Self-Regulation for Radical Action

As I was reflecting with a client this week, after they shared some of their anger and sadness in the face of events unfolding in Gaza, there is so much, so much, so much to grieve right now. Many of us are outside our window of tolerance. Others are turning away for fear of being overwhelmed. In this post I want to explore some ways in which we can stay present to what is happening in our world, while also keeping our feet under us, finding our way back to our window of transformation as Kai Cheng Thom terms it, and tapping into the energy we have available to take meaningful action.

As a first step towards taking meaningful action, “feel your feelings” might seem counter-intuitive. But feeling your feelings can be the difference between overwhelm and anxiety – both of which can signal unprocessed emotion – and feeling more embodied, aligned, and present. It can be the difference between reacting from unacknowledged emotion, and being able to take intentional and meaningful action. It can be the difference between exhausting yourself trying to resist, repress, or otherwise avoid your feelings and your natural responses to what is happening, and having the necessary energy to make change in ways that are aligned with your values. So let’s explore some tools that might support you in feeling your feelings:


Begin by simply noticing your breath.

After a minute or so, allow your breath to become just a little fuller, a little deeper, than it usually is.

Remind yourself that the most important part of this process is that you keep breathing that deeper, fuller breath.

Let your breath guide your attention inwards, and begin to notice what feelings are present in your body. A feeling might immediately jump out at you, eager to be felt – or you may find it helpful to scan through your body with your attention and breath, pausing each time you encounter an impression or emotion.

Each time you encounter a feeling, breathe into it. Notice any impulses to move away from it, or avoid it, or push it down, and instead breathe into it, letting it expand and soften with your breath. Notice any impulses to change, shift, or get rid of the feeling in question, and instead breathe in and make space for the feeling to just be with the breath.

Keep going until a feeling gives way to another, or otherwise feels complete.

Remember you are in control of your experience, and you can pause any time you need to.

Bring this practice to a close when you feel calmer, or the process feels complete. If you need to stop before a point that feels like a completion, allow yourself to do that, and make a date to come back to feeling your feelings, perhaps with the support of a practitioner.


Movement is another path into feeling our feelings. I often invite my clients to imagine taking a particular feeling on a walk and having a conversation with it, or to make a playlist that expresses the feeling in question and invite it to dance.

Another great way to allow feelings to move through us is through shaking. So much so that a whole body of somatic practices called TRE – Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises – has been developed to amplify the natural tremors in the body for the purpose of emotional release. There are abundant free resources on TRE available online. You can also choose to put on some drum music, and either lying down with your feet flat on the floor (so your legs form two sides of a triangle), or standing up with soft knees, focus on the natural tremors in your pelvis, hips, and/or tummy, and allow those to expand and move through your body as you breathe.


For a more ritual-based approach, see the excerpt from my book Igniting Intimacy: Sex Magic Rituals for Radical Living and Loving* about creating grief rituals, which was included in my last mailout.


Once you have a practice for feeling your feelings, you may find those same feelings are directing you towards the places where the pain of the world touches you most deeply, and calls for your presence, perhaps even your unique skill set. In order to take action from within your window of tolerance, it can be helpful to identify a set of tools or techniques for self-regulation that you can take with you on that journey.


My favourite breath for self-regulation in the last year is one I learned from Polyvagal Theory practitioner Deb Dana. I like it because it can be deployed anytime and anywhere you are able to take a deep breath!

Choose an image of a daily object that you can control, and that vacillates – e.g. opens or closes (like a door), gets louder or quieter (like a volume dial), darker or brighter (a dimmable light switch), etc.

As you breathe in, imagine doing whatever you would normally do to make the object become more – more open, loud, bright, big, etc. As you breathe out, imaging the object becoming less – more closed, quiet, dim, small, etc. In the dimmable light switch example, this would mean imagining turning the light up as you breathe in, and down as you breathe out.

The in breath builds energy, and the out breath dissipates it. So depending on whether you want to access more energy, or to release stress and access more calm, you can focus on either the inhale or exhale, lengthening that part of the breath accordingly.


The great thing about shaking is it can be adapted to many situations – for example, having a quick but intentional three minute shake on a bathroom break, or suggesting a dance break in a group setting. I was at a demonstration recently listening to the people I was walking with express appreciation for the drumming groups joining the march at intervals, and I’m sure one of the reasons for this is because those sweet beats help folks to shake it off and stay regulated. Here are some other, more subtle ways to self-regulate through the body:

  • Attune to each of your senses in turn, fully focusing on what you can feel on your skin, then on what you can smell in the space around you, and so on. Take at least 3-5 breaths with each sense, more if you can.
  • If you’re outside, you can do something similar with the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – for example putting your attention in the connection between your feet and the ground, softening your knees, letting the earth take your weight, exhaling into the ground beneath you, perhaps imagining dropping roots down into it. Do that for 3-5 breaths, then focus on the air coming into your lungs, really let your breath expand your body, notice the sound of the wind and/or the birds for 3-5 breaths. Then you might focus on the rain, or the moisture in the air, or a nearby body of water, and breathe with that. Finally focus on the light of the sun, or the moon or stars, and welcome that into your body.
  • Combine a big sigh and a simple movement to encourage your whole system to release tension. For example, coming onto your tiptoes as you breathe in, and then dropping your feet firmly back to the ground as you have a sigh out on the exhale. Or pulling your shoulders up to meet your ears on the inhale, and then letting them drop and melt down your back on the exhale.


Gather or create talismans for yourself that can serve as anchors. Anchors to your body and breath in the present moment. Or reminders that you are loved, or of people or animals or places you love. Or anchors to your intention in doing what you are doing.

Writing this, I’m recalling a time when I had to go and teach in a situation I was very nervous of some years ago. I asked my beloved for a care package, and opened one of the little treats from it each evening after a day of teaching, allowing the pleasure of receiving it to bring me into the moment, and the love it represented to wrap me up and soothe me. Whenever I am staying or working away from home now, I still take one of the objects from that care package with me. I’ve also written before about portable altars – pocket-sized containers decorated and filled with tiny tokens of faith, purpose, love, safety.

And anchors can be so much simpler than both of these options: a piece of bark from a favourite tree, carried in your pocket where you can touch it and take a deep breath, recalling the feeling of leaning against that tree. A charm around your neck which you have woven with spells of safety and strength. A jacket borrowed from someone whose love gives you courage, or a soft toy on loan from a child for whom you are calling in a better tomorrow.


Finally, when you are orienting towards action for change, it’s essential to have an aftercare strategy. Some questions that might support you in crafting your after care:

What connects you to your senses right now? What sensations invite you into your body? What brings you pleasure?

What soothes you right now? Whose company do you find comforting? What does being comfortable, or at least more comfortable, look like for your body?

What helps you to let go? What could handing the actions of the day over to something greater than yourself look like for you? What supports you to rest?


Most of the tools above have been described for use by you as an individual. However, they can all be adapted and shared within community and collective contexts. Coming back to where I began this post, there is so much, so much, so much to grieve right now. No single one of us can take on that grief alone, nor should we be trying to. If you are grieving, I urge you to seek out or co-create spaces where you can process your feelings in connection and community. Look for grief circles in person or online; invite friends round to share food or make talismans together while talking about the impact of current events; or seek out a practitioner who can hold and help you to acknowledge the complexity of your feelings. I promise you your capacity to feel your own feelings will expand in being witnessed and witnessing others. Empathy is one of the most powerful and essential assets we have right now, and it takes root most strongly and flourishes most vibrantly in the spaces between us.


*The link to my book in this article is an affiliate link – meaning that, if you purchase my book through this link, I may receive a tiny commission at no extra cost to you.

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