Practices to soothe the nervous system
This week during my online Zoom yoga classes we've been exploring our inner worlds. We've been looking at the dural tube - it's the membrane which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, wrapping around these structures all the way down through the spinal canal and into the sacrum. It creates a closed system containing the cerebro-spinal fluid, and we've been playing with how to feel its strength and tension, sensing along it to release pockets of holding or any sense of tethering we may discover along its length.
Ongoing yoga classes are such a wonderful opportunity to work together to explore this material - the stuff of our selves, our bodies, the materials, thoughts and connections we're made of. It's wonderful to continue to expand and deepen our connection during these online sessions and makes me happy to see all your smiling faces.
This is even more relevant now as I continue researching into the vagus nerve for my forthcoming workshop Demystifying the Vagus. Our vagus nerve connects the brain to the major systems in the body including the stomach and gut, heart, lungs, throat, and facial muscles. One branch of it in particular, the Ventral Vagus, helps regulate sympathetic hyper-arousal (ie hyper-vigilance and panic) and parasympathetic hypo-arousal (ie freezing and dissociation), so you can expect more of this during the workshop.
As this can't go ahead in person as originally planned, I'll be delivering this online. If you'd like to join us online
May 9th, 13-15.30
please click here for more info and to book.
One element we'll explore in the workshop is Stephen Porges' polyvagal theory, which explores how the different branches of Vagus work together to regulate our nervous system. For instance, during ventral vagal stimulation, our social nervous system activates and we relax – our breathing becomes easier, our thoughts slow down, our social engagement increases, and our prefrontal cortex is activated. This is the part of the brain that deals with logic. Calming yourself allows you to think clearly and process your difficult circumstances — which will further resolve stress. Our yoga practice can help improve our vagal tone so that we become more adaptable when faced with difficult situations.
Following on from last week, here are a few more practical suggestions. Please experiment and let me know how you get on.
Last week we explored how to slow down the breathing. Vagus nerve stimulation occurs when the breath is slowed from our typical 10-14 breaths per minute to 5-7 breaths per minute. You can achieve this by counting the inhalation to 5, hold briefly, and exhale to a count of 10. Some people also find it helpful to slightly constrict the back of the throat as we do in Ujjayi breathing. We’ll cover this in more detail in my Thursday night breathing and meditation class. If you're not familiar, breathe out as if you are trying to fog a mirror making a "haaa" sound at the back of your throat with your mouth open. Then see if you can make the same sound with your mouth closed on both the exhale and the inhale.
With people. Smile, speak and listen to others. Whether this is online or in person across the social distance – it all helps. If that’s not working, you can visualise yourself interacting with others – pets count too.
Splashing cold water on your face from your lips to your scalp line stimulates the diving reflex. The diving reflex slows your heart rate, increases blood flow to your brain, reduces anger and relaxes your body. An alternative technique is to submerge your tongue in liquid. Drink and hold lukewarm water in your mouth sensing the water with your tongue.
Some smells are intrinsically soothing. For instance, Vanilla induces happiness, whilst citrus is good for concentration, calming and clarifying. Freshly cut grass is also tremendously evocative - smell takes us back to a moment in time almost immediately. What are your favourite smells and how do they relate to your memories?
Please let me know how you get on with your explorations and in the meantime, I look forward to seeing you in class again soon.