What Happens in Vegas… (or do I mean Vagus?)
Generally, when I discuss the vagus nerve and its profound impact on stress levels (and all the associated physiological effects) with clients, they quietly repeat the word Vegas, and then giggle (men included). The funny thing is, I’ve never been to Vegas and my science-loving brain automatically thinks Vagus whenever I hear either word.
Why is the vagus nerve so darn important?
In relation to stress management and disease prevention, the answer is pretty simple:
** Please note that this post may contain affiliate links which means that I can receive a small payment if you make a purchase through my links.
1. When you breathe deeply into your belly, it stimulates the vagus nerve, which then sends a message to the brain telling it to make the body relax. Stress hormone production is reduced, and other physiological stress effects (like capillary constriction, muscle tension, decreased digestion, etc.) are improved as well. The result? In the moment, you feel better and in the long-term you help prevent disease.
In case you need another reason…
2. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, and the body is able to focus more on digestion, nutrients are absorbed more effectively. If we look at it in the opposite direction: when you’re stressed, your body is not absorbing nutrients properly, so you can have the healthiest diet going and be completely malnourished. Take a few deep belly breaths before you chow down, and you set yourself up to use the nutrients you’re eating…rush through meals while you’re on the Internet, watching TV or not breathing deeply? Well, you’re just nourishing the sewer system!
Quick and Easy Tips:
1. Practice breathing into the deep low belly button area of your gut whenever you remember to. When I first began practicing this, I had quite a bit of difficulty. I’ve been sucking it in and tightening it up since I got serious about gymnastics many (many) years ago. If it’s hard for you to relax your belly, first practice while you’re lying down or totally supported sitting up. I recommend breathing in through your nose, and then out in whatever way feels best. In yoga, we breathe out through our noses, but in relaxation classes many people teach breathing out through your mouth. If you’re not sure, don’t worry—the exhale will happen automatically!
2. When you sit down to eat (at your table without the TV or Internet), sit up straight, and take a couple deep breaths before you begin to eat. If you catch yourself hoovering your dinner, pause, relax your shoulders, and take another deep belly breath. You’ll be better nourished, feel better, and even eat less because you’re more connected to your body.
3. You can also practice soft belly breathing with a guide. Dr. James Gordon of the Center for Mind Body Medicine (CMBM) developed a soft belly guided meditation and I have recorded a version of it for my clients to use. It’s only about 7 minutes long, and you can do it anywhere, even in line at the grocery store—keep your eyes open there of course :)
Do you have any quick relaxation tips?
I like soft belly breathing, and I also love yoga. Sometimes I really don’t feel like going to class…and that’s usually when I need to the most!
Do you catch yourself eating too fast, on the run, or with distractions?
How do you relax?
Bio: Lisa Beach, Ph.D., has 15 years of experience working in the fields of health, wellness, nutrition, and fitness. Working with individuals, in corporate settings, and as a university professor, she specializes in educating, coaching, and empowering people to take charge of their health, wellness, and happiness through their lifestyles.
Lisa blogs at Thrive Style, where she shares information, strategies, and recipes. Her light and positive approach to feeling great has a foundation in eating real food, being active, and breathing deeply. Through research, course implementation, and working directly with thousands of people on their health goals, Lisa has been able to develop strategies for helping people thrive that encompass both a scientific foundation and successful real life application.
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