Suzanna, Your Vagus Nerve, Meditation & Anxiety
I'd like to THANK Suzanna, the sweet Mammographer that literally ran and caught me while I was passing out this morning during my Mammogram. Suzanna you rock, thank you for your speed, (nice catch), your patience (as I put my legs up the wall and did some breath-work, "I just have to get my heart rate back up a bit more and I'll be good to go again") and sense of humor (as I shared how I was super-hydrated with my celery juice) while we resumed the imaging.
Healthcare professionals like you have had it extra rough the last 18 months and we REALLY appreciate you, you catch us in so many ways, sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically.
Your Vagus Nerve
So that made me think about my Vagus Nerve, if you have never thought about yours before you should as it is one of many keys to your overall health. Vagus is latin for "wanderer," which is apropos as it's the 10th cranial nerve that wanders from the brain stem to the face, neck, lungs, heart, diaphragm and digestive organs. It's your "body's bidirectional information super highway". I don't know who coined that but I would like to give credit to my teacher Maria Kirsten to whom I am eternally grateful for educating me about it's huge involvement in our Mental Health. Maria, your teachings live on. It's directly involved in managing sympathetic/parasympathetic balance in the autonomic nervous system which controls all your involuntary functions like your heart rate, respiration and digestion. Electrical stimulation of the Vagus nerve has been used to treat conditions like epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and more recently depression/anxiety.
We can stimulate the Vagus nerve in many ways including through movement and conscious breathing exercises to increase Vagal tone and heart rate variability.
So here's a Take 5 Stretch & Breath Break for you to try that is designed to stimulate the vagus nerve. A big thanks to another one of my teachers, Dr Arielle Schwartz for showing me some of the moves used in this Take 5.
So why did passing out make me think about the vagus nerve? Well about 3 years ago, a 40 year diagnosis of "tonic-clonic seizures" was changed to extreme neurocardiogenic or VASOVAGAL syncope which is one of many forms of Dysautonomia (nervous system dysfunction).
Those words are a bit big for me so my cardiologist explained it like this, under certain triggers my autonomic nervous system goes a little haywire, my blood pressure abruptly drops at which point my sympathetic nervous system kicks in and puts me into tachycardia, then my parasympathetic nervous system decides to join the party and send me into bradycardia at which point there isn't enough blood flow to the brain and I pass out and sometime seize. (Luckily for Suzanna I skipped the later part today). While the seizing part may be rare the passing out part is extremely common - some reports say one in three people will faint at some point in their life. While there are different causes of fainting, vasovagal is the most common. If you or someone you know does it on the regular here's a great article by the American Heart Association explaining it.
I'll end with a little gratitude for my meditation practice. Meditation is actually another scientifically backed way to stimulate the vagus nerve. It also does wonders for anxiety. In reflecting on this morning, I realized my general level of anxiety (which is always up when I have any testing) was much lower than I can ever remember. That makes my heart smile.
Every Take 5 video I create includes techniques I use personally to manage the symptoms of anxiety as well as the dysautonomia I mentioned earlier. I meditate daily and its benefits to my mental health are undeniable. I also wonder if it may have helped this morning's episode be so much milder than prior ones....hmm.
If you have ever wanted to try meditating, please reach out to me. I'll am now offering private instruction as I've just completed my training with Deepak Chopra, Roger Gabriel, and the many other amazing teachers at Chopra to whom I am extremely grateful.
I'll be updating you with some fun upcoming October events soon. Until then, stay well.