July 22, 2013

Keep Calm & Stimulate Your Vagus Nerves. ~ Kimberley Luu

The parasympathetic nervous system, run by the vagus nerves is your body’s own personal peace guru, singing songs of safety and calm to your body and mind.

This system works in opposition with the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which signals a “fight or flight” response. Prolonged activation of this system results in a plethora of destructive health effects, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased immunity, muscle wasting, and even brain damage!

There are many ways to trigger activity in the heroic vagus nerves. Here are my top 10:

1. Conscious relaxation:

  • Relax your tongue, eyes, and jaw muscles
  • Scan your body for other muscle areas that are tense, and relax them
  • Take a warm bath

2. Conscious breathing:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: place your band on your low belly and allow it to expand and contract perpendicular to your body
  • Extend your exhales longer than your inhales; 1:2 ratio breathing
  • Square breathing: inhale, hold, exhale, hold, repeat
  • Kapala bahti breathing (breath of fire): exhale in rapid spurts from the belly allowing the inhales to naturally flow in

3. Meditation:

  • Mindfulness/open monitoring: bringing awareness to your internal thoughts, emotions and sensations without cognitive reconstruction or judgment
  • Focused attention: fix your attention on an object or idea, redirect there when mind wanders
  • Moving meditations: Hatha yoga, tai chi, mindful cleaning, mindful walking
  • Imagery: picture a peaceful place, your safe haven
  • Let your mind flow with calm music

4. Find and be social support:

  • Confide in friends, family
  • Talk to a therapist
  • Hug, and hug a lot
  • Help others
  • Volunteer
  • Build community

5. Use essential oils/aromatherapy:

  • Diffuse, steam, drop in bath, or burn over candlelight and breathe in
  • Try lavender, lemon grass or peppermint oils

6. Use herbs (Ask your physician first):

  • Lemon balm/Melissa officianalis
  • Passion Flower/Passiflora incarnate
  • Chamomile/Matricaria recutita

7. Express your emotions healthfully (do not, I repeat, do not bottle ’em up):

8. Improve heart rate variability by exercising regularly:

  • Aerobic exercise boosts resiliency, making the body more able to “bounce back” from emotional turbulence and over active sympathetic nervous system activity

9. Put your heart above your head (try these poses):

10. Laugh ‘til you’re dizzy:

  • You know what tickles your funny bone: do whatever this is! 


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  • Assistant Ed: Renée Picard
  • Ed: Bryonie Wise


Photo: lifesheimagined.tumblr

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Kimberley Luu