Initiating the Relaxation Response with Rhythm
Kirtan is one my favorite tools for self-regulation. The embodied rhythm and repetitive singing soothes my nervous system when it needs to come up and also when it needs to come down.
In the beginning of this video, you can see I’m keeping myself small. My voice is small, my body looks sort of frozen or stiff, my face is turned away from the camera. I don’t feel comfortable. My nervous system appears to be in a bit of a shut down response. I’m not really showing up to inhabit my body with intention, I’m just kind of there.
Rhythm helps regulate the nervous system because it creates predictability. Predictability is safe. When I have to keep the rhythm in order to enjoy it, I have to bring that rhythm into my body. Which means I have to bring my awareness into my body too (exiting the anxious head space that is obsessing over being on camera).
The repetitive singing brings me into my body even further. I’m singing in another language, and while I personally know the meaning of this mantra, my brain isn’t concerned with processing the meaning of the words. It is swept up in the tide of the rhythmic repetition, in experiencing the sound and vibration of the words as they come out of me. The continuous vibration of the vocal cords helps stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps activate my relaxation response in my central nervous system.
Put it all together and it took my 5 minutes to self-regulate. Now, I’ve been practicing this stuff for years so I can’t say it would only take you 5 minutes. I’m also not saying everyone who is quiet or still is dysregulated and everyone who is loud and moving is regulated. No. Not the case.
I share this to show you that this is what dysregulation can sometimes look like. And also, that learning about yourself helps you find what works for you. Knowing how to identify when your nervous system needs attention and how to answer the call is a worthy skill set to have.
In this video, I was doing the exact same thing the entire time. Nothing in my environment changed. It was my inner experience that changed. I got to go from a place of discomfort to a place of enjoyment.That’s major.
Nancy Cooke is a Trauma Informed Yoga Therapist & Licensed Professional TIYT™ Clinical Facilitator serving up natural self-help solutions to mental health since 2012