Orienting Into Spring! 🌷
Updated: Sep 28
Do you hear that - the raven cawing up above? Do you see the bright flowers peeking from the green grass? Do you smell the wet dirt and leaves? The warm sunlight on your cheek?
As spring approaches, this is a great time and opportunity to practice orienting - a technique that can help regulate your nervous system, but also a habit of what we tend to notice and pay attention to.
We all have tendencies of what we orient to, or focus our attention towards, and in the wake of trauma, our brains naturally become hypervigilantly aware of danger (and perceived threats/danger, too) as a survival coping mechanism. Even after past trauma is long over, these orienting habits can continue due to unresolved trauma.
We can change and update these trauma-influenced orienting tendencies by practicing different orienting responses. As Pat Ogden writes in her book, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment, "by choosing to change your orienting habits, different responses and new meaning can emerge."
You can practice this orienting exercise during a walk outside in nature or around the block. What better time than now, as spring approaches? I practiced this orienting exercise today, and chose to orient to signs of spring while on a trail walk with my dog. This is what I focused my attention to and discovered: I hear birds chirping and singing their melody high up in the trees, my gaze absorbs colorful bursts of wildflowers that line the dirt path, I smell nature's musty-scented dirt, a cool breeze brushes against my face and my hands are cold, I feel connected to the earth and at ease, and I notice a low-key smile gently brush across my face as my heart feels warm.
Orienting Response Exercise:
Before stepping outside for a walk, decide what you will practice paying attention to (orienting).* Examples: flowers, the color yellow, birds singing, puddles in the ground, the smell of wet grass, oak trees, or friendly faces
While going on a walk, try to put your attention to the stimuli you intended to
Whenever your mind wanders and focuses on something else, try to redirect it to the original intention
After your walk, reflect on how the exercise went: Was it difficult to orient to your intended stimuli? Did you tend to orient to danger or threat? Did you feel more connected to the present moment? Were you thinking so much that you didn't notice your surroundings? Was your nervous system in fight/flight mode?
Great job practicing orienting! There's no wrong way to go - it's all practice, information of your natural orienting tendencies, and an opportunity to step outside. Because new orienting habits take repetition, I recommend practicing this a lot!
*Remember, this is what you'd like to orient to - it is ok if you noticed afterwards that it was difficult to orient to what you had planned. With practice, this will get easier.