What I Learned Inside a Tipi: Insights on Emotional Well-being

Mar 25, 2024
What I learned in a Tipi this weekend

This past weekend I attended a festival with family and friends and we spent a couple of evenings around a fire inside a tipi. I found myself immersed in an experience that stirred something deep within me. Surrounded by strangers yet feeling a sense of belonging, I had an epiphany about what humans truly need to thrive mentally and emotionally.

My first encounter with a tipi was during my time as an exchange student in Canada at the age of 17. Eager to explore Native American culture, I asked my host family to take me to a pow-wow. I was fascinated by the rituals, I tasted buffalo meat (before my vegetarian years), and witnessed the beauty of their traditions, I felt a curiosity and connection to a culture that was entirely new to me, especially being from New Zealand.

As I sat inside the tipi on that recent evening, I was struck by a realisation: gathering around a fire in a circle, singing, drumming, and communing with others is ingrained in our bones. It's a practice encoded in our DNA, passed down through generations of ancestors. And there's scientific evidence supporting why these communal experiences are profoundly beneficial for our well-being and nervous system health.

Restoring Balance: The Science of Emotional Regulation

At that moment, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the ancient practices within the tipi and the modern science I teach in my membership about emotional regulation and nervous system flexibility.
Here are some scientifically proven methods to calm your nervous system, whether you're inside a tipi or elsewhere:

1. Singing or Chanting
When we engage in singing, chanting, or even humming, the vibrations of our vocal cords stimulate the vagus nerve. This activation helps shift us into the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of calm and regulation.

2. Nature's Symphony
Listening to the sounds of nature, such as a crackling fire, a flowing river, or wind rustling through trees, has a remarkable effect on our nervous system. Research from Brighton and Sussex Medical School demonstrates how exposure to these natural sounds directly influences our autonomic nervous system, calming our fight-or-flight response and promoting relaxation.
You might choose to go into nature to tune into the sounds or download a playlist of nature sounds to listen to at any time.

3. Drumming
The rhythmic patterns of drumming, particularly when resonating at lower frequencies, can deeply affect the nervous system. Aligning with the body's natural rhythms, drumming harmonizes primal functions like heart rate and respiratory rate, offering a powerful tool for stress reduction and promoting a sense of vitality.

4. Connection
What I noticed in the Tipi was the feeling of community that was created (no phones and no distractions). Simply being in the presence of others in a safe and supportive environment can profoundly regulate our nervous system. According to the work of Steven Porges, social engagement fosters a state of safety and homeostasis known as the ventral vagal state. This connection allows us to co-regulate, promoting feelings of calm, presence, and compassion.

Choose Your Path to Regulation
Interested in exploring further ways to regulate your nervous system and manage emotional reactivity?
I've curated over 50 bite-sized techniques to find balance and feel calm and present in yourself and your relationship with others.


In conclusion, whether it's through the ancient traditions of a tipi gathering or the latest scientific insights, the path to emotional well-being lies in our ability to connect, regulate, and find solace in the company of others. Let's embrace these timeless practices and modern understandings as we journey toward a more balanced and harmonious existence.

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