose for you that feels just right – where you feel you can be with your experience while meeting and engaging with the world. 

(The above can also be done sitting or lying down)

(This is the first in a series of short posts intended to share some tangible and ever-explorable skills for cultivating presence in the body and mind. Capacity-builders for regulation of the nervous system as trauma unwinds in the body, they are also just generally amazing resources for moving in and around this stimulating world. They come to me from my Relational Trauma Therapy teacher, Merete Holm Brantbjerg, Danish psychotherapist and one of the developers of the body-oriented psychotherapy, Bodynamic Analysis. In Merete’s words, these skills

build personal presence and integrity…support the individual in sensing an internal reference point and an anchor to be used as a base from which to move into contact with others (Exercises for Moaiku Workshop, Merete Holm Brantbjerg)

Some of them seem quite simple or obvious. The above ‘grounding’ exercise may be familiar if you’ve worked with me and we’ve talked about the ‘Line,’ or if you’ve ever done a Mountain Pose in a yoga class. The difference here is in keeping in mind the principles and practices of breathing, slowing way down, and dosing. Slowing down allows for us to really feel, start to tease out the layers of sensation and unwind from the pattern of quickly making meaning about it all. Dosing allows for building capacity by way of finding what feels ‘just right’ in the body – kind of a happy, middle ground in between all fired up and all slumped over, so to speak.

We will continue to unpack and explore these skills over the next while…)