Friday, November 06, 2015

Double-down on the Vagus Nerve and Win the Anti-Anxiety Lottery

Who here suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, and/or depression? What do you know about the
vagus nerve? I was reminded the other night at a presentation about Trauma Informed Communities, that most people have no clue what the vagus nerve is or what it's role is in our body.

The vagus nerve is basically the parasympathetic nervous system I'm always talking about in yoga class. If you Google it, anatomy charts will point to a nerve at the base of your skull, but it "wanders" from down both sides of your neck to the front of the body, and wraps around and under the stomach from both the front and the back.

I practice yoga to stay sane; if you know me personally you have heard or read those words from me. And this is why: yoga can stimulate the vagus nerve; that's where the calm, floaty feeling comes from. The parasympathetic nervous system is your "brake"; it calms you down and brings you into the restful state required to digest food, procreate, and relax.

That peaceful, centered feeling at the end when you roll up your mat was brought to you by your yoga practice stimulating the vagus nerve. A little bit of yoga every day is a great maintenance program for those suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

It can be an emergency med for an anxiety attack, as well, but yoga works much better if you also have a maintenance schedule.

You do NOT have to bend yourself into a Gumby yogi to reap the benefits. Not at all.

You do NOT have to take an hour-long class with people who breathe through their eyeballs and "feel" their liver.

All you have to do is breathe and try a few simple, relaxing yoga poses to counter all that daily stress that builds up on top of your life experiences that have programmed you for anxiety, panic, and depression.

You can't change the past, but you can learn to manage your anxiety, panic disorder, and/or depression in the present. But you have to put your money down on the yoga table in two ways:

1. Practice for a few minutes each day to train your body to default to the parasympathetic nervous system. Practicing yoga teaches your body how to get back to a state of rest more quickly.

2. Use what you learn in yoga practice (breathing techniques, poses, visualization) to calm yourself when you feel the earliest signs of an anxiety, panic, or depressive episode coming on.

People have told me "Oh, I tried yoga but it didn't help." And I know they went to a class or bought a DVD and maybe practiced a handful of times. That doesn't really help, no. You will get immediate benefits, but you won't tap into the wealth of health yoga has to offer that way.

The real way to strike it rich is to do the daily work. There are no short cuts on this, my friends. There are no quick fixes. Well, I did read that an experimental vagus nerve stimulator is being tested. If having an implant sounds cool. Which it kind of does, I must admit.

But in the meantime, give this feel good yoga practice a try. Its simple. Almost anyone can do it.

And if that's too hard, do some diaphragmatic breathing. Here's a good tutorial on how to breath using the diaphragm. She's a little didactic, but it's the best explanation/demonstration of how to make sure you're activating the diaphragm.

Because if you're doing it wrong, you can actually be restricting the vagus nerve. i.e. Are you tightening your neck and lifting your shoulders when you take a deep breath? Guess what? That pinches the vagus nerve, which is the opposite of what we want to do.

I wrestle with my anxiety and depression tendencies every day, but my yoga practice has increased my odds of winning and staying on top. So give it a go and let us know how it's working. If it doesn't seem to be doing any good, please post a comment and I'd be extremely happy to help.

Love and light to each and every one of you!

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