**This is an Ongoing List and Will Be Updated Monthly**
Shifting Sympathetic Tone: Vagal Massage
Being able to shift from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest, digest, social engagement) is a key component of resiliency. One way to help facilitate this shift in your body is through vagal massage.
The vagus nerve is a powerhouse connecting your mind and body in a plethora of profound ways. Your vagus nerve is the tenth pair of cranial nerves, supplying the heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen while also having two major pathways through the brain. It is responsible for regulating internal organ function, and it makes up a large component of your “rest and digest” response. Stimulating your vagus nerve increases your vagal tone, shifting your body out of a sympathetic nervous response and activating the relaxation response.
Nicole LePera talks about Vagus Activation using two points in the ear as access points. You can learn more about here technique here. Dr. Arielle Schwartz leads a 9 minute Vagus Nerve Yoga session here, where she guides you through various ways to massage your face in a way that access the vagus nerve.
Learning that we can consciously activate our vagus nerve to help calm our bodies is powerful, remembering that we have this tool and using it are the next steps.
Neurohealth for Immune Support
Our Immune System is an interconnected network, interfacing with every element of our physiology to keep us well and whole. Supporting our immune systems with a NeuroHealth approach is wise indeed!
Movement: Moving our bodies increases blood and lymph flow, helping our bodies mobilize our immune response to sickness. Move your body & use your muscles to support immune function.
Mindfulness: Stress suppresses the immune system. You can support your immune system by engaging in practices such as meditation and learning how your nervous system works, therefore understanding how to increase “your relaxation response.”
Sleep: Our bodies repair themselves, fight infection, and work to keep us healthy when we sleep. When we don’t sleep enough, we throw the whole system out of whack. Prioritizing sleep is vital for supporting our immune system.
Nutrition: Poorly nourished people are at greater risk for infection. Eating a plethora of fruits and vegetables provides your body with antioxidants and abundant phytochemicals, giving our bodies and immune systems robust tools to deal with sickness. Eat well to feel well.
Breathe Through Your Nose
So much of a healing journey is about returning to the basics, one such fundamental is breathing. James Nestor’s book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art revitalizes the discussion about breathing and why it is so important. Simply put, healthy breathing isn’t something we are inherently good at. Many of us breathe through our mouths, which contributes to us to being chronically stressed and exhausted. Mouth breathing dehydrates us, gives our teeth cavities, inflames our gums, and perpetuates jaw misalignment.
On the other hand, breathing through our nose purifies, heats, moistens, and pressurizes the air. This helps filter allergens and dust, boosts our oxygen uptake, lowers our blood pressure, helps maintain a steady heart rate, and even helps with memory consolidation. Nestor encourages us to breathe through our nose and to also occasionally hum with the exhale or make a noise in the back of our throat when nasal breathing.
The way we breathe has profound effects on every aspect of our body. Learning to breathe through our nose is a small and powerful homecoming for health, promoting wellbeing from the foundation of our respiration.
Integrate comes from the Latin integrare, which means to make whole. The question, and invitation, with integration work is how do you make the work and your life your own? How do you make the books you read, the appointments you have, the classes you take, yours? What do you do to belong to yourself? How do you take the knowledge, insight and information you come across day to day and make it something you can access, remember, and live? How do you take something important and let it sink into your skin to the point where you live from it? How do you live inside your life instead of just architect it?
Integration work is taking the time to figure out what practices you need to do to take what you are learning and embody it. Integration work can look like annotating, indexing, and researching the books you read. When you read, sticky note, underline, and take notes – do what you need to do to make the words in the book accessible in your life. Integration work can look like voice memos, phone calls with friends, therapy sessions. It is whatever you do to synthesize the inputs you receive into a meaningful, embodied life. When you learn how to make your life yours, you learn deeply about what wellness is for you. What do you do to make your life whole?
Practice Anti-Inflammatory Eating
Inflammation is part of the body’s healing response; when it becomes chronic inflammation, it becomes a problem. Chronic inflammation is when your inflammation response lingers, causing your body to remain swollen, red, and painful for extended periods of time. This state has been shown to be a cause of many major illnesses and is linked to many modern lifestyle practices.
Smoking, stress, toxicants, and certain foods have been shown to increase inflammation in the body. Every body responds differently to different habits, and accordingly, decreasing inflammation in the body is person specific. If you are looking to decrease inflammation in your body, a good place to start is with you diet. Making different choices about the food we consume is a powerful way to arrive in different states of wellbeing.
Dr. Andrew Weil has developed The Anti-Inflammatory Diet to help people decrease inflammation through the foods they eat. You can learn more about the specifics of the diet & anti-inflammatory mindset in our article “The AntiInflammatory Diet.”
Every human being needs to be able to feel safe in their bodies, their environments, and their relationships to be well. Safety requires boundaries. A lack of clear boundaries leads to resentment, misunderstanding, and anxiety, making it incredibly challenging (or impossible) to feel safe. Brené Brown defines boundaries simply as what is okay and what is not okay. When you set boundaries, you protect your time, space, body, and security.
A boundary can be anything you need it to be, it just requires that you are extremely clear with yourself and others about what is okay and what is not okay. Setting boundaries is a hard skill to learn and undoubtedly comes with discomfort. Give yourself grace as you learn this skill. You learn to set boundaries by recognizing what you need to feel safe and then sharing those insights in every area of your life.
When you set boundaries, you make space for more generosity, integrity, and flourishing in your life. To learn more about boundaries, how to set them, and why they matter you can read more here.
You can’t change what you can’t measure – how would you know it changed? Having the data to understand where you are at means you are able to move to where you want to be with a grounded understanding.
Keeping track of your conscious habits can be as low tech or as high tech as you would like. You can keep track of your nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, and exercise using or a journal or an app. Tracking nutrition can look like keeping track of nutritional content and intake, meal times, caffeine intake etc. You can use a meal journal or apps such as EatWise or Nutrition Lookup. For exercise you can use a Fitbit, Apple Watch, Whoop Band or other wearable device to track your heart rate. Wearables are also great for collecting sleep data. You can also ask us about our home sleep study technology. Track mindfulness habits in a journal or use a meditation app such as Headspace or Calm.
The relevance of habit tracking for wellness is that it allows you to build a data driven, researched understanding of your body, specific to you and your life and tailor your wellness practices from there.
Grounding for Balance
In electricity, grounding is the process of a charge returning to the ground to achieve neutrality. In other words, it is the idea that power seeks the earth for balance. Humans are complex electrical and chemical systems, and we too seek the ground for balance.
This month we invite you to implement a grounding practice in your life. Grounding practices are diverse and meant to help bring you back to the present moment especially during moments of anxiety. The goal is to connect you to the larger world around you to cultivate steadiness and composure. You can find a list of grounding practices here. One of our favorites is to feel your feet connecting with the earth – even better if you can get your toes into the dirt or grass.
Grounding allows you to be a conduit, to allow the energies and emotions you experience throughout your day to flow through you instead of becoming absorbed by you. You are of this earth; let the ground you live upon be a resource that can both bring you out of yourself and also back to yourself.
For more discussion and resources, you can read this article on Chopra.com.
One of the best ways to help balance your nervous system and manage stress and anxiety is to connect with your breath. A simple technique to get you started is square/box breathing. To do this practice all you need is yourself and a couple moments to focus on breathing. Here’s how it works:
Start to notice how you are breathing. Slowly exhale what you have been holding. When you are ready, start inhaling through your nose and count to four. At the top of your breath, hold you inhale for another four count then slowly exhale out your mouth and count to four. At the bottom of your exhale, hold again for another four count. Repeat this cycle for as long as you need to help you calm down and ground. It helps to feel your feet on the floor. You are also invited to add variation to breathing in/out of your nose and your mouth. Try breathing in your mouth and out your nose, or in and out of your nose.
Here’s a link to five minutes of guided square breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJJazKtH_9I