Updated: May 26
Viva Las Vagus Nerve Stimulation
As you can imagine, I travel a lot. My business takes me all over the U.S. and sometimes Europe. No matter where I go, I see the same thing . . . travelers unleashing on airline personnel.
Now, I get it. It can be very stressful to travel. I admit, this is one of the areas of my life that provides me with the greatest teachable moments for myself. However, that doesn't mean airline personnel, or ANYONE for that matter, should be the target of our emotional attacks.
In an overly stressed culture, it doesn't take much to trigger us to behave in unflattering ways. We see it waiting in line for coffee, all forms of travel, in the bank; heck, I even see it at my favorite ski resort. My weekends are a time for me to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. I see people cutting in lift lines, pushing people out of the way at the ticket booths and more. Didn't we come here to relax and unwind?
What this reveals to me is how wound up we are that even when we are enjoying our relaxation activities, the ability to react negatively to simple situations is hardwired into our brain.
The good news is our brains are a work in progress; not a finished product. We have the ability to transform the part of our brain that we've trained to live in a hyper-vigilant state. The key is strengthening our vagus nerve and vagal tone. That happens when we strengthen our Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Viva Las Vagus Nerve!
The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system overseeing many crucial bodily functions including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. Vagal tone is the measure of the strength or weakness of the vagus nerve.
Vagal tone is correlated with the capacity to regulate stress responses and is influenced by breathing rates and patterns. As the main contributor of the parasympathetic nervous system, vagal tone is a measure of resiliency. Stimulating the vagus nerve through breathing increases vagal tone and inhibits cytokine production which is an important mechanism of resiliency.
The pathway for emotional intelligence starts in the brain, at the spinal cord. Our primary senses enter here traveling to the front of our brain before we can think rationally about our experiences. However, first they travel through the limbic system, the place where emotions are generated. So, we have an emotional reaction to events before our rational mind is able to engage. Like the moment you realize you can't believe you just did or said that.
Emotional intelligence requires effective communication between the rational and emotional centers of the brain. When we exhibit these types of outbursts, it's an indication of low vagal tone and a weakened parasympathetic nervous system.
Psychological studies have revealed breathing practices to be an effective non-pharmacological application for improving emotional states including a reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress. In fact, many studies have now revealed an attention/vigilance impairment in the brain related to breathing dysfunction. We fix our breathing rates and patterns and we transform the emotional centers in the brain.
Throughout your day, (ideal is every 90 to 120 minutes) take 2 to 5 minutes for a breathing brain break exercise. Try this one!
In addition, here's a great BodyMindBusiness exercise from my new book launching this March. This technique is designed to strengthen vagal tone.
B As we breathe today, we’ll focus on the length, depth and pace of our breathing pattern creating balance with our inhale and exhale.
M Psychological balance helps us control our responses to our external environment.
B Today’s business development skill is Balance.
When we become psychologically unbalanced, we have a tendency to be overly sensitive and exhibit exaggerated reactions. We become anxious. We lack feelings of compassion which interferes with our ability to connect with ourselves and those around us. We also have a tendency to take on things we lack the skills to achieve creating more anxiety.
Today, we’ll practice staying in a neutral mental space. We will learn how to balance our day not getting too high or too low from the day’s schedule. Imagine the middle road.
The way we creating “balance” in our breathing pattern is by using the Ocean Sounding Breath. When breathing thru the nostrils diaphragmatically, apply a slight constriction to the larynx in your throat. The shrinking of the airway passage allows the abdominal diaphragm to work harder than normal. This resistance strengthens the muscle. This muscle plays a major role in removing wastes and raising energy in the body without raising heart rate or putting as major strain on autonomic function. The contraction in throat creates warm heat in the throat removing excessive mucus, phlegm and fat from windpipe area. Our mind benefits from the sound also. The mind investigates the sound and its’ “tone”. It shifts the mind from reacting to the present moment to non-reactivity providing an opportunity for witnessing before judgement, compassion before competition, observing before labeling based on a past memory of an old event.
In the beginning it will be easier to create the ocean sounding breath on the exhale more-so than the inhale; keep practicing! See if you can do this for ten to 20 rounds controlling the length, depth and pace to ten breaths or less per minute.
If your day begins to feel out-of-balance, stop and begin regulating your breathing rate and pattern using the Ocean Sounding Breath. Regulate the breath to a pace of 10 breaths or less per minute creating balance in the body/mind. Remember, we always go to the body first. As soon as we bring the body into balance with our breath, we easily bring the mind into balance.