Vagus Nerve: The mysterious nerve network that quiets pain and stress — and may defeat disease

Take a deep breath. Hug a friend. Reach for the ceiling and stretch your limbs. Each of these simple acts bestows a sense of calm and comfort. And each works its soothing magic in part by activating a complicated system of nerves that connects the brain to the heart, the gut, the immune system, and many of the organs. That system is known collectively as the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves, which sprawl out from the brain and into the body like an intricate network of roots. These nerve networks act as lines of communication between the brain and the body's many systems and organs. Some of the cranial nerves interpret sensory information collected by the skin, eyes, or tongue. Others control muscles or communicate with glands. The vagus nerve, also called the...

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The Art and Science of Tricking Your Brain: What the research says about ‘fake it til you make it’

During difficult times in your life, perhaps you've been told to "take a deep breath" or "try to smile more." Anxious about that big presentation at work? Just "stand up tall with confidence, and everything will be fine." But to what extent is this kind of advice actually helpful? Can that forced smile trick your brain into believing that you're happy, and can that upright posture give you a feeling of confidence? Is it possible to change how you think or feel through physically changing your body? The answer is yes. But first, take a deep breath Your body and mind are inextricably linked. So it follows that the way you breathe with your lungs can affect your mental state and the way you process stress with your brain. Most people are aware that breathing deeply helps you to relax...

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Three Stoic lessons from a galaxy far, far away

It is no secret, to those who are familiar with the saga, that Star Wars is filled with wisdom. Those not familiar with Star Wars are at least familiar with its iconography, such as the helmet of Darth Vader — that great symbol of the dark side of the force. Some are also likely familiar with the little green Jedi master, Yoda (not to be confused with the cute little creature of the same species from the Mandalorian). Yoda is first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke seeks him out on Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi. He appears again only briefly in The Return of the Jedi (but not without failing to impart some more wisdom), and is present throughout the prequel trilogy. The great thing about being a reader of the Classics is that...

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