Finding our Window of Tolerance through Somatic Experiencing


​Written by Mary Lorenz, SEP, RYT, NCLMBT
                        & Guest Blogger for NCCR

One of our primary goals at the NC Center for Resiliency, is helping people to find coherence, or a place of optimal physiological and psychological functioning. One way of understanding this is through the work of mindfulness based psychotherapist Dr. Dan Siegel.
Dr. Dan Siegel coined a term he calls the “Window of Tolerance.” It describes the zone that we are most comfortable in, the zone in which we function our best. People tend to leave their Window of Tolerance when they experience too much, or too little stimulation or input. Signs that one is over the top may be: feeling constantly on guard, wanting to lash out at others, or ourselves, experiencing feelings of anxiety or sleeplessness. Signs of being below one’s optimal zone may include feeling numb, frozen, or empty. During the course of any day, people naturally flow within this Window of Tolerance, having moments of activity and rest. When we step outside our Window of Tolerance, and can’t find our way back, there are things we can do to help.
Touch and movement based methods for supporting and restoring resilience (expansion of window of tolerance) and self-regulation (and movement into and out of window of tolerance).
The use of sound can bring us back into our Window of Tolerance, whether we are over the top, or below our optimal zone. This exercise uses the sound of Vu or Vooo. This sound, much like an internal foghorn, is created on the exhale. Allow your inhale to enter your lungs without an extra effort. On the exhale create the sound, imagining that it is going down your torso into your feet and out into the ground. Do this a few times, resting in between so that you may take note of your body’s response. If making a sound feels like too much, try blowing bubbles, singing or whistling!
Here are some additional things to try when you are feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, over the top of your Window of Tolerance:
This self hug exercise from Dr. Peter Levine helps you feel your physical boundaries, because awareness of boundaries can help to bring us back into our Window of Tolerance.

  • Place one hand under the opposite arm, and then place the other hand over the upper part of the other arm; you are giving yourself a hug.
  • Pay attention to your body.
  • Let yourself settle into the position; allow yourself to feel supported by it. Allow yourself to feel contained.
  • Watch and see if anything shifts with your breathing, bodily sensations, and how you feel in space.
  • See if you can sit with it a while and let it shift your perceptions of yourself and the world somewhat before coming out of it.

Another way to feel our physical boundaries is through conscious muscle engagement. Try this exercise. In a seated position, place your hands along the outside of your thigh. Inhale and on an exhale, gently press the legs out into the resistance offer by your hands. Do this a few times and see how this feels, both physically and emotionally.
The same exercise can be done standing. Imagine your feet and legs, grounded and pressing out to the sides as you exhale. This is an isometric contraction and your legs will not actually move.
Things to try when feeling listless, frozen, under your Window of Tolerance:
Self touch: Rub your hands together, enough to create a tiny bit of warmth. Then place your hands on the opposite arm (upper or lower) and press/squeeze and release. Do this a few times. Rest and notice any changes in your body or mind. Rub the hands together again, and this time place your hands on your legs (upper or lower). Press and release, allowing your hands to move up and down the entire leg. Again, rest and notice any changes that occur after this exercise.
Invite tiny movement:
Starting at the head gently and slowly make tiny movements of the head and neck. If this movement shifts into the spine, let it. Feel what happens as you allow your body to make tiny movements. Be curious about the arms and legs. Allow movement to expand outward from the spine into these areas of the body. Rest and notice how you feel afterwards.
All of our therapists at the NC Center for Resiliency are trained in these somatic methods and more, to help you find your own Window of Tolerance, and help you learn to recognize when you are above or below this optimal zone, as a way of enhancing your ability to self regulate and calm and soothe yourself.
Mary Lorenz, SEP, RYT, NCLMBT #8363  is a bodyworker and somatic educator in Chapel Hill, NC. Her work is informed by Somatic Experiencing® and her background is in bodywork and movement. She is committed to providing a safe, open, and non-judgmental atmosphere where each client can feel at ease.


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