Nearly all of us can relate to the calming motion of a swing moving back and forward; the effortless momentum when moving between the 2 highest points. The feeling of weightlessness while being supported can be incredibly soothing and relaxing, so much so that swings are often used as part of a therapeutic protocol.
My eldest son has an extremely active mind and often, shutting down mentally can prove to be very challenging. He can find it hard to get certain thoughts out of his head and some days strategies such as meditation, body scans, essential oils, back rubs, and calming music, just don't seem to help.
One particular evening when his wonderful mind was working overtime, we thought we'd give swinging a try because I had recently read about the therapeutic benefits. I have always loved swinging but was curious to know why it goes such a long way toward relaxation.
To understand why swinging can be particularly beneficial for some people, we first have to mention the vestibular system. This clever, complex part of our brains allows us to orientate ourselves within, and relative to, our surroundings. It’s the part of our brain that keeps us physically grounded, gives us balance, allows us to know up from down, and how we relate to gravity. The vestibular system is in fact our seventh sense, which along with the commonly known 5 and proprioception (in case you were wondering!), allow us to interpret and process our surroundings.
In The Out-of-Sync Child, Carol Stock Kranowitz further explains the vestibular sense:
“The vestibular sense tells us about up and down and whether we are upright or not. It tells us where our heads and bodies are in relation to the earth’s surface. It sends sensory messages about balance and movement from the neck, eyes, and body to the CNS (Central Nervous System) for processing and then helps generate muscle tone so we can move smoothly and efficiently.”
When thinking about all of the information that we are getting from the seven senses, it is understandable that sometimes we can feel overwhelmed. This is particularly true for those with sensory processing disorder (SPD), where communication between the vestibular system and the rest of the body is compromised, resulting in feelings of disconnect and disorientation. For these individuals, the overwhelm is not just a feeling, it is a neurological consequence. Swinging can help strengthen the vestibular system, which can in turn, help a child better process sensory stimuli.
Sensory processing disorder can often be seen in children with autism and other neurodivergent diagnoses and as such, swinging can be a useful therapy. But of course, the benefits of swinging are not limited to this group with the calming, relaxing effect of swinging able to be enjoyed by any child, or adult.
As for my 9-year-old son? The effect of swinging was amazing. After about 5 minutes he said he felt able to relax and get to sleep without the thoughts flying around in his head. Since then, having him jump on the swing is our port of call whenever he needs to work through his anxiety or quieten the mental noise.
You will often find me, lost in my own little world while floating on an arc of movement, with my hair and my soul free, slowly transitioning to a state of calm.