The part of the nervous system that cannot be controlled by our will is called the autonomous nervous system. It consists of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic pathways that regulate the vital functions of the body. These can be influenced by inner and outer factors of both physical and mental origins. Both parts of the nervous system are continuously at work and do it in an antagonistic way to maintain a healthy balance.
“Fight or Flight” vs. “Rest and Digest”
The sympathetic nervous system is mainly activated by stress and prepares the body for a fight. In other words, it is a survival mechanism that increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and dilates the pupils. It is termed a “fight or flight” response. Evolutionarily, it is necessary to be able to react promptly when facing immediate danger, but if the sympathetic nervous system becomes overburdened by prolonged stress, mobbing or hard physical activity, it will wear on the organism and has the potential to lead to fatal consequences.
The parasympathetic nervous system, however, has a calming influence. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and simultaneously promotes digestion and the uptake of nutrients. It is termed “rest and digest”. Hence, it is primarily during rest, eating and sleeping that the parasympathetic nervous system dominates and coordinates the body’s repose and regeneration. It is mainly this part of the nervous system that is advantageous to activate through breathing exercises.
The Vagus Nerve
Let us now consider one of the most fundamentally important elements in the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve, which is the most complex of all of our nerves. In Latin, Vagus means “wandering”. It is termed so because from its origin in the brain stem it spreads nerve fibers to the throat and upper body, and through these nerve fibers signals wander to and fro between the body and the brain. In short, the vagus nerve connects the brain to everything from the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach and intestines to different glands that produce enzymes and hormones, influencing digestion, metabolism, and much more.
The vagus nerve’s considerable influence on your lungs and heart and the connection to your brain is quite interesting. This trinity, brain-heart-lungs, rules your body and governs your mind. The key to managing your state of mind and stress level lies in being able to activate the calming parasympathetic pathways of your nervous system on command. Typically, the will cannot control this part of the nervous system, but if you hold your breath for a brief moment and then slowly exhale, the vagus nerve is stimulated bringing peace to your body and mind.
In effect, strengthening the living nervous system can pay off. And the best tool you can use is an efficient training of your breath. You can master this yourself. The path to this goes through training your breathing, which can be achieved by means of yoga.
Relaxation is inextricably bound up with the parasympathetic part of your nervous system, the so called “rest and digest”. It belongs to the self-propelled autonomic nervous system, but by actively focusing on your breath and the movements of your diaphragm, you can influence the system enormously through the vagus nerve that spreads from your brain to your lungs, heart and other organs.
Try to activate your own vagus nerve. Simply breathe out very slowly. Can you feel how your heart rate drops and your mind relaxes instantly!
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32 Ways to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve (and All You Need to Know about It)
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Guardians recognize that we all are part of a collective field that is constantly learning about itself, and each of us have an essential role in manifesting the well-being of all Life. Through the Journey of facing their own deepest fears, embracing their personal Shadows with Love, they come to see that All people can reach their highest potential. Through teamwork and the support of their Alliance, they discover that each of us also has the Gift to help others.
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A man I know is dependent on a machine to breathe. The machine cycles his inhalations and exhalations at a steady, unchanging pace. Ordinarily, his emotions would alter his breathing, but he cannot change how he breathes, and the conflict between his natural rhythms and the machine sets off the alarm. If he were not attended to promptly, it would be life threatening.
Human society and individual habits are like a breathing machine, fixing all who are on it to an unnatural style of living which may begin with the alarm clock and go through the day with schedules, appointments, fitting in with rules and regulations, being too long in cars, on cell phones and laptop computers (ahem!)
It is no wonder that homo sapiens, although a biological organism of Nature, is a species far removed from her beauty and balance. The rigid, habitual (unaware) lifestyle of modern humans has devastating consequences.
... suffering is the effect of losing awareness of what is truly perfect in our essence of being. There is a need for awakening....
The question of this discussion is, 'What practices support greater awareness?' — whether it is Christian contemplation, Buddhist meditation, Yoga, working with plant spirits, or any other. I have explored many practices and am currently experimenting with a synthesis of what has been most effective and efficient for me. Are there any who would experiment and practice this for a few days, then write how it feels to you?
Heart Space Breathing While observing the breath, feel the heart space.
With your eyes open or closed, simply be aware of the breath. When you are attuned to it, move your attention to the center of your chest, and tune in also to the heart space.
Any activity of the mind (such as labeling, noting, expecting, imagining, projecting or wandering) can hinder or limit the practice. Simply return attention to observing the breath and feeling the heart space, with openness and trust.
Heart Space Breathing can be practiced as a sitting of any duration, and brought into one's awareness over the day. The words can be played with (focus on the 'oneness center' in the middle of the chest rather than calling it the 'heart space' etc.) and adjusted to the individual.
For those attracted to writing, it can be helpful and insightful to keep a journal to note such things as dreams, self-observed changes in behavior like responding rather than reacting to triggers, increased feelings of inner peace, compassion, happiness for no reason, non-separation, and so on. There are no expectations, only observing what is.
Some practices specify a focus — in Heartfulness meditation it is, 'Gently close your eyes and think that the Source of Light is already present within your heart.'
Heartfulness goes on to say, 'Rather than try to visualize it, simply tune in to your heart and be open to any experience that you may have.'
These instructions sounds good, and I have adapted them as part of my practice. However, such specificity does not allow awareness to freely express itself. I leave the details to my intuitive feeling in the moment.
Some teachings prescribe a duration for the practice such as in Heartfulness meditation, 'Do this for 30 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your heart.'
Any pre-conceived notion binds a mental concept to the practice. Heart Space Breathing does not put a suggested amount of time on the sitting practice. Rather, trust your own intuitive feeling. In the Isha Kriya of Sadhguru, the practitioner breathes in rhythm to the thoughts:
Inhalation 'I am not the body.'
Exhalation 'I am not even the mind.'
When I experimented with Sadhguru's yoga meditation, the effect on me was contracting and separating rather than expanding and merging. It was interesting to observe and I replaced his words with my own — until I realized that also imposed limited mental ideas onto limitless awareness.
Structure may enable a system or technique to be mass marketed, but it also makes the practice rigid. Systems tend to follow the tradition, or the persona of the teacher/teaching, rather than allow awareness to arise in the moment for the unique individual. Guided visualizations also fits the listener's head with someone else's version of a hat (and I tip my hat to you, Rod MacKinnon, for this saying.)
Deep breathing can be very beneficial, but is another practice. In Heart Space Breathing, simply observe and do not try to force the breath to change. It is fine to adjust the posture to allow the lungs to fill more fully, naturally and effortlessly.
I have added inversion, deep breathing and the Five Tibetan Rites(a simple yoga routine) to my practice.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and if you choose, to participate.
Each individual has a unique combination of talents, innate abilities, and developed skills. Certain areas of life inspire us, stimulating our personal passion and desire for growth. When we find the opportunity to express these talents, skills, and passions in alignment together, we unlock a sense of power and purpose within, and are driven by our joy in each moment of creation.
Yet many of us feel disconnected from this powerful alignment within, as we focus our days on skills that we’ve developed to sustain our lives, often in areas of life that don’t entirely resonate with us. Our deeper talents lay dormant, waiting for stormy days and time alone to express themselves. Our innate abilities emerge in peak moments of social experiences, or remain hidden under layers of doubt or self-judgement.
How can we restore awareness of our secret personal combination? What can finding the practices to awaken and strengthen our inner capacities do for our lives?