As a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience, I have trained and supported individuals in transforming their lives.
People who sought my help have been motivated by a burning need to alleviate their suffering and a deep longing for a life of calmness, happiness, and joy. After many years of supporting others, I have come to believe that the most effective way to assist them is by providing empowering self-help tools.
For this reason, I developed 51BLUE Neurotraining. This program of self-empowering courses, and the hundreds of practices it offers combine modern advances in neuroscience, somatics, and bio-psychology with ancient meditative practices.
Over the years, the individuals I’ve worked with have been able to self-generate inner calmness, balance their nervous systems, manage stress and tension, and enhance their overall wellbeing and vitality. This was achieved through the practice of pausing movement, physically and mentally slowing down, and fostering the state of restful and calming stillness.
Dominant Sympathetic Mobilization
When faced with life-threatening danger, our nervous system, driven by the instinct to protect ourselves, activates powerful measures to ensure our survival. This biological response to threat, also known as the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, is governed by our sympathetic nervous system. It’s commonly experienced as heightened levels of stress, anger, anxiety, panic, and even shock.
This heightened state mobilizes us, drives us, and equips us with the crucial tools for reaching safety or eliminating the threats we face. Stress hormones flood our bodies, our heart rate increases, breathing accelerates, and muscles tighten, all in preparation for the imminent battle for our lives. Additionally, bodily functions not immediately necessary for survival, such as digestion, metabolism, and the immune system, are suppressed. This ensures that all our physical resources are devoted to escaping potential harm and taking defensive actions. Our minds, fully engaged in the pursuit of survival, become singularly focused on the present threat and imperative of escaping potential harm. Intense strategic thinking as well as the analyzing and scanning of the environment (including the news) are common when the mind is on high alert.
While in survival mode, all matters of daily life and the sustaining of physical and mental wellbeing are temporarily put on hold until safety is re-established.
However, these extreme survival measures are only essential when danger is imminent, and we need a heightened state of alertness in combination with power and speed to protect ourselves. Once the danger is no longer immediate, even if it has not disappeared, and we find ourselves in a safe environment, it becomes equally vital to calm our nervous system, restore it to balance, and return to a more restful state.
The state of stillness is governed by our parasympathetic nervous system and can be described as our biological ‘rest and guide’ response. While in a state of stillness —one that exists between sleep and movement and can only be entered while feeling safe—your body and mind are restful, calm, and achieve balance.
Fostering the state of restful and calming stillness generates the inner strengths and resilience needed to cope with the challenges and trauma we face. Stillness also enables us to think clearly, make wise decisions, and support our physical and mental wellbeing, even during times of stress and trauma.
Eight Practices for Stillness
The following eight practices are designed to encourage slowing down, activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and foster a state of restful and calming stillness.
The eight practices begin and end in a similar manner. However, the middle section of each focuses on strengthening a different skill necessary for the process of slowing down and finding rest.
For this program to be effective, follow the practices in the order presented. Establish a minimum of three practices per day, ideally at regular times.
Once you have completed the eight practices, return to the beginning, and start again. Once you have repeated the eight practices several times and have become familiar with the entire program, you can change the order to suit your preferences and focus on specific skills by choosing the relevant practice.
Each practice contains an audio-recording and written explanation. Some people prefer to read the explanations before they engage with the practice. Others like to start with the practice and then continue to the written explanation. Either approach is fine.
The process of slowing yourself down, both physically and mentally, to enter a state of restful stillness is accumulative and depends on repeated practice. You may not feel instant changes as soon as you start practicing rest. However, with each practice, you strengthen the wiring in your brain, literally creating new anatomical structures in support of physical and mental slow down, and the establishing of the state of stillness.
Through the practice, my spoken instructions are followed by periods of silences. Each practice includes two recordings, that differ in the length of the silences between the instructions. I have carefully considered the length of these silences, which are meant to facilitate the implementation and integration of the given instructions. You might initially find some of the longer silences between the instructions a little unsettling. However, as you keep repeating the practices, these quiet spaces of practice will become helpful. In fact, as you progress through this training you might find that you need more time between the instructions. If so, press pause during the silences, and when you are ready to continue, press play.
I hope that this short program will support you personally, give you the calmness to help those around you, and allow you to contribute to the people of Israel with the inner peace, strength, and determination that are most needed in these difficult days.
All my best wishes
Sense of safety
Slowing yourself down, calming your nervous system, letting your body and mind rest, and fostering the state of stillness can only be achieved when we feel safe, which is difficult during times of stress and trauma.
In this first practice you develop a sense of when it is ‘safe enough’ to switch from movement to stillness and from stress to calmness.
Even if you can logically understand that you are currently in a safe space to slow down, remain still, and become restful, your subconscious mind does not equate logical conclusions with concrete evidence. Unless your mind is convinced beyond any doubt that at this present moment it is safe enough to let your body and mind rest, it will remain vigilant and keep your body mobilized to defend itself. Visual scanning of the environment and repeated checks for the absence of imminent danger provide your mind with experiential and concrete evidence of the current safety to make the important switch from movement to stillness and rest.
Sight and hearing are crucial for survival, which can make it challenging to close your eyes and let your guard down. However, for the practice of stillness and rest it is essential to encourage yourself to close your eyes and become more vulnerable. Doing so sends a message to your mind that at this present moment it’s safe to let your guard down and foster restful and calming stillness.
Moreover, remaining still for a while, especially with your eyes closed, and discovering that no harm has come to you, provides your mind with additional experiential evidence that are in a safe enough place to suspend movement, remain still, and let your body and mind rest.
The practice of rest can be explored while sitting, standing, or laying down. However, it is recommended to prioritize the sitting posture as it emphasizes that rest is a waking state between sleep and movement. While lying down naturally draws sleep and standing invites movement, sitting establishes a balanced and stable position that combines rest with wakefulness and heightened awareness.
Sensing the flow of air moving in and out of your nose and the breathing movement across your stomach and chest is a skill in concentration. You don’t need to change the way you breathe; simply pay attention to it.
While focusing on your breath, you might feel the urge to control it. Encourage yourself to let go and observe your body’s natural breathing. If the urge to control your breath persists, try taking a deep breath, and then let your body resume its natural breathing.
Distractions and thoughts
It requires time and practice to establish a consistent, uninvolved, and undistracted awareness of your natural breath. When you get distracted, gently, and patiently bring your attention back to your breath.
Following thoughts instead of following your breath is a common distraction, which will be addressed in practice 5.
There are several places in your body where you can sense your pulse, on your wrist and neck are the most obvious.
Wrist: Located on the inner side of your wrist, just below the base of your thumb.
Neck: Found on the side of your neck, just below your jawline.
It’s important to note that pulse detection can vary among individuals. If you have difficulty finding your pulse in one location, you can try another until you locate it.
Sensing your pulse may require some postural effort, such as positioning your hand or fingers correctly to feel the pulse. Experiment with different hand or finger positions to find the most comfortable and effective posture for this practice.
Counting your pulse can help you focus your mind on these bodily experiences. Engaging your mind in the task of counting can also reduce distracting thoughts, especially when your mind is preoccupied, thus enhancing your focus and calming your mind simultaneously.
However, it’s worth noting that counting may only be useful for a brief period before it becomes more beneficial to simply sense your pulse without counting.
When you opt to count your pulse, it’s helpful to count cycles of pulse, such as 10 beats, 15 beats, or 30 beats, and then begin anew.
In this practice, you can compare the experience of counting your pulse and counting your breaths to determine which you find more helpful and in what circumstances.
It’s worth noting that counting your pulse, at the start of the resting practice, can be a useful initial step before focusing on your breath, especially if you’re experiencing high levels of tension and stress.
It is natural to find yourself following thoughts instead of focusing on your breath. Welcome your thoughts by acknowledging them but prioritize following breath to find rest and calm your mind.
Silencing the mind
Attempting to silence a busy mind can be counterproductive, as it tends to generate more thoughts. Focusing on breath, on the other hand, can naturally reduce the intensity of thinking. Instead of trying to eliminate thoughts, persist in focusing on and sensing your breath, allowing the mind to gradually calm itself.
Furthermore, it’s often more beneficial to delay engaging with thoughts rather than attempting to stop them entirely. If certain thoughts demand a lot of attention, evaluate their urgency at this moment. If possible, encourage yourself to postpone engaging with them until after the practice of rest. Remind yourself that taking the time to rest before addressing these thoughts often enhances the quality of your subsequent reflections.
Thinking and sensing are different forms of cognition that compete for attention at a neurological level. The more you engage in analytic thinking, the less you engage in sensing, and vice versa. To gradually calm the mind and prioritize sensing over thinking, consistently direct your attention to your breath. When you find yourself engaged in analytical thinking, patiently bring your attention back to your breath.
Body rest and muscle relaxation are closely related. We tense muscles to move and relax them to rest. This practice makes you aware of the close relationship. It also encourages you to consciously relax your muscles to facilitate the practice of rest.
When you take a deep breath, you naturally contract some muscles and release them as you exhale. This practice takes advantage of this natural process of tensing and releasing breath-related muscles to encourage the releasing and relaxing of all movement-related muscles in the body.
Posture and softness
While the goal of this practice is to engage in wakeful rest, not to invite sleep, you should aim to soften your muscles without relaxing them to the point of complete laxity. This muscle softness should facilitate the practice of rest yet maintain enough muscle tone to support your restful sitting or standing posture.
If you practice rest while lying down, your muscles may soften to the point of completely laxness. This can be helpful in supporting your ability to soften your muscles. However, you may also find that you fall asleep more easily during the lying-down practice of rest. If you did fall asleep, enjoy it, but once you awake, do another practice of wakeful rest.
Softening the face
This practice emphasizes the softening of your face since it is often easier to relax muscles in your face than elsewhere in your body. Furthermore, for various neurological reasons, the relaxation of facial muscles appears to naturally invite the softening of muscles in other areas of your body.
In this practice, you offer your mind experiential evidence that enduring physical discomfort, including emotional discomfort, is safe, as long as it does not warrant medical attention.
While you may logically understand that experiencing discomfort poses no actual danger, your subconscious mind doesn’t always align with these logical conclusions without concrete evidence.
This practice seeks to provide tangible proof that it is safe to endure physical discomfort by encouraging you to persist in your resting state, even when faced with discomfort. The longer you stay still, focus on your breath, and maintain rest without experiencing harm, the more convincing the evidence becomes discomfort can be endured.
Groundedness and stability
Particularly in times of danger, when the outside world demands our attention and external stimuli such as news feeds are overwhelming, our sense of self, embodiment, and presence can be significantly diminished.
In this practice, you bring your attention back to yourself. You strengthen your sense of physical existence, groundedness, and stability by focusing on your body—its substance, weight, and contact with the ground.
A strong sense of your own physical presence is vital for facilitating both physical and mental slow-down and rest.