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Posts Tagged ‘stress’

28 September 2013 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today

September 11, 2013
by Emma M. Seppala, Ph.D.
Psychology Today

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.

 

29 June 2013 It’s very easy to deal with your anxiety using your vagus nerve

By Bill A. Walker
June 21, 2013
Ezinearticles.com

 

Diaphragmatic/Belly Breathing

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
  • Singing
  • 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.

Summary

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

P.S.
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.

 

15 June 2013 Activating the Vagus Nerve

by Angela Savitri Petersen
Rising Life Media
25 October 2012
WHAT IS THE VAGUS NERVE?
The 10th of the cranial nerves, it is often called the “Nerve of compassion” because when it’s active, it helps create the “warm-fuzzies” that we feel in our chest when we get a hug or are moved by something…

The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves that originates in the top of the spinal cord. It activates different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling of warm expansion in the chest—for example, when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music.

Neuroscientist Stephen W. Porges of the University of Illinois at Chicago long ago argued that the vagus nerve is [the nerve of compassion] (of course, it serves many other functions as well). Several reasons justify this claim. The vagus nerve is thought to stimulate certain muscles in the vocal chamber, enabling communication. It reduces heart rate. Very new science suggests that it may be closely connected to receptor networks for oxytocin, a neurotransmitter involved in trust and maternal bonding.

Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Eisenberg has found that children with high-baseline vagus nerve activity are more cooperative and likely to give. This area of study is the beginning of a fascinating new argument about altruism: that a branch of our nervous system evolved to support such behavior.

STRESS & THE VAGUS NERVE

Your body’s levels of stress hormones are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) [3]. The ANS has two components that balance each other, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The SNS turns up your nervous system. It helps us handle what we perceive to be emergencies and is in charge of the flight-or-fight response.

The PNS turns down the nervous system and helps us to be calm. It promotes relaxation, rest, sleep, and drowsiness by slowing our heart rate, slowing our breathing, constricts the pupils of our eyes, increases the production of saliva in our mouth, and so forth.

The vagus nerve is the nerve that comes from the brain and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. And this nervous system uses the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. If your brain cannot communicate with your diaphragm via the release of acetylcholine from the vagus nerve (for example, impaired by botulinum toxin), then you will stop breathing and die[6].

Acetylcholine is responsible for learning and memory. It is also calming and relaxing, which is used by vagus nerve to send messages of peace and relaxation throughout your body. New research has found that acetylcholine is a major brake on inflammation in the body [4]. In other words, stimulating your vagus nerve sends acetylcholine throughout your body, not only relaxing you but also turning down the fires of inflammation which is related to the negative effects from stress[1].

Exciting new research has also linked the vagus nerve to improved neurogenesis, increased BDNF output (brain-derived neurotrophic factor is like super fertilizer for your brain cells) and repair of brain tissue, and to actual regeneration throughout the body.

HEALTH, LONGEVITY & AGING

As you get older, your immune system produces more inflammatory molecules, and your nervous system turns on the stress response, promoting system breakdown and aging.

That’s not just talk. It’s backed by scientific studies.

For example, Kevin Tracey, the director of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, discovered how the brain controls the immune system through a direct nerve-based connection.

He describes this as the inflammatory reflex (i). Simply put, it is the way the immune system responds to the mind.

Let me explain.

You immune system is controlled by a nerve call the vagus nerve.

But this isn’t just any nerve.

It is the most important nerve coming from the brain and travels to all the major organs.

And you can activate this nerve — through relaxation, meditation, and other ancient practices, such as the Mayan system of Light Language, combined with Vagus Nerve Activation Techniques given recently by the Group & Steve Rother, the Vagus Nerve can be activated and worked with energetically through geometry, frequency, color, and light.

What’s the benefit of that?

Well, by activating the vagus nerve, you can control your immune cells, reduce inflammation, and even prevent disease and aging!

It’s true. By creating positive brain states — as meditation masters have done for centuries — you can switch on the vagus nerve and control inflammation.

You can actually control your gene function by this method. Activate the vagus nerve, and you can switch on the genes that help control inflammation. Inflammation is one of the central factors of disease and aging.

CELLULAR REGENERATION

Even more fascinating was the discovery that our bodies can regenerate at any age.

Diane Krause, MD, PhD, from Yale University discovered that our own innate adult stem cells (cells that can turn into any cell in the body from our bone marrow) could be transformed into liver, bowel, lung, and skin cells. (ii)

This is a phenomenal breakthrough.

Here’s why.

It means that we have the power to create new cells and renew our own organs and tissues at any age.

And how are these stem cells controlled?

You guessed it: the vagus nerve.

For example, Theise et al. [5] have found that stems cells are directly connected to the vagus nerve. Activating the vagus nerve can stimulate stem cells to produce new cells and repair and rebuild your own organs.

So relaxation — a state of calm, peace, and stillness – can activate the vagus nerve.

And the vagus nerve, in turn, activates your stem cells to regenerate and renew your tissues and organs.

RELAXATION & MEDITATION

Scientists have even shown how meditation makes the brain bigger and better.

They’ve mapped out the brain function of “professionalmeditators” by bringing Tibetan lamas trained in concentration and mental control into the laboratory.

The result? They found higher levels of gamma brain waves and thicker brain cortexes (the areas associated with higher brain function) in meditators. (iii)

Relaxation can have other powerful effects on our biology.

In biology, being a complex system that can adapt to its environment and that is resilient and flexible is critical to health.

The same is true for us.

The more complex and resilient we are, the healthier we are.

Take, for example, our heartbeat.

Its complexity is called heart rate variability (HRV) or beat-to-beat variability. The more complex your HRV, the healthier you are. The least complex heart rate is the worst — a flat line.

So what does this have to do with relaxation?

The HRV is also controlled by the vagus nerve.

As you can see, turning on the relaxation response and activating that vagus nerve is critical to health.

Activating the Vagus Nerve Will:

* Reduce inflammation

* Help regenerate your organs and cells by activating stem cells

* Increase your heart rate variability

* Thicken your brain (which normally shrinks with aging).

* Boost immune function

* Modulate your nervous system

* Reduce depression and stress

* Enhance performance

* Improve your quality of life

Not bad for just learning to chill out!

COMPASSION & DNA

Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, who discovered telomeres, explained that, ultimately, they become so short that the end of our DNA unravels and we can no longer replicate our cells, so they die.

Remarkably, mental stress produces a more rapid shortening of the telomeres — and leads to faster aging.

What’s even more remarkable?

In a study of caregivers of sick patients, the health of the caregivers’ telomeres was determined by their attitude!

It sounds impossible, but it’s true.

The caregivers who felt the care to be a burden had shorter telomeres, while those who saw their work as an opportunity to be compassionate had no shortening. (iv)

The Dalai Lama said that the seat of compassion is actually biological and — necessary for survival.

Perhaps the development of compassion and wisdom in coping with unfavorable life conditions is the true key to longevity.

It just may be that working to understand our true nature through the cultivation of our minds and hearts with positive practices like meditation or similar techniques is critical to health and longevity.

The ways we can change our bodies through changing our minds is not longer a theory.

There is a new scientific language to understand how the qualities of the mind control the body through effects on the vagus nerve, immune cells, stem cells, telomeres, DNA, and more.

Remember, your body has all the resources and infinitely adaptable systems to self-regulate, repair, regenerate, and thrive.

You simply have to learn how to work with your body, rather than against it. Then you can have a healthy, thriving life – and live out your full lifespan, which can be as high as 120+ years!

LOVE

But here’s something even cooler – the research that Dacher Ketlner, director of the Social Interaction Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley is doing shows that stimulating that vagus nerve is not only good for you – it’s good for the planet!

“Our research and that of other scientists suggest that activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of caretaking and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity. People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, we have found, are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism – compassion, gratitude, love and happiness.”

There you go. Do it for love.

 

references:

https://sites.google.com/site/stanleyguansite/health/health-tips/breathe-deeply-to-activate-vagus-nerve

http://tkcollier.wordpress.com/2006/10/05/how-the-dalai-lama-can-help-you-live-to-120/

http://www.subtleyoga.com/220/11

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=forget-survival-of-the-fittest

 

 

14 March 2013 Éiriú Eolas in Grande Prairie, Canada – Spring 2013

EEbycall

1 March 2013 Through the nose: The ‘growth of knowledge’ is one breath away

February 28, 2013
By  Earl Horlyk

Corey Schink demonstrates Eiriu Eolas, a meditation program he will teach at Western Iowa Tech Community College as part of the Sioux City school’s lifelong learning program. He is shown Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. Sioux City Journal photo by Tim Hynds

Corey Schink found forgiveness in the form of his late stepfather who appeared to him in a dream.

“My stepdad Jim was a big bear of a man,” the Smithland, Iowa, native recalled. “We got into a fight right before he died.”

Schink carried that guilt for months, along with feelings of aimlessness in life.

One night, his stepfather appeared in a dream, telling Schink that he would be all right and that all was forgiven.

“It was as if a wave of emotions flooded over me,” Schink said. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten to that point without Eiriu Eolas.”

An Irish Gaelic term that means “growth of knowledge,” Eiriu Eolas (pronounced Aye-Roo Oh-lahs) is a breathing and meditation program which combines modern neuroscience with ancient wisdom.

The attributes of Eiriu Eolas is that it detoxifies one mind and body while liberating one’s heart.

Discovering the yoga-influenced meditation on the Internet, Schink credits Eiriu Eolas with turning his life around.

“I wasn’t a very happy person before Eiriu Eolas,” he admitted. “But within six months, I was able to turn my life around.”

Currently, a Briar Cliff University social work major, Schink is also a Eiriu Eolas-certified trainer. He will be teaching the program as part of four-week Western Iowa Tech Community College’s Institute for Lifelong Learning, starting in April.

Explaining Eiriu Eolas, he said it’s a way for a person to relax from the stresses of everyday life while working through past emotional and psychological trauma.

Through a series of progressive breathing exercises, it will eventually allow a person to release repressed emotions and mental blockages while rejuvenating and detoxifying one’s mind and body.

“Eiriu Eolas moves the barriers that stand between you and true peace, happiness,” Schink said. “Ultimately, it help you to achieve a successful, fulfilling life.”

Since learning the meditation, Schink said he’s able to enjoy life to its fullest.

“You know how carefree you felt as a kid?” he asked. “That’s how I feel all the time.”

This is why Schink said he enjoys teaching Eiriu Eolas to newcomers of all ages.

“No matter your age and fitness level, you can benefit from Eiriu Eolas,” he contends. “You’re learning how to breath again, beginning with a technique called pipe breathing before graduating to bioenergetic breathing, which allows a person to dig deep into his emotions.”

Which is important to Schink, since he’s interested in becoming a social worker, counseling at-risk kids.

“Through Eiriu Eolas, I’ve been able to strengthen my inner voice while silencing my inner critic,” he said. “It’s taught me to stay connected with my emotions and liberating me from the burdens that were keeping me down.”

Schink can’t help but smile.

“I am now living the life that I want to live,” he said.

Details

What: Eiriu Eolas: The Growth of Knowledge meditation, taught by certified trainer Corey Schink

When: 6:30 p.m. Apr. 16, 23, 30 and May 7

Where: Room L416, Advance Sciences Building, Western Iowa Tech Community College, Sioux City

Contact: Institute for Lifelong Learning, (712) 274-8733

3 February 2013 The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure: 7 habits that stimulate your vagus nerve and keep you calm, cool, and collected

Christopher Bergland
Psychology Today
Sat, 02 Feb 2013

Early anatomical drawing of the vagus nerve.

When was the last time that you had to perform gracefully in a high-pressure situation? How did you handle it? Did you choke or did you have grace under pressure? Researchers continue to confirm that daily habits of mindset and behavior can create a positive snowball effect through a feedback loop linked to stimulating your vagus nerve. In this entry I will show you 7 habits that will stimulate healthy ‘vagal tone’ and allow you to harness the power of your vagus nerve to help you stay calm, cool, and collected in any storm.

Healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale. Deep diaphragmatic breathing – with a long, slow exhale – is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety. A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. A low vagal tone index is linked to inflammation, negative moods, loneliness, and heart attacks.

Heart disease is the number one killer in America. One way to improve your heart health is to focus on the vagus-friendy lifestyle habits I explore below. Well conditioned athletes have higher vagal tone because aerobic breathing creates healthy vagal tone, which results in a lower resting heart rate. Healthy cardiac function is directly linked to stimulating the vagus nerve.

In 1921, a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that stimulating the vagus nerve caused a reduction in heart rate by triggering the release of a substance he coined Vagusstoff (German: “Vagus Substance”). The “vagus substance” was later identified as acetylcholine and became the first neurotransmitter identified by scientists.

Vagusstuff is literally a tranquilizer that you can self-administer simply by taking a few deep breaths with long exhales. You can consciously tap the power of your vagus nerve to create inner-calm on demand. This knowledge alone should be enough to reduce the fear-of-fear-itself and give you grace under pressure next time you need it.

What exactly is the vagus nerve?

The word vagus means “wandering” in Latin. The words vagabond, vague, and vagrant come from the same root. The vagus nerve is known as the wandering nerve because it has multiple branches that diverge from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem that wander to the lowest viscera of your abdomen touching your heart and most major organs along the way.

The vagus nerve is constantly sending sensory information about the state of the body’s organs “upstream” to your brain. In fact, 80-90% of the nerve fibers in the vagus nerve are dedicated to communicating the state of your viscera up to your brain. When people say “trust your gut” they are in many ways saying, “trust your vagus nerve.” Visceral feelings and gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.

As with any mind-body feedback loop, messages also travel “downstream” from your conscious mind through the vagus nerve signaling your organs to create an inner-calm so you can “rest-and-digest” during times of safety or to prepare your body for “fight-or-flight” in dangerous situations.

Your vagus nerve is the commander-in-chief when it comes to having grace under pressure. The autonomic nervous system is comprised of two polar opposite systems that create a complementary tug-of-war which allows your body to maintain homeostasis (inner-stability).

The sympathetic nervous system is geared to rev you up like the gas pedal in an automobile – it thrives on adrenaline and cortisol and is part of the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system is the polar opposite. The vagus nerve is command central for the function of your parasympathetic nervous system. It is geared to slow you down like the brakes on your car and uses neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA to literally lower heart rate, blood pressure, and help your heart and organs slow down.

Unfortunately, the vagus nerve’s reflexive responses can backfire and turn it from comrade into saboteur. Anytime you psyche yourself out before an important event, feel intimidated, or insecure your vagus nerve interprets that you are in real danger which exacerbates these negative responses.

All of the physical symptoms of performance anxiety – racing heart, sweaty palms, dry mouth, upset stomach, shakiness – are the result of your vagus nerve disengaging. Luckily, you have the power to harness your vagus nerve and keep it engaged to create grace under pressure. By understanding the incredible power of your vagus nerve you can begin practicing ways to flex it’s inhibitory strength to keep you mellow in times of distress.

7 habits that will stimulate your vagus nerve and give you grace under pressure

1. Visualize the Vagus Nerve. Visualizing the vagus nerve as a wellspring of neurobiological ingredients that create mental and physical calmness will create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is not just the placebo effect in action. Remember, anytime you take a deep breath and exhale you are triggering a biological release of vagusstuff that will lower heart rate and blood pressure.

In addition to visualizing my vagus nerve I literally talk to it in the third person like it is a separate entity. You can try this too the next time you have the butterflies or are shaky before a big presentation or challenge. I will literally say to my vagus nerve things like, “I thought we were in this together. I need you to work with me here. Come on! Don’t let me down.” Somehow this helps take my ego out of the situation, puts me at ease, and makes me feel like I have a loyal comrade on deck. Try this trick the next time you need grace under pressure and see if it works for you.

I include this narrow anatomical drawing to help you visualize what the vagus nerve actually looks like in your body and to illustrate how long it is from top to bottom [see top left].

2. Practice, Practice, Practice. In a Psychology Today blog entry called No. 1 Reason Practice Makes Perfect, I wrote about the power of your cerebellum to store muscle memory and allow you to perform gracefully under pressure. Without extensive practice we are forced to rely too much on the ‘executive function’ of our prefrontal cortex. Anytime you ‘over-think’ your performance you are more likely to choke, fumble and drop the ball. Arthur Ashe called this “paralysis by analysis.” Once the cerebellum is running the show your vagus nerve engages which helps create fluidity in your thoughts and actions.

3. Create Flow by balancing skill and challenge. The key to being in the ‘zone’ or creating a state of ‘flow’ is to find the sweet spot where your skill level perfectly matches the challenge. Get in the habit of continually nudging against your limits. By increasing the challenge gradually you become more skilled and comfortable with more difficult tasks.

Seek challenges that keep you nestled between anxiety and boredom. The key to peak performance is to have a heightened state of arousal but an inner sense of calm reflected in a perfect dynamic tension within the yin-yang of your autonomic nervous system. Although it is tempting to bite-off-more-than you can chew, your vagus nerve can betray you if it feels you’re in uncharted territory. By consistently increasing your skills you will feel at ease as you take on bigger challenges. That said, if you ever do have the opportunity to leap frog to a high-stakes challenge, use other techniques here to harness the vagus nerve and use it as an ally to get you through.

4. Reframe Priorites and Values. I strongly believe that friends, family, good health, and generosity of spirit matter more than any achievements that requires grace under pressure. In 2006, Geoffrey Cohen, a professor at the Stanford University School of Education, conducted a series of experiments designed to reduce test-taking pressures. In the experiment he asked students to write a paragraph about a topic unrelated to the exam such as: “relationships with friends and family,” “religious values,” “athletic ability,” and “being good at art” before being tested. This brief writing assignment significantly improved the grades of students.

Before you face any challenge or test that fills you with performance anxiety get in the habit of reframing the importance of the event by putting it in a broader perspective of other things that you’re good at and what matters most to you. Even when the stakes are high, remember that every hurdle is an opportunity to learn. Mastery is a process. Overblown performance anxiety jacks up cortisol and andrenaline levels and makes you less likely to succeed.

5. Use neuroplasticity to re-wire habits of positive thinking. By generating positive emotions and a learned optimism you will ‘fire-and-wire’ together neural networks associated with a mindset that will give you grace under pressure. The vagus nerve picks up on signals coming from the ‘top-down’ and from the ‘bottom-up’ and uses these signals to re-wire your mind through neuroplasticity.

On January 28, 2013 researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland announced that they are hoping to help victims of stroke to overcome physical disabilities by helping their brains to ‘rewire’ themselves using a Vagal Nerve Stimulator (VNS). Lead researcher Dr Jesse Dawson, a stroke consultant and clinical senior lecturer in medicine, described the vagus nerve by saying, “That nerve is one of the major nerves that goes to the brain. By stimulating the nerves, you can cause upstream changes in the brain without having to go into the brain.”

It is hoped that the device will stimulate release of the brain’s own chemicals and help the brain form new neural connections which might improve participants’ arm mobility. In 2005, the FDA approved the use of VNS for treatment-resistant depression, although it’s use remains controversial… VNS is also used to treat epilepsy and tinnitus.

Dr Dawson added: “Evidence from animal studies suggests that vagus nerve stimulation could cause the release of neurotransmitters which help facilitate neural plasticity and help people re-learn how to use their arms after stroke, particularly if stimulation is paired with specific tasks.” The link between vagus nerve stimulation and neuroplasticity is strong. By focusing on creating healthy vagal tone you can trigger similar neuroplastic changes from the bottom-up. Creating a mindset of grace under pressure can be reinforced through the powerful mind-body connection of the vagus nerve.

6. Seek Daily Physicality. Cardio-respiratory activity, strength training and yoga stimulate vagal tone and harmonize hormones and neurotransmitters linked to grace under pressure. Aerobic activity stimulates healthy vagal tone due to the inherent diaphragmatic breathing of rhythmic cardio-respiratory exercise. Strength training with an emphasis on a robust exhale as you push the weight will stimulate vagal tone.

Yoga increases vagal tone, too. In a 2012 article published in Medical Hypotheses, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), New York Medical College (NYMC), and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS) presented evidence that yoga may be effective in treating patients with stress-related psychological and medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiac disease.

The researchers hypothesize that stress causes an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic under-activity and sympathetic over-activity) as well as under-activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. According to the researchers, low GABA activity occurs in anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, epilepsy, and chronic pain. The hypothesis advanced in this paper could explain why vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) works to decrease both seizure frequency and the symptoms of depression.

“Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances,” said Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and Boston Medical Center, who is the study’s lead author. Streeter believes that “This paper provides a theory, based on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, to understand how yoga helps patients feel better by relieving symptoms in many common disorders.”

6. Anxiety is contagious: Avoid anxious people. As a neurosurgeon, my father needed to have grace under pressure. He understood how delicate the sensors of his own vagus nerve were and would ask anyone in the operating room to leave if he or she was emitting an uptight vibe.

I’ve learned to do the same in life – especially before an important event. Because anxiety is catching, I will remove myself from the vicinity of anyone who is negative, cynical or doubtful of my ability to hit-it-out-of-the-park in a high stakes situation. The vagus nerve picks up on people’s vibe. Of course, none of us like to be around high strung people, but it is particularly important when you need to have grace under pressure.

If you are unable to remove yourself from anxious or nervous people (like in a waiting room for an audition or near the starting line of a race) I recommend using headphones with music that creates an appropriate mood and blocks the ability of others’ anxiety to affect your vagal tone. You can also close your eyes and do mindfulness or meditation maneuvers to distance your vagal nerve from picking up the nervous vibe of people in your vicinity. Obviously, people who emit easy-going, warm, upbeat emotions are much better for your health, longevity, and ability to perform with grace under pressure. Seek these people out!

7. Foster Loving & Kindness. In order to maintain healthy vagal tone it’s important to foster diverse and rewarding social connections. In a 2010 study published in Psychological Science, Barbara Frederickson and Bethany Kok of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focused their attention on the vagus nerve.

Their article was titled: How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone.They discovered that a high vagal tone index was part of a feedback loop between positive emotions, physical health and positive social connections.

Their research results suggests that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward spiral dynamic that scientists are just beginning to understand. Kok states that: “We propose here that people’s ability to translate their own positive emotions into positive social connections with others may hold one of the keys to solving this mystery.”

In the experiment Frederickson and Kok used a Loving-Kindness Meditation technique to help participants become better at self-generating positive emotions. However, they also found that simply reflecting on positive social connections and working to improve them also caused improvements in vagal tone.

Conclusion: The Vagus Nerve and Ferocious Equanimity

Equanimity is a core tenet of many ancient philosophies and religions. Equanimity is defined as “Mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Equanimity has its biological roots in the vagus nerve and is synonymous with grace under pressure.

Equanimity is not synonymous with passivity. As you strive to push yourself ever higher – and take on bigger challenges – do so with what I call “Ferocious Equanimity”. Use your vagus nerve to stay balanced and calm when the stakes are high. As you push against your limits remember that your vagus nerve is always there to keep you imperturbable and steady on the high-wire act of living your life to it’s fullest and maximizing your potential.

Hopefully the advice herein will give you some tools to utilize the incredible power of your vagus nerve and give you grace under pressure the next time you need it.

13 December 2012 Meditation helps fight finals stress

By Samantha Sorin
Posted on 06 December 2012
The Signal/College of New Jersey


meditationStressed about finals? Try sitting and meditating. Although this doesn’t sound as appealing as drinking or sitting in front of the television to relax, there are actually many benefits to simply sitting in silence.

An article in Psychiatry Research presented a study that found that people who meditated for a mere 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an important area in the brain for learning and memory. So although you may think you are wasting time by just sitting around and not doing any homework, think again. Meditating actually helps with learning all those pesky flashcards you prepared. Additionally, the findings concluded that there was a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with anxiety and stress. Not convinced? A control group that did not practice meditation saw no such changes, as seen in MRI brain scans taken before and after the study.

However, this is not the only study to find these changes in the brain. A UCLA study suggests that meditation can actually make your brain stronger. By focusing on your breathing, an emotion or a specific thought, you are training your mind not to wander. You know the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it?” Staying active in the brain is the same as staying active in the body. By working the brain, you remain healthy and will be able to stay sharper longer, as it helps to prevent white-matter atrophy, which leads to loss of memory and intellectual function.

Finals week leaves you sleep deprived and on the verge of getting sick. Lucky for you, meditation is said to boost the immune system and provide energy, as well as help you sleep a little easier at night. So before you crack open that textbook (which, let’s face it, has been collecting dust since the beginning of the semester when you picked it up from the bookstore), try sitting and concentrating on one thing — be it the sound of your inhales and exhales, a prayer, a thought or your mood at this present moment. To open the mind to the projects, essays and exams that consume finals week, try closing the eyes first.

12 November 2012 Meditation Boosts Mood, Eases Pain & Stress

by Michelle Schoffro Cook
November 2, 201
Care2.com

While most people associate meditation with religion, this simple and powerful practiced transcends religious beliefs. Meditation is like a short vacation away from the stresses of everyday life to allow you to center your mind and create a peaceful feeling. And, the research is showing that meditation is great for your health.

In one study published in Health Behavior News Service, scientists found that brain scans and blood tests showed positive effects of meditation. In this study of 48 employees at a biotechnology company, half were trained in meditation and practiced it for one hour a day, six days a week using guided meditations that had been prerecorded. The other half of the participants did not meditate. Dr. Richard J. Davidson at the University of Wisconsin found that the meditators had greater electrical activity in their brains than the non-meditators. Some of the effects of meditation continued for up to four months after the participants discontinued their meditative practice.

Other research shows improvements in mood, pain threshold, immune system activity, and bronchial and arterial smooth muscle tone. The studies also show a decrease in stress hormones and a reversal in the effects of chronic stress.

Daily practice offers the greatest benefits. Over time it becomes easier. By meditating on a regular basis you can train your mind to relax and release stress.

There are several ways to meditate: breathing meditation, walking meditation, sitting meditation, mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, and visualization. Choose the type that has the most appeal for you and best fits with your lifestyle and health goals.

Breathing meditation is one of the easiest and most convenient forms of meditation. It can be done anywhere at almost any time, even if you only have several minutes. It requires no special equipment other than your lungs. You can do a breathing meditation while you are waiting in a doctor’s office, grocery store lineup, or at your desk. You can use a regular reminder throughout the day to help you remember to breathe deeply. You could choose to take deep breaths on commercial breaks while watching television or at red lights while you are traveling.

Make time for meditation, even if it is on the bus ride home from work, or while you are sitting in your office, but try to practice it daily. The rewards are far greater than the time and effort it takes to meditate. Soon you will discover that meditation requires little or no effort at all.

Adapted from The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan by Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD. Subscribe to my free e-mag World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow me on Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook. Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD.

 

 

 

1 November 2012 Éiriú Eolas in Edmonton – November 2012

19 September 2012 Éiriú Eolas in Edmonton – October 2012

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