The holiday season is often a busy and stressful time of year for many. Rather than slowing down during the depth of winter, we often find ourselves running from store to store and event to event just to keep up with the holiday hustle and bustle. Holiday stress can wreak havoc on our nervous system often increasing inflammation and illness while decreasing the homeostasis of our body’s natural immune system. Although we sometimes cannot control the business of the season, we can control our response to the holiday stress by finding inner peace and resilience.
The latest research in the field of neuroscience shows that we can apply simple practices to self-direct our nervous system during times of stress to stimulate the vagus, or wandering, nerve. This 10th cranial nerve is the longest cranial nerve starting in the brainstem, just behind the ears. It has the widest distribution in the body containing motor and sensory fibers to regulate our peripheral nervous system and organs to network the brain with the gut and digestive track as well as the lungs, heart, liver and kidneys.
The chart below shows the vagus nerve, indicated in green, as it wanders through the body impacting our organs and regulating the parasympathetic, or relaxation, part of our nervous system.
As main regulator of the autonomic nervous system, 80% of the nerve fibers in the vagus nerve are dedicated to communicating the state of our viscera up to our brain with 20% of the vagus nerve messages traveling from the brain through the vagus nerve signaling our organs to create an inner-calm stimulating “rest-and-digest” during times of perceived safety and preparing the body for “fight-or-flight” in times of perceived danger or stress. These sensory neurons monitor the blood levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and sugar as well as the conscious sensory perception of taste and smell.
A healthy vagal tone is associated with trust, compassion, acceptance and joy. An unhealthy vagal tone will compromise the nervous system creating inflammation, lack of homeostasis, and an increase in stress hormones. One of the vagus nerve’s responsibilities is to reboot the immune system switching off the increased production of chronic inflammation, which has been shown to damage organs and negatively impact our health. The vagus nerve is the commander-in-chief when it comes to cultivating grace under fire and health through the holiday season.
Try these 3 simple practices to balance your vagal tone anytime anywhere to release holiday stress and increase calm and ease.
- 30-second Breathing Break – Slow motion cuts through commotion. Stress creates commotion in our mind and body. Slow, smooth rhythmic breathing slows down our heart rate sending the signal to our vagus nerve that all is well while slowing down our thoughts and movements to mitigate stress and commotion. Try taking a 30-second breathing break next time you feel the sensation of stress in the throat, gut or head. Simply inhale through the nose as slow and smooth as you can for a count of 4-8 and exhale through rounded lips like your blowing out a candle for a count of 4-8. Try adding in an intention of inhaling the color, smell or taste of peace and calm while exhaling the sound of stress and inflammation. Become aware of and accept, without judgement, what you are sensing through the moment while allowing for a shift in your neurobiology. You will be amazed at how this simple practice supports in self-directing the nervous system.
- Find your Feet – When we are under stress, we often experience an increase of stress activity in our heart, head and lungs while losing our sense of connection and relationship to our lower body. Simply bringing our awareness to the sensations in our lower body, spreading our toes and feeling the ground beneath our feet, engages the extensors of the spine stimulating a feeling of safety and connection to the earth and the present moment. We begin to feel stress release out of the bottom of our feet while increasing our sense of safety and connection to the moment through our mind/body awareness. This simple shift in grounded awareness and uplifted posture cultivates an immediate feeling of safety as we allow our heart, belly and throat to be exposed.
- Hum away Stress – Yup, it’s true. Humming and chanting stimulate the vagus nerve while relaxing the jaw, face and neck. Try humming your favorite tune or simply humming a long slow note of your choice. Notice how the vibration feels in your body. Try to follow the vibration imaging where it is releasing stress from your body and tension from the mind. In my private work, I have experienced clients reducing and even eliminating chronic pain and inflammation while mitigating stress simply by humming or chanting as one of their daily Body Current® practices. The International Journal of Yoga has reported from a recent study of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with ‘OM’ chanting, which ends on a long vibrating humming sound, a significant deactivation of activity in certain areas of the brain associated with depression. The researchers found that the vibrations from ‘OM’ chanting stimulate the vagus nerve, which then sends out neurotransmitters and electrical signals that reduce activity to key areas of the brain like the amygdala, associated with our flight/fight/freeze response. In addition, the increased oxygenation of the blood from the vibration facilitates feelings of relaxation and ease in the flexor muscles of the body. Similarly, humming is an internal OM resulting in the same stress-reducing benefits.
These 3 simple practices can be done anywhere at anytime to self-direct your nervous system during the holiday season. To deepen your experience, consider purchasing the SoMAntra® double-CD which includes a full CD dedicated to self-directing the nervous system and engaging the innate wisdom through specific embodied practices, chants and hand gestures creating homeostasis in the mind, body and spirit.
What is the Body Current®? The Body Current is a revolutionary empowering system of simple and highly effective transformational body-centered practices designed to gently release trauma, resolve chronic pain, mitigate daily stress, and reprogram old conditioning in the mind/body/cellular map through self-realization. Below is an info-graph to describe the simple and highly accessible process to attune to your innate and abiding mind/body intelligence releasing old conditioning and imprints while restoring homeostasis. To read a recent review about the Body Current modality published in the Daily Camera newspaper read here: Body Current Boulder Workout of the Week.
To schedule your private consultation in person in Boulder, CO or via Skype from anywhere around the globe, contact Shanti at Shanti@EnergizeShanti.com
Shanti Medina, CYT CNSF CPT created the Body Current® modality after over 15 years designing personal therapy programs for clients infusing simple and highly effective yoga therapy and neuromuscular exercises with the mindfulness practices of awareness, acceptance and allowing. These highly accessible and transformative practices have proven to mitigate stress, eliminate chronic pain, heal systemic disorders and align the mind, body, and spirit by engaging in the current of innate, somatic wisdom. Shanti enjoys leading retreats and sound healing events. Her Body Current® modality is part of the core teachings at the Neurosculpting Institute in Denver, CO. To find out more about Shanti or to schedule a private session in person or via Skype, visit her website: EnergizeShanti.com