In the introduction to “Rock of Ages,” I mentioned that the following routine subtly affects the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). In so doing, the practice not only serves as a check-in for your overall state of being, it offers an opportunity to quiet down after a hectic day, to soothe frayed nerves, and to assuage insomnia.
Most of the practice involves subtle rocking movements. As indicated in the introduction, I first experienced this type of work through the Feldenkrais method, or Awareness Through Movement. The supine heel rocks that I will suggest below have stuck with me for decades; they would enhance any self-care repertoire.
Because the movements themselves ask one to relinquish tension, the practice moves along a trajectory of large to small movement: This allows the body to release, leaving the PNS available to receive the more subtle techniques. To begin, lie on your back with arms and legs extended straight up at 90 degree angles to the torso: Shake the limbs vigorously for 30-60 seconds.
Then, place the feet on the floor with the knees bent and hip-width apart: The arms rest naturally by the sides. Now, inhale to curl the tailbone toward you, and continue to peel the spine off the floor, sensing each vertebra as you rise into a Bridge. When you reach the top of the shoulders, exhale and replace each vertebra back down, now “pasting” the spine back to the floor. Repeat 5-9 more times, for a total of 6-10 spinal rolls.
Next, with the knees still bent, inhale, and drop both legs to one side as you exhale. Inhale back up through center, and exhale to the other side. Continue with this “windshield wiper” movement for 1 minute.
From the neutral bent knee position, open the right knee to the right; let it find its natural opening (external rotation through the hip joint), and note that you will also roll to the outer edge of the right foot. As soon as your leg finds it natural stopping point, slide the foot (on its outer edge) down along the floor: The leg will naturally straighten, bringing the knee cap to face up in a typical long-leg position. Repeat the same fall-open move with the left leg, sliding the left foot down until the left leg is long and resting next to the right leg.
If you find that this move feels particularly beneficial or “organizational” for the pelvis and low spine, repeat as many times as you like. To do so, reverse the move: Roll the foot of the straight leg open, so that the foot comes to its outer edge; begin to bend the knee as you retract the foot back to the original bent-knee position. Then, retract the other leg by first rolling to the outer edge of the foot. If you like, move the legs from bent to straight and back to bent as many times as you like.
Eventually, end with both legs straight, as if in Svasana. Here, rock the feet from side to side: Bring your attention to the feeling of the heels against the ground. After about 30 seconds of the side-to-side rocking, let yourself be still. Consciously breathe deeply and fully through the nose: It at any time, you find that you need to yawn or want to release sound, feel free. This is the body’s way of sussing out emotional or physical tension. Breathe here for about 1 minute.
Now, begin the Heel Rocks. To an observer, it would appear that you are pointing and flexing the foot: However, in order to create vibrate and rock the body, focus more on pushing forward through the heels—tiny, rapid little pushes. The foot will naturally rebound toward a pointed (extended) foot, but keep your intention on bouncing forward and back through the heels. As your brain begins to understand this movement, the entire body will rock from head to toe: At this point, continue for 1-3 minutes.
Then, lie quietly, allowing the PNS to receive the shaken-free, soothed energies. Breathe deeply: Again, if it is helpful for you, try breathing in through the nose for 4 or 6, then out through the nose or mouth for 8-12 counts. Savor this integration of calm for another 1-3 minutes.
Next, slowly roll to one side, and help yourself onto all fours: Immediately place the forearms on the floor, parallel to each other, elbows under shoulders. Allow the head to hang if it feels right. Begin a forward and back rocking motion, moving slowly in conjunction with long, deep breathing through the nose: Inhale to rock forward; exhale to rock back, as if moving toward Baby Pose. This movement is extraordinarily soothing for a variety of physical complaints, so spend as much time here as you like.
From here, come onto the belly with the chin or forehead on the ground. Let the knees be bent, forming a 90 degree angle between lower legs and thighs. Begin the “windshield wiper” movement with the lower legs; let the legs be as loose as they can as you move them from side to side. Continue for 30-60 seconds.
Now, continue the side-to-side trajectory, and amplify the move. Bring the hands near the shoulders, palms flat. As the legs fall to the left, roll the right hip bone (front pelvic point) up and away from the floor. Roll back through center, and then drop the legs to the right, while rolling the left hip bone off the ground. Press down into the right hand when rocking to the left and peeling the right hip away; use the left hand to help roll the left hip up as the legs rock to the left.
Move back and forth in this way for about 1 minute.
Again, settle into stillness, allowing the legs to rest straight on the ground, and resurrect deep nasal breathing: Quiet down for 1-3 minutes. Then, with the arms by the sides, palms up or down (according to your body’s structure and comfort), place the forehead on the ground. (To rest on the chin for the next bit may compromise the cervical spine.) Now, initiate Toe Rocks: Curl the toes under, and begin small, quick pushes through the balls of the feet and tips of the toes: This is the same rhythm and intention as the supine Heel Rocks; now, in prone position, the front body receives care and release. Continue for 1-3 minutes, allowing the calming signals to reach the PNS.
Then, lie quietly, breathing deeply, for another 1-3 minutes.
Now,roll slowly onto your back again, knees bent and hip-width apart. Use this body-awareness meditation to collect and embed the soothing energies. Bring the hands into Prayer Mudra (palms together, fingers straight), and rest the base knuckles of the thumbs ont the Third Eye, just above the bridge of the nose. Inhale and exhale deeply, 3-5 times. Then, release the hands, and cross one arm over the other, resting both on the torso: Let the arms find their natural cross and resting spot, and allow their weight to be fully supported by the body. Again, take 3-5 deep breaths through the nose.
Softly, with minimal effort, shift the arms again: Place one hand on the Heart Center, and the other on the low belly, resting the thumb tip on the navel. Breathe deeply 3-5 times. From here, slide the legs straight (you may repeat the knee-falling-open technique from earlier), and rest the palms of the hands on their respective hip bones or upper thighs. Again, give yourself 3-5 slow, complete breaths.
Finally, let the arms fall to the floor by your sides, palms up or down: Allow your need of the moment to dictate the hand position. Slip into Svasana, and remain for as long as you like.
’Til next time…