Manage Stress & Trauma with The Sensory Diet

If you missed the first posts in the series, get them here:

After getting comfy on the Yoga Couch, and learning to master the basics of breathing to manage stress, let’s take your Stress Management Skillset up a notch!

Note: Always remember as little as 2 minutes a day of practice can make a difference! Don’t skip this practice because you don’t have much time.  

Start Managing Stress Effectively

Managing stress is so much harder than it looks isn’t it? Hearing “hey just relax” or “take a deep breath” or “let it go” or “take it easy” or “don’t let it worry you” isn’t all that helpful, and sometimes it can lead to toxic positivity.

Instead, we need tangible stress management skills to help us navigate our daily lives. That begins with these simple statements below. Say them to yourself, or anyone else who is going through a tough time. The point is, this little series is meant to help you combat stress, save time, and find peace and contentment.  

This week’s post will build on the “Yoga Couch” & “Stress(less)” Breath” practice, which only take a couple of minutes to do each day. If you haven’t done those yet, no worries, take a minute to practice the FREE VIDEOS in each of the posts above.

Next, you’ll be ready to progress to the next phase, the Sensory Diet. I call it the “SENSORY DIET TRIFECTA,” because it is a short series of three poses that can yield big benefits. The Trifecta can be used in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and trauma recovery therapy. Or, it can be used in just an everyday fitness routine.

The Sensory Diet is:


It’s a simple practice but the neuroscience of it has deep and wide ramifications for helping “reset” your nervous system.


Resetting your nervous system is like hitting a little red button that says RESET. When you reset your nervous system, you are recalibrating how your mind-body responds to stress. This means your old involuntary stress response, which may have included anxiety, worry, distraction, panic, depression, fear, or analysis paralysis, will be replaced with a higher brain response. That higher brain response will allow you to REST AND DIGEST, to think more clearly, and to make better decisions during adversity and difficult times.


It isn’t an overnight, immediate change, but it doesn’t take long to do each day. So let’s get started! Treat this practice like a little “Snack Break.” It should take no longer than 2-5 minutes. 

Before You Start

There are a few contraindications to performing this series. If you have had any back or fusion surgery for the spine, osteoporosis in the spine, or other related orthopaedic condition, you need to skip doing these until you have clearance from your therapist or doctor. For best results, practice this short, simple sequence in combination with the breath practice above.

Also, if you have regular symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic, fear, or pain, please be sure to discuss this practice with your therapist or doctor before doing it. They can help you figure out what a BEST PRACTICE is for managing your symptoms.

What is the Sensory Diet good for?

In people with PTSD, fear and emotional dysregulation can go hand in hand. The cingulate cortex in the brain has a lot to do with over-riding the fear trigger (that happens in the amygdala). Said in plain language, the focus of this little practice is to regulate cortisol release and dampen what bestselling author Daniel Goleman calls the “amygdala highjack” reflex. The brain cannot take repeated dumps of cortisol and other steroid hormones into the body – it interferes with memory processing, memory recall, and can cause even the slightest stressor to trigger the individual, leading to a snowball effect of fear, survival response, hyper-arousal, and anxiety.

We want to unlock your brain’s potential by freeing it up from the knee-jerk response of the amygdala, which is to perceive everyday occurrences as threats.

The Sensory Diet Trifecta helps with:

  • Prokinetic Vagus Effects – What does this mean? It means that the movement and deep pressure massage of the sacral area can improve vagal tone, which can affect everything from improving mood to digestion to stress response. Specifically, simulation of the parasympathetic nervous system through the S2-S4 sacral plexus can aide in entraining a new response in the anterior cingulate cortex. This nurtures bioplasticity and improved stress response by diminishing fear and dampening the evocation of a predator response. Why does low vagal tone matter? Low vagal tone is correlated with a pro-inflammatory state which makes regulation of chronic pain and disease very difficult, like management of diabetes for example. Low vagal tone is also associated with low heart rate variability (HRV) which increases your risk for development of chronic disease and pain.  
  • Modulation of inflammation through cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathways
  • Optimize diaphragmatic pressurization
  • Possible promotion of healthy cerebrospinal fluid flow, claimed to improve health in pediatric populations.
  • Improve interoception and proprioception, which helps with managing trauma, especially serious trauma that stems from childhood abuse, sexual abuse &/or war time service.
  • Joint compressions exert a positive regulatory effect on the autonomic nervous system (again, read stress management improvement)
  • Brushing, rocking over the sacral area is akin to positive effects posited by Brain Gym  
  • Managing stress.
  • Normalizing shoulder, hip, and spine alignment, when practiced with Yoga Couch.
  • Pain relief.
  • Improving heart rate variability (HRV) which reduces risk for chronic disease.
  • Improving lung functioning.
  • Improving posture and postural feedback (standing taller and more confident).
  • Caring for or preventing generalized joint and back pain.
  • Minimizing breathing problems if you have allergies, congestion, asthma, COPD, or similar breathing issue.
  • Easing myofascial tension (sensation of pulling or tightness in the body).
  • Easing neural tension (numbness or tingling in hands or feet).
  • Improving vocal projection (if you are a teacher, public speaker, singer, or instrumentalist, or performance artist).
  • Improve body awareness and the somatic experience.
  • Good for trauma-sensitive yoga
  • Resetting the stress response and returning to “Rest and Digest” when a stressful situation arises.

Practice The Sensory Diet

The Sensory Diet includes these Postures:

  1. Hip Telescoping (see the picture above) – Bring the knees into the chest, one at a time, and then roll the hip around in the socket. Play with this range of motion, which should be painfree. Practice AD Breath with it.
  2. Happy Baby (see the picture above) – Bring both knees into the chest, which can look like a double knee to chest position or something closer to feet in the air position. Again, the pose should be painfree and combined with AD Breath.
  3. Windshield Wipers – (for those with hip issues) and a shorter, general version below.
Sensory Diet with Dr. Ginger Garner
The Sensory Diet
Windshield Wipers with Dr. ginger Garner


  • Put all of these postures together – Rock back and forth from a forward to back (head to toe) motion and a side to side (as in the windshield wipers) motion. This will enhance vagal stimulation and help relax and reorganize the nervous system even further.
  • Add the NAP Meditation over the top of the Sensory Diet. This is really helpful to determine if you are using the abdominals, pelvic floor, and vocal cords properly and not stressing them negatively. This concept is called optimal pressurization. Learn The NAP Meditation below.

The purpose of these poses are not just for light physical movement or exercise, they are helping gently reorganize the nervous system in layered and complex ways. All you need to do is simply belly breath (AD Breath) and experiment with playful movement. Enjoy the Sensory Diet!

Note: You don’t need a fancy yoga mat or rug.Although I am shown doing some of the poses on a yoga mat, you do not need a mat to do these postures. Feel free to do them on any comfortable rug or surface you have at home. I use a yoga mat and a rug over it to cushion my bony parts and make the Sensory Diet most comfortable.

Dr. Ginger Garner

About the Author

Ginger has spent 20+ years helping people (mostly moms!) with chronic pain as a physical therapist, athletic trainer, and professional yoga therapist. Ginger is the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, now in its 4th foreign translation, founder of ProYogaTherapy Institute®, codirector of Living Well Yoga in Healthcare, and most recently ran for State Senate in NC.


All peer reviewed scientific journals cited here can be found in Garner, G. Medical Therapeutic Yoga. Handspring Pub Ltd., Edinburgh, UK. 2016.

This and all blog posts related to yoga and/or physical therapy on www.gingergarner.com are not a substitute for medical advice and are not a prescription or program for individualized physical therapy. You must seek the advice of your health care provider and, only after a thorough physical examination and clearance, participate in any movement or exercise program. 

All photos: ©2019. Ginger Garner. All rights reserved.