January 6, 2015
Meditation and breathing techniques, such as those contained in the Éiriú Eolas program, activate and sustain the vagus nerve, which in turn inhibits inflammation and stress by regulating the immune system
In the brilliant scientific paper, ‘The pulse of inflammation: heart rate variability, the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway and implications for therapy,’ Dr. Jared M. Huston, Department of Surgery, Stony Brook University Medical Center discovered a neural control circuit that acts to keep the body’s cytokine production, and therefore inflammatory response, in check.
During the 1990s, the authors of this review quietly opened up an entirely new way of looking at inflammation. Inflammation is intimately connected to all the major diseases of our times shortening lives and causing pain on a persistent daily basis so this is crucial information that sadly is ignored by contemporary medicine.
The vagus nerve is a very long nerve running from the hypothalamus area of your brain, chest, diaphragm, and to our intestines. It wraps around our heart and solar plexus center so it is very involved with our feelings and thinking. We have an extraordinarily hard time healing and even learning when the vagus nerve is disturbed.
What Dr. Huston discovered is an anti-inflammatory neural circuit, the vagus nerve, which is controlled with conscious breathing, yoga and emotional and positive mental frameworks. The difference between life and death (cytokine storms) and recovery from chronic inflammatory diseases begins with the vagus nerve that regulates the heart rate variability (HR,)—varying the rate at which the heart beats beat-for-beat.
Research has found that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine acts as a brake on inflammation in the body. Stimulating the vagus nerve sends acetylcholine (acetylcholine plays part in learning and memory) throughout the body, not only making us feel relaxed, but also putting out the fires of inflammation – something that happens in response to stress.
Termed ‘the inflammatory reflex’, this neurological mechanism involves the vagus nerve, which can sense peripheral inflammation and transmit action potentials from the periphery to the brain stem. This in turn leads to the generation of action potentials in the descending vagus nerve that are relayed to the spleen, where pro-inflammatory cytokine production is inhibited.
Amongst the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Western societies are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and sepsis. Recent advances in immunology reveal a significant pathogenic role for inflammation in the development and progression of these disorders. Inflammation accelerates deposition of atherosclerotic plaques leading to myocardial and cerebral infarction, mediates insulin resistance, stimulates tumor growth, and causes organ damage in lethal sepsis.
The way it works is that signals from the brain stem travel to the spleen (which is responsible for a lot of immune system regulation) and act on particular white blood cells (lymphocytes, or T cells). These white blood cells produce nerve transmitter acetycholine to reduce the production of cytokines by macrophages in the immune system.
Without the influence of the vagus nerve, cytokines are produced in much larger quantities in response to e.g. bacterial infections. The authors have demonstrated that artificially stimulating the vagus nerve controls the activation of circulating immune cells as well as production of cytokines. Diminished vagus nerve signals normally provide an inhibitory influence on cytokine production.
The dangers of uncontrolled inflammation are inherent to the molecular activity of cytokines themselves, and maintenance of health requires tight control over the steps leading to the production and release of cytokines.
Cardiovascular disease, the Western World’s biggest killer results from atherosclerosis, itself triggered by the action of cytokine produced C-reactive protein (CRP). Several studies have shown an inverse relationship between HRV and CRP levels and to physical activity levels, where the most physically active people demonstrate the lowest CRP, and highest HRV.
This discovery also proposes the reason why health is improved by exercise. It is directly due to the combination of increased HRV and reduced inflammation. Action potentials transmitted in the vagus nerve culminate in the release of acetylcholine that blocks cytokine production by cells expressing acetylcholine receptors. The molecular mechanism of this cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway is attributable to signal transduction by the nicotinic alpha 7 acetylcholine receptor subunit, a regulator of the intracellular signals that control cytokine transcription and translation.
Factors that trigger inflammation also enhance the activity of anti-inflammatory pathways, which function to counter-balance inflammation. This concurrent activation of pro- and anti-inflammatory mechanisms is analogous to other homoeostatic systems but nowhere in medicine do we see doctors prescribing breathing techniques to get control of this particular neuro pathway to maximize the body’s ability to counter-balance inflammation.
Dr. Huston says, “The splenic nerve controls lymphocytes in the spleen, which can produce acetylcholine that interacts with α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors expressed on cytokine producing macrophages. Intracellular signal transduction through this receptor inhibits the activity of nuclear factor-κB to suppress cytokine production. The spleen is a critical physiological interface between cholinergic anti-inflammatory signaling and regulation of systemic immune responses. Heart rate is controlled by action potentials transmitted via the vagus nerve to the sinoatrial node of the heart, where vagus nerve-dependent acetylcholine release essentially ‘prolongs’ the time to the next heartbeat, thus slowing the pulse. Measuring the time between individual heart beats, as can be accomplished with software that captures the distance between R waves on the electrocardiogram (EKG) tracing, provides information about the instantaneous heart rate.”
Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability represents the time differences between successive heartbeats (also known as the beat-to-beat interval), and is synonymous with RR variability, referring to the R waves on the electrocardiogram corresponding to ventricular depolarization. The ratio of low-to-high- frequency spectral power (LF/HF) has been proposed as an index of sympathetic to parasympathetic balance of heart rate fluctuation and this is confirmed by the VedaPulse, a remarkable diagnostic machine.
Measures of HRV have been strongly correlated to morbidity and mortality from diverse diseases. Early clinical findings, first observed more than 50 years ago, revealed that variability in RR intervals predict the onset of fetal distress before any measurable changes in absolute heart rate. There is now extensive experience using HRV measures in diverse disease syndromes and these data indicate that decreased vagus nerve activity is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. These correlations include increased morbidity and mortality following cardiac surgery or myocardial infarction, increased mortality from sepsis and progression or disease severity in autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus and sarcoidosis.
Prior to knowledge of the inflammatory reflex, it was thought that decreased vagus nerve activity in these cases resulted from neural damage associated with the underlying diseases. It is now possible to consider an alternative explanation that decreased vagus nerve activity and the associated loss of the tonic inhibitory influence of the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway on innate immune responses and cytokine release, may enable significantly enhanced cytokine responses to stimuli that would have been otherwise harmless in the presence of a functioning neural circuit.
HRV and vagus nerve activity are useful as a long-term measure of inflammation in chronic diseases. Correction of chronic, maladaptive levels of inflammation using nerve stimulators might prevent the progression of debilitating and deadly diseases, potentially replacing the need for some biological therapeutics.
Neurologists and psychologists should take notice that a principle nerve pathway exists that acts as a kind of grand unification station to meld body, mind and spirit. Neurologically speaking the vagus nerve speaks for what is happening on all the major levels of our body and being. Our heart does not lie, not when you look at what it is saying on a beat-to-beat basis (HRV). It is our most honest digital code and doctors can read it using the VedaPulse. A five-minute test done in the comfort of one’s own home or doctor’s office and one has a five minute readout of the code the heart is putting out.
Personal Note: There are many ways with or without technology to read into the body, mind and soul of a person. The Russian VedaPulse diagnostic and treatment recommending digital device was very helpful personally in my struggle to get to the bottom of my health situation, which started over two years ago with GERD and ended up mapping out everywhere my vagus touches. I was always nervous, reluctant and downright obstinate about not getting a typical western diagnosis and I have written many books about why I feel this way.
This motivated me to create an entirely new form of medicine called Natural Allopathic Medicine, which I will continue to evolve as long as I have life, breath and love in my life. It is my intent to publish Getting Control of One’s Vagus Nerve – Breathing and Heart Rate Variability – book and accompanying workbook, which will be delivered to your email box every other day.
Pavlov, V.A., and K.J. Tracey. 2005. The cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway. Brain Behav Immun 19 (6):493-99.
Éiriú Eolas classes return to Toronto on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.
The classes are held every Wednesday starting at 7:30PM
They are located at the Akasha Yoga Studio, 351 Danforth Avenue (2nd
floor), above Sher-E Punjab restaurant, across the street from the
Carrot Common (South side), close to Chester subway station.
Come and enjoy all the benefits of this amazing breathing, stress relief
program and enjoy a healthier state of mind, body and heart!
For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Stephen Josephs, Ed. D
October 17, 2013
Vagus nerve stimulation allows us to tame our inner dragons: fear, insecurity, anxiety, anger and self-importance.
You’ve heard the expressions: “He lost his nerve;” “He doesn’t have the stomach for it;” “No guts.” “As it turns out, those expressions are anatomically accurate,” says Dr. Stephen Josephs. “The nerve that you lose when you’re afraid is the vagus nerve, which runs from the belly to the brain. It transmits messages about whether the world is a safe or dangerous place. What we now know about the functioning of this nerve has direct applications making leaders more effective and all of us happier and more courageous.”
Josephs, author of the new book, Dragons at Work, teaches executives how to reliably create states of optimal performance by achieving control of the vagus nerve. When making decisions about resources, leading teams or talking with the board of directors, courage and poise in the face of rapidly changing business environments are essential for a leader.
“Rather than losing your nerve, you can strengthen it. Courage is a skill you can learn and a capacity you can systematically build. The vagus nerve has been linked to everything from digestion issues to stress and depression,” he says. “A benefit of inner body balance includes the projection of true poise; authentic confidence from a leader is what can create a business culture that breeds financial success because employees and clients trust the person in charge to make important decisions from a stable perspective.”
Using specific techniques from martial arts, meditation and other mind-body disciplines, Dr. Josephs guides executives to build resourcefulness and courage as a habitual response to challenge.
He offers tips for business executives to promote a healthy, vagus nerve-friendly environment:
• When angry or afraid, take a high quality breath: People might tell an agitated person to “take a breath,” but it’s the quality of the breath that makes all the difference. For someone who has practiced breathing has wired in an automatic relaxation response, one breath immediately begins to calm them. To practice do this when you’re not under stress: As you inhale, relax your belly and the muscles of your torso, and soften your muscles on the inhale. On the exhale become still. Widen your peripheral vision – take in more of the room, and rest in a more wide open awareness. At this point, your vagus nerve will be sending you messages that the world is a safe place and your ability to respond intelligently will be greatly enhanced.
• Move forward with a relaxed vagus nerve. Now, in a calmer, more resourceful and masterful state, you can apply a saner perspective to a variety of tasks: connect with employees; complete the agenda; let good ideas emerge from employees, with less pressure from management, so they affirm their own competencies. Acknowledge what’s already working well by giving individuals and teams credit. Enjoy your work, knowing that whatever emerges, you can handle it.
• Get over thyself and lighten up: See how much you can accomplish with the least amount of force. And drop self-importance. Remember, unless you’re Donald Trump or Miss Piggy and self-aggrandizement is part of your brand identity, it’s bad for business. It introduces unnecessary noise into the system and distorts communication. Drop self-importance and you’ll hear critical bad news faster, and people will trust that you can handle it.
September 11, 2013
by Emma M. Seppala, Ph.D.
New research shows meditation boosts your health, happiness, and success!
I started meditating soon after 9/11. I was living in Manhattan, an already chaotic place, at an extremely chaotic time. I realized I had no control over my external environment. But the one place I did have a say over was my mind, through meditation. When I started meditating, I did not realize it would also make me healthier, happier, and more successful. Having witnessed the benefits, I devoted my PhD research at Stanford to studying the impact of meditation. I saw people from diverse backgrounds from college students to combat veterans benefit. In the last 10 years, hundreds of studies have been released. Here are 20 scientifically-validated reasons you might want to get on the bandwagon today:
It Boosts Your HEALTH
1 – Increases immune function (See here and here)
2 – Decreases Pain (see here)
3 – Decreases Inflammation at the Cellular Level (See here and here and here)
It Boosts Your HAPPINESS
4 – Increases Positive Emotion (here and here)
5 – Decreases Depression (see here)
6 – Decreases Anxiety (see here and here and here)
7 – Decreases Stress (see here and here)
It Boosts Your SOCIAL LIFE
Think meditation is a solitary activity? It may be (unless you meditate in a group which many do!) but it actually increases your sense of connection to others:
8 – Increases social connection & emotional intelligence (see here and – by yours truly – here)
9 – Makes you more compassionate (see here and here and here)
10 – Makes you feel less lonely (see here)
It Boosts Your Self-Control
11 – Improves your ability to regulate your emotions (see here) (Ever flown off the handle or not been able to quiet your mind? Here’s the key)
12 – Improves your ability to introspect (see here & for why this is crucial see this post)
It Changes Your BRAIN (for the better)
13 – Increases grey matter (see here)
14 – Increases volume in areas related to emotion regulation, positive emotions & self-control (see here and here)
15 – Increases cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention (see here)
It Improves Your Productivity (yup, by doing nothing)
16 – Increases your focus & attention (see here and here and here and here)
17 – Improves your ability to multitask (see here and here)
18 – Improves your memory (see here)
19 – Improves your ability to be creative & think outside the box (see research by J. Schooler)
20. It Makes You WISE(R)
It gives you perspective: By observing your mind, you realize you don’t have to be slave to it. You realize it throws tantrums, gets grumpy,jealous, happy and sad but that it doesn’t have to run you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: clear out the junk, tune your talents, and get in touch with yourself. Think about it, you shower every day and clean your body, but have you ever showered your mind? As a consequence, you’ll feel more clear and see thing with greater perspective. “The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind,” writes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. We can’t control what happens on the outside but we do have a say over the quality of our mind. No matter what’s going on, if your mind is ok, everything is ok. Right now.
It Keeps You Real
Once you get to know your mind, you start to own your stuff and become more authentic, maybe even humble. You realize the stories and soap operas your mind puts you through and you gain some perspective on them. You realize most of us are caught up in a mind-drama and become more compassionate towards others.
by Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc
Sept 9, 2013
The Huffington Post
Breathing is essential to life. And because it’s automatic, we don’t have to focus on breathing the way we do eating or walking, so we rarely think about it. But maybe we should. Taking in oxygen is fundamental to good health, and for all the time and effort we spend on our diets, it’s interesting that we spend so little on breath.
Though Western philosophy does not devote much mental energy to considering the breath, our friends in the East have a different take. Chinese, Tibetan, and other Eastern traditional healing systems have long recognized the relationship between breath and body. Breathing connects us with our environment. The process of breathing — and especially conscious, meditative breathing — allows us to receive the nourishment of oxygen and experience release from our physical, mental, and emotional burdens.
When we inhale, we take in energy and connect our bodies to the universe. That energy is vital for our well-being. In fact, oxygen energizes our cells. The other side of the process, exhaling, removes carbon dioxide. In other words, breathing maintains balance.
The Value of Deep Breathing
When we are very hungry, we need to eat more. By the same token, when our bodies are deprived of oxygen, we need to breathe deeply. This is most evident after intense exertion, say, a short sprint.
But deep breathing shouldn’t be reserved for exercise alone. When we don’t inhale deeply enough, we decrease the amount of oxygen our breath delivers to our cells, reducing their ability to produce energy. In addition, deeper breathing removes more carbon dioxide, along with other potential toxins. Respiration also balances your body’s pH, reducing the acidity that can impair immunity and other functions.
When incorporated into meditation, deep, conscious breathing reduces inflammation, improves autonomic nervous responses, boosts circulation, and decreases cortisol levels, all of which affect our metabolism of glucose.
Deep breathing helps the heart, too. Reduced blood oxygen forces the heart to pump more; increased oxygen has the opposite effect. In addition, deep breathing reduces oxidative stress, enhances vital energy, and improves cognition.
Over the last century, our breathing volume has decreased. This is partially due to modern work life, which puts us at computers rather than in fields. Physical demands are lower, plus we’re often hunched over, which restricts lung capacity.
Normally, we breathe in about half a liter, or two cups, of air. But our capacity is much larger. On a truly deep inhalation, we can take in about three liters. We have gotten into the habit of taking shallow breaths. How do we break out of it?
The answer is mindfulness. If we are aware of our body, we naturally take deeper breaths. The most obvious choice for enhancing mindfulness is meditation, but other disciplines, such as yoga and tai chi, also rely on harnessing the breath. These practices bolster the immune system on the genetic level; they improve cardiovascular health, grow connections between neurons, and decrease anxiety and depression.
Engaging the diaphragm, the muscle between the chest and the abdomen, is key to deepening the breath. All too often, we breathe with our abdomen. By working to engage our diaphragm, as well, we improve our ability to take in more air. Add to that a slower exhalation. Give the body time to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. Then exhale.
How we bring the air in is also important. Inhaling through the nostrils warms and moisturizes the air and filters out bacteria, viruses, dust, and other foreign objects. The nose pre-processes air for our lungs; breathing through it can reduce allergies and other respiratory ailments.
While Western medicine does not recognize the difference, many ancient systems understand the role each nostril plays and the significance of alternating nostrils during breathing exercises. Different emotional, psychological, and spiritual qualities are associated with each nostril: the left relates to aversion and anger; the right is associated with desire and attachment. By alternating nostrils, we can help restore emotional balance, and research shows that this type of breathing can support relaxation and improve our cardiorespiratory performance.
I think the first step toward developing a sound breathing regimen is to change our attitudes towards the breath. If we think of oxygen as a key nutrient, the way we think of vitamin C or iron, we’ll naturally want to inhale as much as possible. Given the benefits to immunity, cardiovascular health, sugar metabolism, and cellular energy, it just makes sense to breathe deeply. Do it now, and you’ll feel the immediate effects. Just think of the long-term benefits.
Fri, 21 Dec 2012
© Chalermphol Harnchakkham
Our bodies aren’t shy about telling us that we are stressed out! Muscle tension, backaches, stomach upset, headaches, burnout and other illness states are ways in which the body signals to us the need to relax. Rather than run for that anti-anxiety medication, we can utilize our easiest, natural defense against stress: our breathing. The way we breathe can affect our emotions and mental states as well as determine how we physically respond to stress.
Fight or Flight Response vs. Relaxation Response
The general physiological response to stress is called the stress response or “fight or flight” response. When we experience stress, hormones activated by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system flood our bloodstream to signal a state of readiness against potential threats to our well being. While these hormones serve to help us act quickly and with great strength during emergency situations, they exemplify the concept that there can be “too much of a good thing.” Chronic stress results in excess release of stress hormones, which can cause immune-system malfunction, gastrointestinal issues, and blood vessel deterioration, among other health complications. Over time, such symptoms can evolve into degenerative diseases like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
We can help preserve and enhance our health, though, by refusing to fall victim to chronic release of stress hormones, even if we are not able to control when or how stressful situations challenge us. We can learn to effectively manage our physiological reaction to stressors by teaching the body to induce a relaxation response. A relaxation response counteracts the effects of the fight or flight response by helping to boost immune system function, reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, and protect tissues from damage caused by stress-hormones.
Breathing and Relaxation Response
The way we breathe affects our autonomic nervous system (ANS), the branches of which signal automatic physiological reactions in the body, like the fight or flight and relaxation responses. ANS activity is outside of our conscious control. The ANS is responsible for managing our breathing, heart rate, body temperature, digestion, and other basic processes necessary for survival. While the sympathetic branch of the ANS initiates the stress response, the parasympathetic branch induces a relaxation response. Our somatic nervous system, over which we do have conscious control, makes possible the movements of our eyes, limbs, and mouths, for example, as well as how (not whether) we breathe. Thus, we can, through somatic manipulation of our breath, affect which ANS branch remains active, especially during moments of stress.
One of the best means of inducing a relaxation response is through diaphragmatic breathing: inhaling deeply through the chest and virtually into the stomach. Engaging the diaphragm may be the key to inducing a relaxation response through deep breathing because the diaphragm’s close proximity to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve which supplies approximately 75 percent of all parasympathetic fibers to the rest of the body, and may be stimulated through diaphragmatic movement. Conversely, thoracic breathing that is limited to the chest cavity is associated with the sympathetic branch stress response.
Self-Empowerment through Breathing
Situations may catalyze stress for us when we are uncertain about them or unable to control their outcome. We may feel helpless, overwhelmed, fearful, or forced into stifling our true feelings, and may experience additional anxiety over our inability to control the resulting hormonal fight or flight response. The key to stress management is recognition that while we may not be able to control the stressor, we can always control our reaction to it. We have choices: whether to relax through diaphragmatic breathing techniques until we feel ready to make beneficial decisions, or to just react while on sympathetic branch automatic pilot. Even if we don’t find a solution to the stressful situation, choosing to take time out to breathe protects our bodies from detrimental effects of stress.
Upon experiencing fear or anxiety, our diaphragm involuntarily flattens and we breathe in a shallow manner as our body prepares for action. Armed with the knowledge that we can create a counter-response by breathing deeply, we can change any automatic course of action. When a stressor engages us, we can consciously control the speed and fullness with which we inhale, trusting that a relaxation response will happen as long as we keep breathing in this manner and do not lose patience. Recognizing the need to breathe diaphragmatically is half the battle; actually doing it is what empowers and frees us.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Techniques
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down on your back or sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with your back as straight as possible (maybe against a wall) and close your eyes. Place your hands on your abdomen. Slowly inhale, filling your lungs and what seems like your stomach, to the point where your hands rise with the breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale completely. Repeat this process for many breaths, savoring the recognition that you are sending life-sustaining oxygen to all the cells of your body.
One of the keys to creating a relaxation response is to “be the breath.” Focusing on the breath helps you be present. When thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, let them go, then refocus the mind on the sound of your breath. Perhaps visualize a relaxing scene or imagine continuous ocean waves slowly rolling into the shoreline. Maybe listening to peaceful music or repeating a mantra in your head that brings you serenity will help you free your mind of distracting thoughts. Your memory is another tool you have to facilitate relaxation. Recalling a time of great happiness can help you replace negative feelings with pleasant ones. Tapping into your particular spiritual belief system at this time might also help you relax; some people find that saying a prayer while breathing deeply can help decrease stress.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Offers Multidimensional Benefits
Bridging the mind and body through deep breathing is a multidimensional experience. Because the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS are regulated by chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, rather than neural impulses from the brain, brain stem and spinal cord, these branches are influenced by our emotional responses to environmental stimuli. Neurotransmitters create physiological reactions by relaying information based upon our feelings to various cells within the body. The digestive tract is especially rich with neurotransmitter receptor sites, which may explain “gut feelings.”
Fear, for example, initiates thoracic breathing associated with sympathetic branch activity. When we breathe in a shallow manner, we utilize only half of the alveoli (air filled sacs) in our lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing employs all the alveoli in our lungs while helping the body and mind relax. By repeatedly expanding our lungs to full capacity, we improve our metabolism by increasing oxygen supply to the rest of the body, promoting detoxification in the lungs, and enhancing digestion.
We may also be able to change the emotions which engendered the stress response by releasing their power over us through the breath. Clear thinking and creative decision-making may follow and lead to more positive emotions. The multidimensional effects of deep breathing illustrate the complex connections between the mind and the body and enhance our understanding of stress-related disease prevention and treatment.
When It Comes to Stress, Be Your Breath
The solution to stress lies within us. Nature has given us a defense mechanism with which to combat the physical effects of stress: parasympathetic nervous system activity catalyzed by diaphragmatic breathing. While breathing alone may not resolve the issue stressing us, it can empower us to healthfully adapt on mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual levels.
Consciously breathing is a core element of mind-body philosophies such as yoga,meditation and Tai Chi (diaphragmatic breathing as described in this article most closely resembles meditation). Mind-body disciplines, such as Yoga and Tai Chi, which embrace specific postures and/or fluid movements offer added benefits of improved balance, flexibility and circulation. Regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing through any mind-body technique can help us establish a relaxation routine. When something is routine, we can “just do it” (i.e. let our thoughts go because we don’t need to think so much about what we are doing). A movement–based breathing practice may be the best means of relaxation for more physically active people, and can be a great way for less-active folks to get some exercise.
For some, spirituality may permeate the mind-body breathing practice. The role of spirituality in stress management may relate to how we perceive situations beyond our control. Wayne Dyer, an inspiration guru, lectures and writes that we are eternal spiritual beings who are having temporary human experiences, which seems like another way of saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Believing in a higher power (whatever that means to us individually) can relieve us of the perceived burden of always having to handle things on our own.
Learning to cultivate a relaxation response may involve trying various methods until you discover the one that works for you. Finding a technique that you enjoy is the key to making it a lifestyle habit. When you feel the effects of stress… just breathe.
References and Resources:
- Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Autonomic Nervous System: Introduction
- Sinatra, S. Heartbreak and Heart Disease.Keats Publishing, 1999.
- Stockdale B. You Can Beat the Odds: Surprising Factors Behind Chronic Illness and Cancer. Sentient Publications, 2009.
By Bill A. Walker
June 21, 2013
How often do you have to deal with anxiety in your everyday life?
If you find yourself worrying too much or getting caught into non-stopping irrational thoughts or even feeling nausea, chest pain and heart palpitations then this article is for you.
You are about to learn a simple yet very effective technique to deal with anxiety naturally by stimulating your vagus nerve. This powerful technique can be used to relieve stress and anxiety anywhere and anytime; at home, when commuting and of course at those horrible work meetings.
Did you know that the FDA approved a surgically implanted device that is successfully treating depression by periodically stimulating the vagus nerve?
But hopefully you won’t need surgery. You can enjoy the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation by adopting some simple breathing techniques.
So what is that vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the most important element of the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that calms you down by controlling your relaxation response).
It originates from the brainstem and it is “wandering” all the way down, into the belly, spreading fibers to the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines and glands that produce anti-stress enzymes and hormones (like Acetylcholine, Prolactin, Vasopressin, Oxytocin), influencing digestion, metabolism and of course the relaxation response.
Vagus nerve acts as the mind-body connection, and it is the cabling behind your heart’s emotions and gut instincts. The key to manage your mind state and your anxiety levels lies on being able to activate the calming nervous pathways of your parasympathetic system.
You cannot control this part of the nervous system on demand, but you can indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve by:
- Immersing your face in cold water (diving reflex)
- Attempting to exhale against a closed airway (Valsalva maneuver).
- This can be done by keeping the mouth closed and pinching the nose while trying to breathe out. This greatly increases pressures inside the chest cavity stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing vagal tone
- And of course, diaphragmatic breathing techniques
Strengthening this living nervous system can pay great dividends, and the best tool to achieve that is by training your breath.
Breathe with your diaphragm
Now it’s time to put this concept into practice. The first thing you need to do is breathe using your diaphragm (abdominal breathing). This is the foundation of proper breathing and anxiety relief.
The diaphragm is your primary breathing muscle. It is belled shaped and when you inhale it patterns out (or should flatten out), acting as piston and creating vacuum on you thoracic cavity, so your lungs can expand and air gets in.
On the other side it creates pressure, pushing the viscera down and out, expanding your belly. That’s why good breathing practice is described as abdominal breathing or belly breathing.
Breathe with the glottis partially closed
Glottis is at the back of your tongue and it is closed when you are holding your breath. Here we want have it partially closed. It is that feeling you have in your throat while you exhale and make a “Hhhhh” sound in order to clean your glasses, but without actually making the sound.
It also resembles the way you breathe when you are in the verge of sleep and you are about to snore a little bit.
By controlling the glottis you are:
- Controlling the air flow, both during inhale and during exhale
- Stimulating your vagus nerve.
Try it right now
Now it’s time to put all this theory into action by practicing this 7 – 11 diaphragmatic breathing technique.
- Inhale diaphragmatically through your nose, with your glottis partially closed, like almost making a “Hhhhh” sound for a count of 7
- Hold your breath for a moment
- Exhale through your nose (or you mouth), with your glottis partially closed, like almost making a “Hhhhh” sound for a count of 11
This is one breath cycle; go for 6 – 12 cycles and observe the results.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The more you practice the more effective this technique will be.
Eventually, when your newly acquired breathing skill is established and abdominal breathing becomes a habit, you’ll find your body constantly operating at a much lower stress level.
You will also notice (or sometimes you will not even notice it) how your breath responses to stressful situations; your body will be conditioned to automatically control your breath and by this, your stress and anxiety.
One of the keys to deal with anxiety is to learn how to stimulate your vagus nerve through proper breathing. The vagus nerve acts as the mind-body connection and controls your relaxation response. You can stimulate your vagus nerve by practicing diaphragmatic breathing with the glottis partially closed. Use your dead time to practice this technique consistently, turn it to a habit and you’ll be amazed by the results.
Bill Walker is an article writer and key founder of the AntiAnxietyWaves project. AntiAnxietyWaves offers information, guidance and techniques to deal with anxiety while involved into dead time activities (e.g. commuting time, waiting time etc). Help yourself to deal with anxiety by downloading this (free) pdf guide along with some unique anti-anxiety relaxation recordings at antianxietywaves.com/deal-with-anxiety
Don’t procrastinate with your anxiety, please take action now; if you don’t take even a small step to deal with anxiety today, you probably won’t do it tomorrow.