Adrenal Response Exercise

Click here to watch the supporting video on Adrenal Response Exercise.

The following exercise is aimed at resetting the adrenal response to mimic the transition usually made from when we move from the ‘startle response’ seen in babies to the more developed ‘fight-or-flight’ response seen in adults.

During the startle response, babies’ four limbs open suddenly outwards in response to stress, but after the age of one, humans curl inwards during moments of fear or stress for self-protection. At this point, reactions to every change of light, movement, touch, sound, temperature, hunger or thirst are inhibited. Babies possess a highly sensitive level of response, as they cannot distinguish what it safe or unsafe and need to alert a caregiver to help and protect them.

As we become more able to help ourselves, we become more discerning about what we view as dangerous, rather than reacting to any stimulus as if it were a threat. Those with early trauma, or lack of attachment or attunement when young (or maybe illness, it is theorized) may not fully develop these ‘filters’ and continue to respond to any change (even if very subtle) as if it were a true danger. Those suffering trauma or chronic stress later in life may also return to a heightened sensitivity response and feel the world to be a harsh place to navigate. Noise and light sensitivity are key signs of stress overload, where a person stays locked in protective sympathetic fight-or-flight mode and retains a continual vigilance through heightened senses.

Meditation appears to lessen this retained primitive startle response and meditative movement such as the exercise below helps to reset the head, neck and shoulder responses to nervous system input. It also creates a conscious imprint of the different sensations of the breath. Those with chronic stress can often be disconnected with when they are breathing in and out.

If possible, do this exercise regularly and around the same time every day—say, when you wake up or get home from work. These are the times that we transition from one mode of being to another and may struggle to adapt without a protective response, usually reaching for a self-soothing substance like sugar or alcohol when we’re feeling stressed out.

Aside from those times, this exercise can also be done any time, including as a soothing, rocking, meditative motion when you feel most overwhelmed or overtaken by cravings. Your body will feel safer when breath and movement are synchronized.

  • Lie on your back, spread-eagle, with your arms and legs spread wide. This is the inhale position, where you open up the ventral or front body—meeting the world with your soft, vulnerable throat, heart and belly. It’s a gesture of action and courage, but also receptivity, indicating that you are ready to meet the world. This energizing, in-breath position is paired with the sympathetic nervous system and hence such positions (usually upright) are often referred to as “power poses”, where you occupy your space and potential.

Breathe out fully as you roll to one side, drawing all limbs in to a full foetal position with arms and legs pulled into the body, hands and feet soft. On the exhalation, open the dorsal or back body to curl yourself in (via psoas flexion), a gesture of protection paired with the calming, parasympathetic out-breath. A foetal position fully draws you in to protect your soft front body, rounding the lower back and neck as when you were a baby, before you moved upright and your secondary, inward curves developed.

Click here to watch the supporting video on Adrenal Response Exercise.

Charlotte’s book, The De-stress Effect, on rebalancing your body’s systems for vibrant health and happiness, is available to buy on Amazon here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *