Get on your nerves to stay healthy!
I am intrigued by the amazing workings of the human body. I love the intricacies and interaction that goes into it, and I’m very impressed with how it all goes on without any conscious intervention on our part. It seems that a lot of physical problems arise from our interference in their proper functioning. We eat and drink too much, too little, too bad. We exercise not enough, too much, in the wrong way. We sleep too much, too little. And here’s the big one: STRESS. TOO. A LOT.
Long-term or frequent stress can adversely affect all body functions. In fact, it is estimated that chronic stress over a long period of time can cause as much damage to your body as smoking, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise. Some medical analysts also make the assumption 90% of all immune-related illnesses are caused by stress. Problems associated with long-term stress are often caused by the fact that the body cannot return to a stable condition; it stays on high alert and stress hormones continue to circulate throughout the body causing a state of permanent high alert and gradually eroding our health.
Not all is lost, however yoga to the rescue!
There are so many ways in which yoga asanas, yoga breathing, relaxation, meditation, and yoga wisdom can help you physically, mentally, and emotionally to keep your body functioning properly. A very important player is our own built-in superhero, the vague nerve. This month I am revealing my secret love story with the vague nerve.
Okay, we’re all familiar with the hormones of anxiety and stress, adrenaline and cortisone, which build up causing confused thoughts, fast heartbeats, and nervousness. Well the vague nerve does the opposite. When activated calm everything down and bring us back to calm.
In an ideal world the two opposites of the nervous system work in synchrony, stress passes the vagus nerve is activated and comfort returns. Too often, however, the ideal world that improves the strike is replaced by deadlines, rushes, pressure, anxiety and fear and we are on high alert, creating the possibility of heart disease, high blood pressure, memory loss, relationship problems, etc. mental disorders, digestive problems, anxiety attacks, autoimmune diseases and yes, even cancer.
Not only the external circumstances, and our reaction to them, affect the gentle activation of our vague friend, but also the posture. Vague nerves run down each side of the neck from the base of the brain. In addition to injuries such as the cervical cervix, tense muscles, and bulging discs, our vulnerable neck is prone to what is known as a “tech neck.” This is happening among users of electronic devices such as mobile phones, iPads and laptops. The head is usually held in a forward position and to bring the face horizontally, the back of the neck must be compressed which prevents the vagus nerve from activating properly and leaving us prone to indigestion, the depression and anxiety. Good posture as taught in Mountain Pose is important not only for the health of our joints and muscles, but also for our vagus nerve to be properly activated.
When we stimulate this nerve, a substance called acetylcholine is released. This substance is responsible for memory and learning, it is also calming and relaxing and helps fight depression and anxiety. New research has found that it is an important player in preventing inflammation that is believed to be a stress response and a major player in many diseases.. Exciting new research has also found evidence of how vagus nerve stimulation can activate our stem cells to repair and rebuild our organs, and another line of research implies that vague stimulation allows our feelings natural compassion shine. Vague activation is also credited with normalizing our blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, controlling appetite, and preventing group headaches.
Various yoga practices can stimulate our vagus nerve. Reducing breathing with full slow active yoga breaths activates vagueness and helps us relax. It is possible to practice many of the yoga positions while using this breath and this will help us to be able to be in wonderfully quiet and focused.
Further stimulation of the vagus nerve is achieved by changing the proportion of breath of the complete yoga breath. The best vague stimulation that has occurred occurs with exhalation plus a later retention twice as long as inhalation. This is especially useful in yoga postures where we stretch our muscles. Long outdoor breathing will help our muscles to relax and stretch without having to stretch them aggressively and risk injuring ourselves.
Ujjayi breathing creates a gentle constriction of the throat that stimulates the part of the vagus nerve in the neck. A similar but stronger effect is achieved with Brahmari breathing, which uses the voice to vibrate the vagus nerve. Loud singing (yoga mantra singing) also stimulates this area of the throat.
Other easy ways to activate the vagus nerve are to sleep on your right side or even better on your back. Laughter has also been found to increase vagal stimulation such as washing the face with cold water.
We have many easy ways to improve our health by activating this quiet little player. In fact, much of our continued health is in our own hands.
Per Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and director of the Veda Yoga Teacher Training
Find our free and low-cost yoga and meditation classes here!
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