Below are a few simple embodied practices for release, rest and reconnection. Some of them involve stretching, and gentle or more dynamic movement, some involve self-touch, some connecting with the breath, and stillness. Connecting with the breath and stillness, or practices that involve sitting or lying still might not feel right for everyone, or right on a particular day, or the right way to begin. It might feel better to choose practices that involve movement, and sometimes sharing that movement including touch and physical contact with others. Follow your intuition and desire, for yourself generally, and/or on any given day as needs and desires change.
The practices can be done individually, just as you feel drawn to them, or you could combine a few as you feel relevant/useful. An intention to orient to connection, pleasure, ease or curiosity can be a useful way to step into them. They can be turned to as and when, or form the foundation of a regular daily or weekly practice. Establishing a regular practice can be as small or large a commitment as you want or feel able to make. Just five minutes of inhabiting, stretching, moving, or grounding your body can be a place to return to again and again, and deepen into for sustenance, especially in times of stress or struggle.
For each practice below I have tried to acknowledge the source, tradition or lineage they have come from, as I have learned of them, to the best of my knowledge.
There are links below some of the individual practices to related online practices. And more embodement re-sources at the very end of the page.
1. Standing and grounding
Stand with your feet hip width apart, the outer edges of the feet can be parallel. Take your weight over your left foot and let it pour through that foot into the ground to anchor you, raise the right heel off the ground leaving the toes on the ground, and then lean some weight into the toes to stretch them and the sole of the right foot open. Take a few breaths while yawning that foot open. Come back to centre and repeat on the other side.
Then come back to centre, leave the left heel on the ground, stretch the toes of the left foot up and away from the heel and then place them back on the floor. Repeat that on the right side, to make good contact through the soles of the feet with the ground.
Stack the bones: feel the hips and pelvis stacked over the knees, the knees over the ankles, and ankles over the feet so you stand easily without lots of exertion in the muscles. Let the architecture of your bones hold you. Soften the upper body, especially the belly, shoulders and jaw. Let your upper body find length above this solid and easy foundation. Allow the breath to come and go.
Drawn from: Yoga; Tadasana: Mountain pose
2. Sitting and grounding
Sit as comfortably as you can, really feel the seat under your body, allow your weight to fall deeply into the pelvis, through the seat and into the ground. Soften the upper body, especially the belly, shoulders and jaw. Allow it to find length above this solid and easy foundation. Allow the breath to come and go.
Drawn from: Yoga; Tadasana: Mountain pose
3. Small movements of the head for release
Standing or sitting as above, close the eyes if comfortable and take a breath or two. Then make a really small YES nod, make it the smallest, almost imperceptible movement you can. Let that go and pause for a breath or two.
Then make a really small NO nod, make it the smallest, almost imperceptible movement you can. Let that go and pause for a breath or two. Repeat a couple of times to release the tiny muscles at the base of the skull.
Drawn from: Feldenkreis
Rest on your back on the ground. Let your legs rest stretched out on the ground too, or if more comfortable place the soles of the feet on the ground near your glutes. Experiment with the distance between your feet and glutes and also the width between your feet, so that your legs can be upright in that position without gripping or muscular effort. If you were making a print in warm sand, what would it look like? Notice the difference between the left and right side. Feel the weight of your body sinking back into the support from beneath.
Roll the skull: let the skull fall just a little to the left side, then back through the centre and then a little to the right side: really feel the weight of the skull.
Let the knees fall just a little from side to side, and really feel the weight of the pelvis, and allow the pelvis and glutes to get a little massage on the ground.
Drawn from: Yoga; Shavasana: Corpse pose, and Feldenkreis
Surrender to Gravity – gravity is your best friend always present, always available always ready to respond gravity is holding you absorbing the tiredness sucking the tirednessout of your body.
Sandra Sabatini, 2006. Breath: The Essence of Yoga – A Guide to Inner Stillness, Pinter & Martin Ltd
5. Rocking your own body on the ground
Lie comfortably and begin rocking the toes on the heels away from and back towards the body, to rock the body length wise. Play with the speed of that rocking to explore what your body enjoys.
Then interlink your hands, raise them above your torso and gently sway the arms side to side to rock the body width wise. You can begin with your hands above your lower belly and travel them up and over the
diaphragm, then up and over the collar bones, to rock different parts of the back and ribs. The impulse for the movement comes from your really soft wrists, which your arms and then the weight of your body follow. This practice works best on a slightly harder surface, like the floor or a mat, to give a bit of resistance to the body so it can rock and release.
6. Bodyscan – guidance text to follow/read out/adapt
Before the practice:
Ideally find a warm, uninterrupted space for the practice. You can loosely memorise or record the body scan to listen to, or it can be slowly read out by someone in a group. Below is a template to
use/adapt: The // suggests a place to pause in the reading/bodyscanning. The word ‘soften’ can mean whatever is useful for you… it can
be an invitation to imagine an area of the body softening, melting, widening or easing, it can just be a way to invite more awareness to a particular place in the body, to acknowledge, notice or feel for it… you can also invite a feeling of warmth or coolness if that’s useful.
Find a comfortable way to lie on your back on a mat or blanket on the ground, or sit in a chair allowing the most ease and length in the spine that’s possible. If you feel comfortable to, close your eyes. Let yourself arrive in the body for a moment //
Feel where you are making contact with the ground or seat, and let your weight fall through those places and feel yourself supported by gravity //
Soften the body and let go //
If you were making a print in warm sand what would it look like? Is there a difference between the left and right side? //
Soften the scalp, the face, soften in at the jaw, soften the back of the eyes, soften the base of the skull, soften the neck, soften the throat //
Soften the top of the shoulders, the upper arms, soften in at the elbow joint, soften the lower arms, soften deep in at the wrist joint. Soften the skin on the palms of the hands //
Soften the whole of the front surface of the body; the chest, the breast tissue, soften the front of the ribs, soften the diaphragm, soften the belly //
Soften the whole of the back surface of the body; soften round the shoulder blades, soften the back of the ribs, the lower back//
Soften the groin, where the legs meet the body, soften the genitals //
Soften the glutes (the strong muscles of your ass) and soften deep into the hips //
Soften the upper legs; the quads (front) and hamstrings (back), soften in the knee joints, soften the lower legs; shins (front) and calves (back), soften deep into the ankle joints. Soften the tops of the feet and the soles of the feet. Soften the big toes, the second toes, the third toes, the fourth toes, and the small toes //
Scan through the body and notice if there is any pain or tension anywhere and bring your awareness to that place, and invite it to soften a little more, or invite warmth or coolness //
Without changing the breath you can observe it coming and going for a while; how it travels towards you and in, and travels out of you and away again //
Have a sense of the body resting on the earth. And the mind resting in the body //
Have a sense of leaning into the trees near you, leaning into the nearest green space or landscape around you, leaning into the nearest hills or rise of the land…//
Drawn from: Yoga Nidra
7. Tensing and releasing
Pandiculation is the term given to flexing and stretching muscle groups to help them release and reset. This practice is a slightly more active bodyscan that involves tensing muscle groups and slowly releasing them to counter transient or habitual tension. Continue to breathe slowly while tensing and releasing. Begin by tensing the hands into fists, squeeze as tightly as you can, hold for five seconds, then slowly release, pause for a moment and allow a couple of breaths to come and go. Next tense the hands and the whole of the arms together, squeeze as tightly as you can, hold for five seconds, then slowly release, pause for a moment and allow a couple of breaths to come and go. Next tense the shoulders up towards the ears, squeeze as tightly as you can for five seconds, then slowly release. Next tense the face, really tense up the facial muscles, squeeze as tightly as you can, hold for five seconds, then slowly release, pause for a moment and allow a couple of breaths to come and go. Next tense the torso, pull in the abdomen and tense all the core muscles, squeeze as tightly as you can, hold for five seconds, then slowly release, pause for a moment and allow a couple of breaths to come and go. Next tense the legs and feet, feel the glutes contract and raise the body up a little bit, squeeze as tightly as you can, hold for five seconds, then slowly release, pause for a moment and allow a couple of breaths to come and go. Take a moment to feel the effects of the contracting and releasing, and let the breath come and go.
8. Hand and arm stretches
Extend your arms out in front of you and flex the hands and fingers up and back towards the body, stretching through the lower forearms, hold for 1 minute. Then extend the hands down, making a loose fist, stretching through the upper forearms, and hold for 1 minute. Breathe softly, soften the shoulders and the back of the knees, and keep good contact with the ground through the feet.
Drawn from: Kung Fu
9. Pulsing and shaking the body
From standing position (#1), begin letting the body bounce very gently, start with a really small bouncing to notice and observe the small movements as they happen. Where do you feel the bounce, in your belly, genitals, just beneath the collar bones, the jaw? Increase the size of the bounce so that you really let the body find release, as if you are settling rice to the bottom of a sack. Allow more vigorous bouncing and shaking. Really shake the arms, body and also the legs. Notice where you feel the pulsing or shaking in your body as it goes from small to large. Practice between 1–5 minutes. Then allow your body to come to stillness again and observe how the body feels.
The practice can be done seated. Begin shrugging the shoulders up and down to release, alternating left and right, then shake the shoulders backwards and forwards, and pulse and shake out all movable limbs to release those muscle groups in turn, generating energy and blood flow. Practice between 1–5 minutes. Then allow your body to come to stillness again and observe how the body feels.
Drawn from: Chi Kung and Bioenergetic massage
Standing or seated, tap the fingers very gently over the face, head and muscles of the back of the neck either side of the spine. Then with soft palms or very loose fists pat up and down the back and front of the arms, gently over the chest and up and down the back and front of the legs if possible. You can support the patting arm (see image) to percuss the top of the shoulders on either side. If standing, you can loosely draw the arms behind the body and keeping the shoulders soft let your fists swing in, alternating left and right, to percuss into the strong muscles of the glutes. Make good contact with the breath, and through the feet or pelvis with the ground throughout.
Drawn from: Shiatzu practice called Do-in
11. Roll slowly up and down through the spine
Standing or seated, let the chin, then the whole head gently tip for- ward and slowly roll down through the spine. Explore and notice where there are feelings of ease, and/or of restriction. Slowly roll up and down a few times. As you roll back up each time, drop your weight through your heels if standing, or pelvis if sitting, to soften the uncurling movement.
Sitting comfortably, take a few breaths, then practice gentle humming, or sounding vowel sounds. Notice how they all feel in the body; where do you feel them? Explore very quiet and then stronger volumes, and how that feels in your body.
Drawn from: yoga; and various voice practices
13. Embodied Movement Practice
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Begin in any position, standing, sitting or lying. Make a good connection with the ground under you. Take three easy breaths then sense/feel into your body and follow an impulse into movement, and follow that movement for a while; see if movement can sup- port you accompanying the sensations in your body. Alternatively initiate a movement with one part of your body (your chin, an elbow…) and follow it. Let the rest of your body and attention follow the movement until you aren’t interested anymore. Then follow another impulse or choose to begin another movement initiated by another body part, follow it with your body, see where it takes you.
Foster curiosity throughout the practice. Let the breath come and go easily as you move. Allow any sound you might want to make, or that just comes, throughout the practice.
Movement, to be experienced, has to be ‘found’ in the body, not put on like a dress or a coat. There is that in us which has moved from the very beginning. It is that which can liberate us.
– Mary Starks Whitehouse (Authentic Movement)
14. Self listening to the breath
Find a comfortable place to lie on your back, legs extended or feet on the floor (#4). Rest soft hands on the lower belly for a moment and just observe the breath come and go for a while. Then slide your hands up to rest on the ribs and just observe the breath come and go for a while. Then slide your hands to just rest the fingertips beneath the collar bone, and just observe the breath come and go for a while. Slide the hands back down to the belly, just observe the breath come and go again here and invite softening everywhere in the body.
15. Self listening; skin, fluids, muscle, bone
Find a quiet space to sit or lie, and get really comfortable. Close your eyes if you want to, and take your fingertips to your face to explore how the skin feels there. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Notice all the curves and contours, and where your fingertips meet hair and lips. Slow your exploration down to half the speed. Rest your arms by your side for a moment, then take your fingertips to your face, have a sense of the fluid that is in your fingertips (lymph, blood) connect with the fluid that is in your face, just make contact with your face at this depth, with this intention. Notice how this feels.
Rest your arms by your side for a moment, then take your fingertips to your face and let your fingers explore all the muscles of your face and scalp; forehead, cheeks, chin, jaw, etc.
Rest your arms by your side for a moment, then take your fingertips to your face and let your fingers explore the bone, all the architecture of the skull, where the bones all meet, all their shapes and structure, the depths of the face. You can explore as if you have never touched your face before, remaining curious about each texture and depth. The practice is transferable to other body parts, and can be explored as a consensual exchanged practice with others.
16. Palming – to rest the eyes and whole system Lie comfortably on your back and begin by rubbing your hands together and warming them a little. Then rest the palms over the eye sockets, without putting any pressure on the eyes themselves, the fingers will cross a bit resting on the forehead. Soften the shoulders and arms so they can rest in this position without lots of muscular effort. Focus on the darkness, soften the back of the eyes and let them rest, feel the weight of the body drop back and soften, and be supported by the ground. At first there might be light and colours as the eyes search for stimulus. Allow the eyes to settle and rest in the darkness for a while, and let the whole body soften and settle.
This practice can also be done seated, with the elbows resting on a table, and letting the head tip forward slightly into the hands as they cup over the eye sockets.
As well as deep rest, it can help ease eye strain, especially from computer use, and it can also be used as part of practice to improve eyesight.
Drawn from: yogic practices for rest, connection, focus and improving eyesight. It is also practiced in something called the Bates Method, developed for resting and improving eyesight.
17. 5-4-3-2-1 Senses Meditation
Find a way to sit comfortably, make good contact with the ground beneath you, feel the support.
Notice 5 things you can see (really noticing the colours, shapes). Then notice 4 things you can hear (following each sound until it ends, before choosing the next). Then notice 3 things you can feel (the wind, sun, the ground under you, your clothing). Then notice two things you can smell. Finally notice one thing you can taste.
Come again into contact with the ground beneath you, feel the support.
18. Inner/outer nature connection practice
Choose a relatively safe place somewhere outside by a tree, or a body of water, or wherever you feel drawn to on the earth. Find a comfortable way to sit or stand. Soften the body and take a few deep breaths. Spend 10–15 minutes just observing what is there, and what is happening. Notice plants, trees, the colour of the soil, any animals or birds or weather passing through. Afterwards it can be useful to journal what happened – outer and inner experiences you had. It can be nourishing to make a commitment to return to the same place every day for a week or a month, or season by season to connect, observe and get to know a place.3
3. All illustrations Selma Augestad | Instagram: @solskinnskroken