This is the first of a series of posts titled “Nervous System Cleansing 101″.

These posts are an invaluable beginning for learning about the stress response and how to gently navigate out of stressful events in order to bring your focus and your entire body back to the here and now. Basic exercises are included. Please bear in mind this isn’t a substitute for working one-on-one with a trained health-care provider.

  • Part 2 can be found here.
  • Part 3 can be found here

The funny thing about traumatic events is they are just that, events. They happen. Then they are over. Done. Right?

Unfortunately, in Westernized cultures and societies we keep our past events (with all their guts and glory) very close to our hearts and bellies (sometimes literally, especially for those with heart and/or digestive problems).

The trauma we carry with us – be it catastrophic or seemingly benign – no longer resides in the actual event. After all, the event is in the past. The trauma resides, and can stay trapped, in our nervous system.

So if we look at it from this perspective, how then do we get rid of these traumas that live and breathe in our nervous system?

First, we need to let our nervous system know we are safe.

We need to let it know we are here.


Not in the past.

Not in our traumatic events.

A classic phrase from one of my teachers, Steven Hoskinson, goes something like this:

“Trauma is not being in the here and now. Trauma is nervous system dys-regulation”.

In other words, trauma is when our nervous system ain’t working the way it should. It’s messing up with our ability to be truly present in the day to day.

To put it another way, if we are in some way always hi-jacked, even minutely, by our nervous system’s overriding default gears commonly known as “fight, flight, and freeze”, which usually get turned on when we sense danger, then it becomes really difficult to be truly present with what is. The trick to begin breaking the insidious nature of our protective mechanisms is to do what is called ‘Orientation’.

Step 1: You must learn what orientation is. You must tap into its power to cleanse.

The ability to orient to your current surroundings (granted of course you are in a safe situation) is the key to being in the here and now.

It might go something like this:

*”Yep. Safe here. Got nothing that’s physically and literally in my presence that I should be worried about”.

When we can properly orient to our surroundings and really notice our environment, we are in a good starting place to start cleansing residues of past traumatic stuff.

*It’s worth noting that if you are technically “safe” (i.e., you aren’t being physically harmed) but are keeping yourself in an environment that gives “heat” to emotional un-safety in your own body and psyche (i.e., you just really would rather be somewhere else for example), then I’d like to propose that your system is going to be on some kind of alert at low levels all the time (fight/flight), or you are keeping yourself in a freeze pattern in order to survive.

So, if I bring this back…

It’s important for our systems to not be in a constantly activated “Fight or Flight” pattern or not be in a “Freeze” pattern. It’s JUST not healthy for our biology, our cells and the ability for our entire system to be resilient.

A Few Key Pointers in Orientation:

Try this out for 5-minutes:

  • Let your eyes go where they want to go.
  • If you feel they don’t want to move at all, gently focus on something, like a picture on the wall, and then scan over to another picture or another object you might see in the room you are in. You want to roughly move your attention over a space that is bigger than 1 foot of movement.
  • Simply let your attention look around the room you are in. Slowly.
  • Start to notice the movements of your head, eyes and neck. Know that you are moving your attention. Feel it.
  • Pause when it feels right.
  • Then resume allowing your eyes to “go where they want to go”.

This little exercise is a good way to take a break in the middle of a work day and requires nothing special except for your ability to pause and bring your attention to your surroundings. The more you can ‘break-up’ your day and time into these little snippets of orientation, the more you let your system know that you are safe.

Happy Orienting. Irene.