This unsettling time is a perfect opportunity to learn exactly how your body gets stuck; and to discover which “getting unstuck” tools work best for your particular temperament.
I call this process Befriending-Your-Body. I have broken it up into steps:
Befriend Your Body Steps
1. Befriend Your Triggers
2. Practice Safety
3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
4. Create Practice Routines
5. Embody Your Routines
In this final article, I cover steps 5. and 6.
Embody Your Routines
Neuroplasticity is a thing! Repeatedly attending to something builds new neural pathways and abilities.
The good news about living in a time of crisis is, the more you turn to your self-care routines to get extra help, the more you embody their fruits.
This means that over time you will get unstuck faster.
Two Insomnia Routines
One thing that contributes to me getting stuck is insomnia or interrupted sleep. Fatigue renders me more vulnerable to being triggered in daily life.
With peri-menopause, I often wake too early in the morning (sometimes with heart palpitations) and cannot get back to sleep.
Insomnia has given me an opportunity to learn how my body finds safety and relaxation. Applying steps 1. to 4. to this problem, I tried on various practices, and gathered my favorite getting unstuck tools.
From this experimentation I developed two helpful routines for insomnia. My routines include pelvic breathing, restorative yoga, Trauma Release Exercises, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
Once you have your routines, practice them until they become embodied. “Embodied” means you are so familiar with something that it becomes automatic.
Here are the two insomnia routines that I call Turn it Down and Turn it Up.
Turn It Down
I have three favorite restorative yoga poses that I return to again and again, because my body loves them. They require pillows, blankets and a bolster. I keep these props near my bed so it is easy to set up my pose.
I combine these three restorative poses in a sequence that usually returns me to sleep within forty minutes or so.
During the first pose, which I do for twenty-forty minutes, my mind is quite active. I have learned to welcome it: “Hello, mind that gallops like a horse.” I let it wander around.
But sometimes I obsess about something so much that I get riled up. As soon as I notice this I tell myself, “Hmm, this line of thought is making me wakeful and agitated.” I try to observe this without fighting with myself.
I may take a few deep breaths; I may marvel at the power of my wild-horse mind. Most of all, I pay attention to how good it feels to have my body held by the props: “Here I am, resting, watching my wild mind run.”
Sensations Are Key
Sensations are the language of our brain stem, our fight-or-flight brain. To engage and influence it, to reassure it, we need to use its language.
So when I do child’s pose with a bolster, I notice the bolster beneath my belly, holding it firmly. I notice the comforting feeling this gives my belly.
When I do a supported upper back backbend, I notice the bolster under my neck, the blanket under my chest. I invite my body to sink into the support.
When I feel “done” with the first pose, I move the props to set up the second pose. I frequently fall asleep in the middle of the second pose.
If not, the third pose almost always works. Hooray! Even if I don’t get back to sleep, restorative poses are still restful.
When Turn It Down Doesn’t Work
Sometimes, depending on what I ate, where I am in my menstrual cycle, or who is president, restorative yoga doesn’t cut it. My body refuses to settle.
Self-observation has taught me that this signals an urgent communication from my body. In the quiet of the night, my mind is raw and open. My body insists: listen to me!
It is difficult to listen. I worry about being wide awake, dread that I will be unable to function in the morning.
This vicious cycle of sleeplessness plus panic about sleeplessness is not a recipe for going back to sleep.
After I fuss for a bit, eventually I remember my other insomnia strategy.
Instead of moving towards the five components of a restorative yoga pose (quiet, warmth, darkness, motionlessness and support), I move towards expression.
Instead of Turning it Down, I Turn it Up.
Turn It Up
This routine is the best choice when I am triggered or “stuck.” It is all about getting active and expressive.
I turn on the light and journal. If I am too tired, I lie in the dark and talk or sing aloud, narrating my sensations and emotions.
With pen or voice, I complain, worry, rage, argue, philosophize or grieve.
Sometimes I do the TRE exercises, and let my body tremble and shake how/where it wants to.
If I am especially stuck, I may use EFT to “loosen the soil” so I can unearth what is bothering me.
With this process it is crucial that I not direct the movement or expression. I simply allow my body to tell its story.
Usually it turns out to be something I was too busy to catch during the daytime. Usually it is a big deal.
This process can lead to sobs or roars of terror, grief or rage as I uncover and utter truths I have been avoiding.
Again, sensations are key. When I journal or mutter to myself in the night, when I let my body tremor or howl, I participate in the sights, sounds, textures and vibrations.
I feel my aliveness. I take my animal body seriously and give it respectful attention.
Turning it Up is uncomfortable, but it deepens my relationship with myself.
This routine often takes longer than my restorative yoga sequence: somewhere between forty-five minutes to two and a half hours.
When it’s done, I am at peace. At this point I tend to fall asleep. If not, I can easily put myself to sleep with a simple practice such as fingerholds, deep breathing or a restorative pose.
Turning It Up doesn’t just get me back to sleep. It helps me reclaim my dignity and courage. It brings new energy, clarity and purpose. This more than compensates for any sleep I have lost.
After much curiosity, experimentation, and practice, I trust my Turn It Down and Turn it Up routines. I am confident that I can find my way back to sleep.
It is good to have two or three routines or sequences that are well-practiced and familiar. Then you can add or subtract practices as needed.
Even when you cannot access your favorite routine, you can use your knowledge of your triggers and your somatic temperament to create new routines on the spot.
While traveling recently, I had nothing on hand to serve as restorative yoga props.
Instead, I did two practices that did not require props: pelvic breathing and TRE. I practiced them one at a time, alternating between the two for about an hour.
Mixing things up can be effective. TRE is very active and expressive, while pelvic breathing involves slow, gentle movements.
Eventually my body settled. If it hadn’t, I could have added in EFT or fingerholds, two more practices that do not require props.
I hope this series inspires you to befriend your body, one step at a time. Just like making friends with humans or animals, befriending our bodies is a rich adventure.
When you practice the getting unstuck routines that work best for you, you expand your personal reservoir of resilience.
Above all, these times call for self-aware, resilient people.
For the sake of all, let’s make a commitment to replenish ourselves each day.
Let’s build robust psycho-spiritual individual and collective immune systems to get us through this long political flu-season.
Blessings to you.
Let me know how it goes.
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