The Inner Squirrels are Back!

OH NO, my Inner Squirrel is running the show again! My mind is racing and my body feels like running in a million different directions.

Fortunately for me I’ve been taught a few more super-easy, mind-stilling body exercises that can bring me back to a calm and focused state and here they are:

                                                                                

 

HOOK-UPS*– You can either follow these instructions or you go straight to the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dap-9fNt7uU

-You can do these standing, sitting or lying down but will gain the most if you are able to stand (not everyone can – they’ll keel over).

-Cross one ankle over the other

-Cross, clasp and invert your hands by stretching your arms out in front of you, with the back of your hands together and the thumbs pointing down.

-Lift one hand over the other, palms facing and interlock the fingers.

-Roll the locked hands straight down and in towards the body so that they eventually rest on the chest with the elbows down

-Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth behind your front teeth

-As long as it’s ok with you, close your eyes and balance for 2 – 5 min.

(You may notice yourself sighing. This is a sign that the squirrel is giving up and calmness is on its way!)

 

POSITIVE POINTS* – This is my all-time favourite as it reminds me of when my mom used to soothe me by putting the palm of her hand on my forehead.

-Just simply put the palm of your hand on your forehead and leave it there, with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

(Again, the squirrel may give a sigh or two with this one)

*These are “Brain Gym” exercises

 

HORSE LIPS – With your lips nice and loose blow air through them just like a horse would. That’s all there is to it.

(Squirrels who do this together have been known to laugh together.)

 

 

Want to know some of the science behind this?

You may have thought you had one brain, but inside you have two more. The first brain (called by different names including Instinctive, Reptilian and Old Brain) we share with birds and reptiles. It is responsible for survival and the many mechanisms that keep us alive. The second brain (also called Mid, Emotional, Limbic and Mammalian Brain) we share with older mammals like dogs, cats, mice and horses. This processes memory and emotion. The third brain (called Thinking, Neocortex and New Brain) is something we share only with primates (monkeys, gorillas etc.) It gives us the ability to plan and helps us have complex social interactions. When we are stressed it’s the first brain that is running the show and we are in survival mode! The following exercises to the rescue:

Hook-Ups – They decrease adrenaline production by bringing attention away from the survival centers of the 1st brain. The crossover action balances and activates the sensory and motor parts of each hemisphere of the 3rd  brain and placing your tongue on the roof or your mouth brings attention to the 2nd brain which is just above the roof of your mouth. Everything together connects the emotions in the 2nd brain to the reason in the 3rd  brain and the squirrel can calm down.

Positive Points – They help us access the 3rd Brain to balance stress around specific memories stored in the 2nd brain around situations, people, places and skills.

Horse Lips – They help loosen the tension around the lips which in turn relaxes the 1st brain.

 

Spring birds and Breathing

Redwing Blackbird

 

Since school was cancelled and we were told to stay home, I have to admit I’ve had small moments of fear. Yesterday as I stood above a culvert funneling water from one wetland to a lower one, I closed my eyes and listened to the gurgle of water and the warbles of the newly-arrived spring birds. I felt calmer than I had for days, partially because of the beautiful surroundings, partially because I was with a friend at a healthy distance of 2 m, and partially because she was leading me through an exercise meant to calm my nervous system. She instructed me to take a long breath out, then a long, slow inbreath followed by an even longer outbreath. This I did a second time. Then she told me to notice where I felt tension in my body and to imagine breathing soft baby or puppy breaths to those poor tight spots. She said she set a timer for every ½ hr throughout the day. When it went off she stopped and did what I have just relayed on to you.

Want to know some of the science behind this? Being in nature soothes us. Exercise soothes us and so does being with positive friends but I’ll explain more about that at another time. See the diagram above? As we go through our days our nervous systems cycle through periods of charge (activation) and discharge (deactivation).  A door slams and our systems become more charged. We look up and see that the wind blew it shut and our systems settle down. When we are in the middle of exams, our systems tend to remain activated so that the wave tends to be higher on the y-axis (see, graphing IS something worth knowing!) and although it deactivates when we, say, eat a good meal it never comes as close the x-axis as it does when exams are over and we are lying on a beach in the sun (which I promise you, we will do!). Our systems remain on alert. With this past week’s barrage of alarming news all our nervous systems have remained much higher on the y-axis and even if we are doing fun things, it’s much harder to have a sense of complete discharge and hence relaxation.

But our mind and body can convince our brain to take a break and tell our nervous system to deactivate and the simplest way to do that is to deliberately change our breathing! I did it all day today as I stacked wood and it worked. Despite the grim news I feel the best I have felt since it was first announced that schools would be closed. Wanna give it a whirl?

 

A little more of an explanation if you are still with me:

In a healthy response to a threat the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) releases the brake, which in turn allows the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to respond to the threat. Readiness for fight or flight kicks in. If the person/animal is able to respond with movement until all is well, the PNS kicks in again and the system relaxes until the next threat comes along.

Squirrels and Groundhogs

 

Squirrel Running Clipart | Clipart library - Free Clipart Images

I miss school. I do! I miss the chatter and the laughter and the smiles in the halls and it seems that when I don’t have all of that I get very grumpy and squirrrelly. I’m not at all proud of the squirrel I’ve become: jumping from project to project, thought to thought, suggestion to suggestion, demand to demand, so that the other person in my house has become an equally grumpy groundhog who has dug his way to the subsoil, having already passed through meters of organic matter and topsoil and he’s not looking back! The thing is, the more he digs, the more I behave like a squirrel and the more I behave like a squirrel the more he digs. You see the losing battle we were locked into?

Our solution (this time): With our phones in another room we sat down to a meal together and I asked him, of all things, what toys he’d enjoyed playing with as a kid. He told me about Red, a plastic dog his mute and emotionally-frozen grandmother had given him. Then he told me about carving animals out of pieces of soft wood. I told him about my doll Anney who was special to me, but not as special as the fields, woods and hay mows I explored and escaped to.  And voila! We both relaxed. The squirrel settled herself down at the mouth of the hole and the groundhog turned his fat little body around and climbed up to where he could hear.

Want to know the science behind this? The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) operates all the basic functions of our bodies automatically (duh), without our control and is the source of our survival responses. There are two branches of the ANS: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS). In many ways they are the exact opposite of one another. You might enjoy looking up images of these two systems, but it’s enough to know that the PNS acts like a brake pedal and helps us relax, unwind and get rid of any unwanted sympathetic activation. The SNS is like the gas pedal and gives us energy and helps prepare us for threat. In this instance both My Love and I had our SNS’s pedal to the floor, and what it took to ease up and access the PNS was some non-threatening (that’s essential!) conversation about an enjoyable time, some food which also stimulates the PNS and the absence of phones. (Studies have shown a dramatic decline in the quality of conversation when a phone is present, even if no one is looking at it. Our nervous systems perceive them as threats to the connection we are having with the other person.)

Some bad news and some good news to all you squirrels and groundhogs out there… the stress reaction is automatic and we have little control over it (bad news). The relaxation response is harder to bring about (also bad news); BUT the good news is that we can create it once our heads realize we are locked in squirrel-like and groundhog-like desires and we seek out comfortable eye-to-eye and/or voice-to-voice conversation; preferably over a tasty morsel of food.