By Karen Bruno, PT
Ever get queasy from a shot or the site of blood? Or experience something and feel like fainting? Sometimes, those feelings are due to the overstimulation of the vagus nerve. And on the other end, the vagus nerve can also initiate relaxation after stress. So it makes sense that when we’re in fight or flight mode, the vagus nerve comes into play.
Fun fact: the vagus nerve is responsible for our “gut feelings”.
So how can we use the vagus nerve to our benefit? Well, once we understand what it is, we can control it to breathe more easily, and control our heart rate when we’re in tense conversations or high-pressured situations at the office.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is part of our central nervous system, which is made up of our brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system communicates with the body and processes information. The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, starts in the brainstem and travels into the neck, trunk and abdomen. Having extensive reach and influence, the vagus nerve is responsible for the functioning of our internal organs and processes such as:
In short, our vagus nerve has a central role in every aspect of our lives. Our well-being is dependent upon our ability to adapt and on our nervous system’s capacity to function properly. Vagus nerve exercises help us get out of the stress related fight, flight and freeze response and move us into a calmer state of rest, restore, relax and digest. So, whether you have pain, a bowel, bladder or sexual condition, an issue with digestion, anxiety, trauma, or any combination these, your vagus nerve could use a boost.
There are numerous ways to support optimal function of your vagus nerve. Here is a simple, 2-step exercise you can perform. This technique comes from Stanley Rosenberg’s "Accessing the Power of the Vagus Nerve, Self-Help for Anxiety, Depression, Trauma and Autism."
Step 1 - Place both hands behind your head, right at the bump behind your head.
Here are some practical application suggestions to use the simple vagus nerve exercise.
Practice it daily and as often as needed throughout the day.
If you are experiencing chronic pain, stiffness or discomfort, what is your body trying to tell you? Here is a short, fun practice to begin dialogue and partnership with your body.
This may seem awkward or strange at first; it may seem silly or even uncomfortable, but if you do this more and more, you shall receive the answers and your body begins to trust you and you begin to trust your body, thereby creating a partnership for health. Through practicing this over and over you may notice that the pain begins to subside and may eventually be gone.
You may choose to combine this with a very clear intention that it is your intention to 100% enjoy your body fully, and that your body enjoys you inside of it fully and completely. This supports your collaboration with your body for a maximum amount of enjoyment.
Although the pain may not leave immediately, recognize that the physical form takes longer to change, but the change starts once you make a connection and change your thoughts. It is new energy; it is new consciousness; it is new awareness. Your job now is to stay in a mode of receiving and know that you have started the process of feeling better, and while it might not be an overnight healing, it will be steadfast and continuous, and with ease and grace. We want this with ease and grace in the most gentle way for you.
According to Dr. John Sarno, in his book, Healing Back Pain, for a condition like chronic back pain, once you call out the emotion that your body is repressing, there is no longer any need for the pain and the body will no longer need to generate tension. (2)
All of us here at Connect Physical Therapy are here to support you to feel your best.
By Karen Bruno, PT
Can self-compassion really help when you are in pain?
Let’s explore this. First, what is self-compassion? Self-compassion is giving yourself kindness, forgiveness and understanding when confronted with personal failures or discomfort. Basically, it means giving yourself the care and gentleness that you would give to a beloved friend or a child who is in need of support. In the words of Dr. Kristen Neff, a self -compassion expert and teacher, "Instead of mercilessly judging yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?" (1) It is an acceptance of your humanness even when things don’t go your way.
So, what does self- compassion have to do with chronic pain? Recent research suggests that self-compassion is associated with better outcomes, such as lower levels of depression, pain-anxiety, physical and psychosocial disability, and higher levels of pain acceptance. Higher levels of self-compassion supports engagement in meaningful activities and use of pain coping strategies. (2)
What does that mean for you?
Self-compassion has been found to be beneficial in situations related to the ineffective way we respond to things, how we talk to ourselves and the behaviors we engage in. So, when you notice yourself worrying, thinking or talking negatively, isolating yourself, or beating yourself up, choose to use a better approach of treating yourself with care, gentleness and kindness. (3)
What can you do?
This PDF download summarizes the relationship between self-compassion and pain.
Self-care is also an integral component of self-compassion.
We have heard it before from the airlines, "“put your own mask on first, then help someone else." Remember that you are your own best advocate and as you care for yourself, you model for others how to care for themselves, you teach others how you want to be treated, and you harness the resources to be of service to others. Just do it! You are worth it.
"Life is full of disappointments, failures and setbacks. None of those things can permanently stop you. You have the power within you to overcome anything that life throws at you. There is nothing more powerful than a made up mind. Surround yourself with people who remind you that you matter, and support you in ways that matter most to you. No person, situation or circumstance can define who you are. Don't give up, cave in or stop believing that it's possible. It's not over until you win."
by Karen Bruno, PT, DPT
Adapted from The Gabriel Method.
By Karen Bruno, PT
As we sink deeper into autumn, the leaves are changing colors, the daytime light is decreasing and the temperature is getting cooler. This can be a difficult time for many people. In addition, there is much to do in preparation for the upcoming holidays. Here is a quick "go to" exercise to restore coherence and calm.
Place one or both hands over your heart.
Begin to take some deep breaths in and out through your nose. One to three breaths is sufficient.
Shift your attention to your heart. Imagine breathing in and out through your heart.
Imagine breathing in love, and as you exhale, let that love expand in, through and around you. Surround yourself in a field of loving and compassionate, heart-centered energy. Take it in. Allow yourself to receive this gift.
For extra-credit: put a smile on your face.
For double extra credit: Smile into your heart.
Use this exercise anytime you want! Here are some suggestions for convenient uses:
As you awaken in the morning.
When you to go to bed.
Anytime you need or want a boost of energy, nourishment or connection to yourself or others.
When you are driving.
Anytime you are feeling upset or stress.
The overarching benefit of heart-centered practice is to live a fuller, healthier and happier life, even in the midst of the day to day demands.
My intention for each of you is to have a happy, peaceful, joyful and healthy holiday season.
By Karen Bruno, PT
Mini-relaxation exercises are focused breathing techniques which help reduce anxiety and tension immediately. You can informally cultivate mindfulness by focusing your attention on the moment to moment sensation during ordinary activities. You can simply do this by single tasking - the art of doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. As you wash your hands, pet the dog or eat a meal, slow down the process and be fully present, using all of your senses.
Mini Version 1: count very slowly to yourself from ten to zero, one number for each breath. With the first breath you say “ten” to yourself, with the next breath, you say “nine, etc.
Mini version 2: as you inhale, count very slowly up to four; as you exhale, count slowly back down to one.
Mini version 3: after each inhalation, pause for a few seconds; after each exhalation, pause again for a few seconds. Do this for several breaths.
Written by Karen Bruno, PT
We often hear the term mind/body used in various wellness, medical and healing platforms. What this means is that there are powerful and complex interactions that take place between our thoughts, our bodies and the outside world and these factors can directly impact our health. Our thoughts, feelings emotions and attitudes can affect the health of our body and our physical body (what we eat, our posture, and how we move) can positively or negatively affect our mental and emotional states. Simply put, the body can affect the mind and the mind can impact the body. Meditation, a practice of focused awareness, is a mind/body technique that can mitigate the effects of stress on our bodies by bringing calm to our bodies through calming our minds.
Benefits of meditation closely resemble and often overlap with the benefits of deep breathing and exercise. Some benefits of meditation include:
People often get anxious about the thought of meditating, perhaps because they think they can’t do it, or they don’t have enough time, or for a myriad of other reasons. Meditation can take many forms and is practiced in a variety of ways. Even a few minutes of deep breathing, relaxation or meditation can elevate your mood, sharpen your focus and improve your physical and emotional state of well being. The following are two examples of simple ways to comfort your mind and receive the benefits of meditation.
Here is another quick meditation technique to expand your heart energy:
I wish you well. I wish you peace.