The Vagus Nerve

This week’s yoga class theme was the Vagus Nerve. It’s one of 12 cranial nerves known as the wandering nerve (vagus means wander in Latin). It has multiple branches that diverge from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem that wander to the lowest viscera of the abdomen touching the heart and most major organs.

Tapping into the vagus nerve can create a state of inner calm, taming inflammation and thus enhancing wellness and reducing chronic pain. In addition to what we practiced in class, here are a few other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve:

-Chew gum; chewing gum boosts the release of hormones from the gut which enhance brain/gut communication.

-Get direct sunlight. UVA rays increase hormones that stimulate the vagus nerve.

-Sleep on your right side. Lying on your back decreases vagus nerve activation, but sleeping on the right side shows greater vagus nerve stimulation compared to left side sleeping.

-Meditate and practice yoga. Meditation and certain breathing practices in yoga increase vagal tone. Chanting OM is a great example that will increase vagal tone. Yoga boosts mood and lowers anxiety while also increasing vagus nerve and parasympathetic system activity. Slow, deep exhales activate pressure receptors in the heart and neck that send signals to the brain to activate the vagus nerve.

Every Day Asana

Yesterday’s Yoga Clinic was about recommended asanas (yoga postures) to practice every day. Please note, this is a personal opinion explaining which pose along with a short explanation as to why.

1. Tadasana and Raised Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

-Good for balance, anxiety, and a preparatory pose for balancing poses. Good for postural awareness, creating a neutral pelvis, elongating the spine (pushing up, rooting down). Good for generating strength for difficult times as you’re channeling the strongest structure you can. Beautiful, expansive, rooted and stable. In raised Tadasana, you rise up from your heels as you expand and lift your arms while focusing on a drishti (focal point).

2. Balasana (Child’s Pose)

-This is a pose where magic happens when the breath is engaged. It’s a resting pose during a vigorous practice, a transitional pose or segway-going from belly to back or to standing, a Yin pose with thighs touching or wide and also a restorative pose. It brings gentle length down to the tailbone, balances out backward bending poses, stimulates/activates the digestive system and is an inversion (heart above brain). In balasana, the student is folding forward so it’s a good pose for anxiety.

3. Salabasana (Locust or half locust pose)

-Locust pose is a back bend and backward bending poses stimulate and tone the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response in the body). It energizes the body and helps to improve focus. Practicing locust pose involves core strength when practiced on the floor. As we engage the core muscles, we’re also lengthening and extending the entire spine, thus strengthening the back muscles, particularly the low back. Some other amazing benefits of this pose are that it opens the chest, which we all often collapse during the day due to our posture and how much time we spend sitting. Locust is great for strengthening the gluteal muscles in the butt that support the back, and it tones the inner thighs, hamstrings, adductors and calf muscles. When we put our body weight and balance into our abdomen (if practicing the mat version) the internal organs get a massage and we activate our digestive system, getting everything moving along effectively.

4. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)

-Stretches the chest, neck, and spine. Builds butt muscles that support the back, specifically gluteus maximus. Calms the brain and helps alleviate stress and mild depression. Stimulates abdominal organs, lungs, and thyroid. Bridge pose rejuvenates tired legs and improves digestion. It helps relieve the symptoms of menopause, relieves menstrual discomfort when done supported, reduces anxiety, fatigue, backache, headache, and insomnia. It is therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and sinusitis

5.  Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall or legs up the chair)

One of the best yoga postures to use for back issues and overall relaxation. While not considered an inversion, it benefits the body by helping the blood circulate toward the upper body and head, thus creating a feeling of restoration. It helps realign the body after prolonged standing or sitting and is particularly nice if you’re feeling stressed, fatigued, or even jet-lagged. It’s a posture that promotes the feeling of the myriad of positive results of doing less, not more. It creates a paradigm shift in the mind and activates the relaxation response in the parasympathetic nervous system (a countering of the fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system).

In Yin Yoga, a more passive and meditative form of yoga, this posture targets the kidney and benefits the urinary bladder meridian. It helps to reduce swelling in the body and tempers overall anxiety. It’s also effective for fatigue and insomnia. Note: Another variation of this posture is legs up the chair. Contraindications: Glaucoma, Hypertension, and Hernia.

6. Surya Namaskaram (Sun Salutation)

-Considered a complete warm up for the body and a regular practice promotes balance in the body/mind. It improves blood circulation, strengthens the heart, tones the digestive tract, stimulates abdominal muscles, respiratory system, lymphatic system, spinal nerves and other internal organs. Tones the spine , neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, back and leg muscles prompting overall flexibility. Psychologically, it regulates the interconnectedness of the body, breath, and mind, thus making the student calmer and boosting energy levels.

7.  Cherry pick body segments from Yoga for Arthritis practice (taught twice a month) based on what the student is feeling in that particular body part. But also keep in mind that everything is connected and what might be, for example, the shoulder, could be the neck so good to look at the “neighbors” too.

Your Inner Coach

By Guest Blogger: Anne Macaulay

As a spouse, parent, or dog owner, you may know the value of catching someone doing something right–noticing and reinforcing desired behavior right in the moment. “Thank-you” for making me dinner, “What a good puppy” for peeing outdoors, etc.

But, how often do you do the same for yourself?

When we’re trying to improve our health, we often focus on the end result: getting cholesterol numbers down or running a 5k. What if instead we focus on the process, the little decisions and steps taken throughout the day to support health goals? What if we support ourselves by really noticing, acknowledging, and becoming grateful to ourselves for these steps?

To give yourself timely, positive feedback, you first need to be aware of your inner dialogue. If this is new to you, journaling and meditation can build this awareness. If you are already conscious of how you talk to yourself, you can focus on catching yourself doing something right. Be sure to use phrases that feel authentic to you. Here are some examples: “Nice choice!” or “You’re on your way!”.

You, yourself, are the best person to provide reinforcement at just the right moment. This is a habit that can be learned. It will support all other habits—it’s a virtuous cycle!

Try starting out by spending a week listening to the inner coach while letting the inner critic know you’ve got this! It may be surprising how good it feels to give yourself that same warm, caring feedback that you give so generously to others. 

Way to go!

More about Anne Macaulay:

Anne Macaulay is an ADAPT Certified Functional Health Coach. Anne helps people sidelined by health challenges to get their lives back on track, one step at a time. She is an avid gardener, professional dog trainer, and hiker who uses functional medicine principles to live well with autoimmune disease. She lives in Franklin Park with her husband, Jeff and Vizsla, Cash. https://www.ongoodbehavior.com/coaching.html

Embracing Imperfection

We’re all perfectly imperfect. An amazingly worthwhile theme for yesterday’s Gentle Yoga class. As I meditated on the “perfect” delivery of this message, it ended up happening rather organically. I messed up an instruction and there was the perfect segue.

We joyfully celebrated our “flubs” in Yoga teacher training. After all, it is a practice with an enormous amount of material. We taught mini classes to each other, so there were many opportunities to work on delivery. I especially loved when someone said, “May your next breath be your last.” There were so many funny yoga-isms like that. I have a list somewhere!

Imperfections can be a source of joy. Embracing imperfection can be a wonderful learning experience where our truest selves slip into the present moment, shining a light on genuine humaness.

What has imperfection taught you?

Little Revelations

At age 20, I was given the feedback that I didn’t get my first internship because I was wearing sparkly brown nail polish. “Interview was great, but nail polish was unacceptable.” This was the feedback the interviewer gave the career counselor at my college.

Ever since then, my nails have been impeccably polished with “acceptable” colors. Thirty plus years of nail polish and a pandemic later, I’ve come to love my natural nails. I rub organic castor oil into them 1-2 times a week and that’s it.

It’s liberating. I feel like I’ve shed that stigma of the past. Loving yourself means your whole self and not cherry-picking certain things.

What is your little revelation? How are you loving your whole self? If you’re not, why not? This is worth some contemplation.

❤

Mindful Moment

“Too many of us move through our lives with our true selves

buried below layers of repressed emotion. With so much

energy channeled toward sustaining the repression,

there is little left over for the deeper questions.

The consequences of our evasion are profound.

Our stockpiles toxify into a cache of weapons

that turn inward against the self:

quick fix, long suffering.

As Rumi said, “Most people guard against the fire,

and so end up in it.”

This is the power of then. If we don’t deal with our stuff,

it deals with us.”

― Jeff Brown, Soulshaping: A Journey Of Self Creation

Don’t Blink…or you might miss what’s coming up!

There has never been a better time to close your eyes or soften your gaze. To look and to feel deeply within yourself at the center of consciousness and your being. Where a divine light exists and every answer to every question about your truest self lives. ~LLS
Coming soon:

Virtual Gentle Yoga for Computer Users – Saturday, May 30th 9:00-10:30. Looking to counter the effects of heavy computer/device use? Are your shoulders, neck, upper back bothering you and maybe even your wrists or eyes? Look no further, this Gentle Yoga class is for you! Cost $10. Registration is open. Join from anywhere in the comfort of your own home.

The Basics of Meditation – Saturday, June 27th 9:00-11:00. There has never been a better time to begin a meditation practice. Have your heard about the many benefits of meditation for your health and for anxiety? Come learn the background, benefits, and practical techniques in order to get started right away. Cost $25. Registration is open. Join from anywhere in the comfort of your own home.


Weekly Programs (open registration):

Virtual Gentle Yoga and Meditation – Friday Mornings at 9:00. New session beginning 6/12 (five classes: 6/12, 6/19, 6/26, 7/3, and 7/10). Registration is open. Cost $40. Classes left in the current sesson are: 5/29, and 6/5. There will be subsequent sessions, so please reach out if you’re interested. Join from anywhere in the comfort of your own home.

Virtual Mindful Chair Yoga and Meditation  – Tuesday mornings at 10:00 a.m. beginning 5/19 (includes 5/19, 5/26, 6/2, 6/9, and 6/16) Cost: $40.
 There will be subsequent sessions so please reach out if you’re interested. Anyone who lives anywhere can join from the comfort of home and even in PJs!

For a limited time, I am offering a free virtual Yoga Nidra and Meditation experience. Gather your props in advance: mat, cushion, blanket/s, pillow/s. Meet me in cyberspace!

~Virtual Yoga Nidra (Deep, Profound Relaxation) and Meditation – Tuesday evenings 7:30-8:15 p.m. This can be practiced reclining or seated. Yoga nidra takes the student on a journey within connecting the mind/body through a series of steps to a quieter place for meditation. Ongoing until further notice.Register for Yoga Nidra/Meditation with this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/v5Akde-ppzsid3XXbWe7mZw1DtClCDlp8Q

Immunity Nutrients

By Guest Blogger – Nicole Printon

Our immune systems need to be fully functional at all times, particularly during a global pandemic.  Lifestyle habits are essential: regular exercise (active and passive, for balance), good sleep habits (regular bed time-before 10 pm for melatonin/cortisol ratios), and daily self care.  Good nutrition is key.

Incorporate these specific nutrients to boost immune function:

Vitamin A – plays a regulatory role in immune responses 
Foods rich in vitamin A: carrots, sweet potatoes, iceberg lettuce, king mackerel, salmon, goat cheese, cheddar cheese, hard boiled eggs

Vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant, squelching free radicals in the body that cause chronic inflammation.  Recent research suggests C protects against bacteria linked to ulcers and stomach cancer.  C supports cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system
Foods Rich in Vitamin C: cantaloupe, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, tomatoes

Vitamin D – Research has shown that people with adequate D levels get sick less often.  For adequate amounts of Vitamin D, consuming foods rich in D is NOT enough.  Daily exposure to sunlight – sunscreen free; about 15 minutes daily is critical.
Foods rich in Vitamin D: salmon, sardines, egg yolk, shrimp, fortified milk (drink whole milk), yogurt (full fat)

Vitamin E – a powerful antioxidant, protects cell membranes from oxidation and combats free radicals in the body.  Supplementing Vitamin E is NOT necessary unless you have been diagnosed with a true deficiency.
Foods rich in Vitamin  E: spinach, almonds, sweet potatoes, pine nuts, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado, peanuts, butternut squash, olive oil, wheat germ

Zinc – critical for development and function of immune cells and accelerates wound healing.  Plays a critical role in collagen synthesis, immune function, and inflammatory response.  Zinc is an essential player in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
Foods rich in Zinc: oysters, beef, oatmeal, mushrooms, chicken, hemp seeds, lentils, seeds, yogurt

Guest Blogger Nicole Printon holds certifications through WITs (personal training), ACE (Certified Health Coach with Behavior Change Specialty, and Group Fitness), and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Holistic Nutrition Therapy through Nutrition Therapy Institute.  She is completing her first 200 hour yoga teacher training mid May. She truly believes that fitness is the gateway to confidence, personal growth, and endless possibilities to live our most vibrant optimal lives. Nicole resides in Franklin Park with her 4 kids, 3 cats, and husband.

www.nicoleprinton.com

What is Your Dharma?

There are many interpretations of the meaning of the word, Dharma. For this purpose, we’ll call it truth. What do you hear when your thoughts become silent? What visions do you see? Have you come to the full realization of your true gifts?

We all have these labels: Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Wife, Husband…but what is left when these labels fade away? What IS your true essence? Your destiny. You may be searching. But the answer isn’t very far away. Just listen.

It’s possible I was born a yogi. Or, maybe it was a past life? When I was about 12 years old, I wrote this poem. Questioning, seeking…

Am I Really Here?

A figment of reality.

A belief within the mind.

A true to life suggestion,

that truth is really blind.

A plan of people living,

a sight that isn’t seen.

My life I see before me.

Am I really here?