The regulation of rhythm
For therapeutic work to be successful, clients need to be feeling regulated, in other words they need to be calm and relaxed, so that they are open to engaging and exploring. No-one is open to news of difference when they are afraid or tensed up, activation is a tense state designed to help us protect ourselves. So, safety is always the first job in therapeutic work.
When a client is upset, tone and rhythm are more important than what I actually say. As Bruce Perry notes “You can’t talk someone out of feeling angry, sad or frustrated, but you can be a sponge and absorb their emotional intensity. If you stay regulated, ultimately they will “catch” your calm.”
Perry goes on to remind us of the importance of rhythm for regulation. We were originally rocked by the walking of our mother when we were in her womb, and so it is usual to find rhythmic motion very soothing. Be it walking, tapping on alternate sides of the body, dancing, drumming, bouncing a ball, playing catch, colouring in, playing a musical instrument, singing…there are so, so many ways to use rhythm to come back into a sense of calm and safety.
When you have a tendency to be activated and feel a sense of fear or caution when there is no danger present, regularly dosing yourself with some rhythm is a good way to begin to reset your nervous system. It’s one way of acting to reduce your average tension point so that it takes more to activate you from an increasingly calm set-point. You’re repeatedly giving yourself experiences of feeling regulating, letting your system know this is possible, and accessible, whatever else is going on.
The irony is, when we are more stressed or activated, we tend to stop doing some of the things we find engaging and nourishing, including the rhythmical ones. It’s at exactly these times we need to up our dose, even when we don’t feel like it.
So, melt that stress and tension away with whatever kind of rhythm works for you, and do it often, it’s as much preventive maintenance as it is first aid.