We need each other to survive and thrive. Our nervous system is set to be connected. We learn self-regulation from our mothers or caregivers as infants. Our ability to self-regulate is based on our ongoing relationships with others. This idea of needing others is what is called co-regulation. Co-regulation is necessary to enter and stay in a ventral vagal state. When our immediate relationships are strained, it becomes even more important to develop ways to nurture connection, even if this means remembering those who love us or imagining those who would want to support us.
When we understand the power of co-regulation, we realize that we can impact others in a positive or negative way, not because of anything we say, but because through our facial expression we are signaling to them if we are safe or dangerous. Our faces, particularly the edges of our mouth and eyes are directly linked to the vagus nerve. When we smile slightly and lift the edges of our mouth and eyes, we signal to ourselves that we are in a safe place. It also signals to those around us that we are safe to approach and relate to. Keep this in mind as you work with your team and as you tune in on Zoom during the term.
One of the disadvantages of doing this course online is that we can’t see each other. We don’t have the opportunity to develop a shared sense of safety that comes from physical proximity. Because of that, it is even more important to work through the daily practices of moving, breathing, meditating, and writing with a sense that others are doing the same thing. We practice not in isolation but in communion with the community that forms this little class.
Our imagination is a powerful tool. About two years ago I shattered my right elbow in a bicycle accident. For months I wasn’t able to move my arm at all. Besides the excruciating nerve pain radiating from the elbow and running to my hand, I was frustrated that I could not continue doing my regular yoga practice that demands a lot of arm strength. One day as I told my teacher about my frustration, she mentioned how it wasn’t necessary for me to do my practice physically. I could do all of the poses in my mind and use the same breathing patterns as I normally did when I moved, she said. I thought she was pulling my leg, but I did as she suggested.
In a state of protection, survival is the only goal. The system is closed to connection and change. In a state of connection, health, growth, and restoration are possible.
Once I started physical therapy, I told my therapist what I was doing. She explained that there’s quite a bit of research on how patients improve quicker when they imagine the full range of movement that is not available at the moment because of injury. The imagination is a powerful force.
Community and connection are not optional. They are necessary elements in what allows us to live out of our full potential. It is the difference between training someone to do something and inviting someone into a learning process. The latter is called education. This is what we are doing.
Beginning to see everyone not as the other but as kin is what many spiritual traditions point to. These traditions may provide diﬀerent reasons for this, but whether we agree or not, we know that our nervous system does not function in isolation. It is connected not only to our bodies but to those around us. We need each other.
Imagining the larger communion that surrounds us may be seen as a spiritual endeavor, but doing so has real consequences. Look at this class and see it as a place where you can extend your circle of connections, maybe even make friends. If this happens, you know that learning has taken place because the conditions for learning involves connectedness.
If we let this simmer in our minds and hearts, we realize how much growth and healing we can experience as we gently and patiently work on ourselves. What we do with ourselves then is not just a simple individualistic action but something that has ripple eﬀects for everyone around us. See how this also works in the rest of your life–with family, friends, and co-workers.
*Remember to take notes on this reading in your composition notebook.