I have a dear friend who works on an equestrian centre near Southampton and I’d been telling her that I’d had a somewhat stressful start to my year.  ‘Come and visit the horses’ she said.  I was intrigued.  How could spending time with horses relieve my stress levels?  My history with horses isn’t impressive; years ago I’d had two bad incidents when I’d actually thrown up on a horse while riding it and then I was bitten.  Like I said, not impressive.

It was a cold, sunny day as we drove down to the centre.  I was feeling apprehensive but at the same time deeply curious.   My apprehension grew when we arrived at the centre and I approached the horses.  I was drawn to one particular horse called Jacob.  Jacob is renowned for his sensitivity and emotional temperament so I wasn’t sure why I felt this urge to get close to him.

I was right to trust my instincts; as I stroked Jacob’s beautiful strong head, I felt a deep calm spreading through my body.  My shoulders relaxed and my jaw unclenched.  Apparently Jacob felt it too as he nuzzled my hands and yawned widely stretching his jaws and releasing his own stress!  Emotions bubbled up in my heart as I looked into his big brown eyes and I felt myself on the verge of tears.  I breathed deeply and wondered at the shift that had taken place in just a few minutes with this magnificent creature.

Since meeting Jacob and some other lovely horses that day, I’ve held on to this sensation of what happened when I felt this allowing of what needed to be felt in my heart and not intellectualised in my head.    We do this so easily don’t we, we clever ‘over thinkers’?  Escaping up into the mind, thinking, planning, focusing, worrying, controlling…and where does the emotion go?

For many it gets suppressed, held down and then it bubbles up at night and you can’t sleep.  It doesn’t feel safe to let go and sleep because the emotions hit like a tsunami when the lights go out.  Or they come crashing in to your dreams waking you at 2am stubbornly refusing to let you sleep.  Of course by then the creativity gremlins are in overdrive and every tiny fear is magnified several times over.

What happened to me with Jacob is something that is very helpful for sleep and letting go of the day.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is called ‘calming the Shen’.  The Shen is best translated as the spirit of the person in a nonreligious sense.  When assessing the Shen, the Chinese Medicine practitioner is looking for the emotional state and presence (or lack of), radiance, calm and balance and should be located in the heart area.  This is also what I evaluate with my patients and clients when trying to solve their insomnia issues.  For them, the Shen is often located in the head (and even above this) – they are thinking, worrying etc.

Recently I gave a presentation to a packed auditorium at a professional services firm and the Shen agitation was palpable.  So with Jacob in mind, I worked on calming the Shen in the room and within a few minutes, there was calm and peace prevailed.  People even put their electronic devices down!

Aren’t we all seeking some form of peace and calm?  A way through the busyness and chaos that has become everyday life?  If at least so that we can sleep deeply and peacefully at night?

If this resonates with you, you might find the following steps helpful for calming your Shen before you send that email, respond angrily to your partner, scream at the kids, or…fall effortlessly into blissful sleep:

  • Stand with feet firmly planted on the ground. Bare feet or with shoes on.
  • Feel the ground beneath your feet. Feel the ‘four corners of your feet.
  • Slightly bend and soften your knees and feel the weight drop into your feet even more.
  • Sway gently onto the four corners of your feet feeling your weight shifting, feeling your body adjusting to maintain balance.
  • Straighten your spine. Imagine a cord attached to the top of your head and uplift.  Imagine creating more space between your vertebrae.  Keep chin parallel to the floor.
  • Breathe deeply into your belly.
  • As you breathe out imagine roots growing from the soles of your feet, deep down into the ground to the earth’s core.
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings, physical sensations come up. If you feel tightness (eg jaws, shoulders) let it go.  Breathe deeply and release the tension.

Prescription for use:

Take this ‘pill’ before you go to bed, when you wake up in the morning and if you wake during the night.  Take it when you feel the agitation rising up, racing thoughts overtaking your mind.   Even a minute or two is enough to begin to calm the Shen. 

And if all else fails, go and whisper to a horse.

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