I didn’t see it. I was hauling down the backside of Olde Stage for the 100th time, and I still didn’t see it. A large gouge in the asphalt jarred my whole body, causing my phone to fly out of my Bento box and land with a splat – shattered to smithereens in a split second. “That could have been my head” was all I could think.
The following Sunday, new phone tucked securely in my jersey, I headed down the same road and immediately – gouge in the road nowhere in sight -my wheels started wobbling. As I picked up speed, the wobble increased until I was sure I’d crash. A near miss – this time – and the image of my shattered phone came up.
What was going on?? I’d been down steeper roads without any wobble at all, so it wasn’t my wheels. No, it was my nervous system going on high alert. It happens anytime you sense danger and try to protect yourself. For me, the part of the brain that coordinates and regulates muscular activity went bonkers. Former riding pros told me this wobble is not uncommon when inexperienced riders get in dangerous situations.
The next week, I wanted to just avoid that road, but I also knew I had to figure it out. And I did. The next time I started down the steep descent, I started OHMMing. With each exhale, I made the ohm sound. That ohm sound changed everything. No shaking, no tension, no crashes.
Without knowing it, I was activating the Parasympathetic nervous system and stimulating the Vagus nerve. And that was helping my body stay calm in the face of danger. Ohm-mazing.
Our bodies and minds have different states of alertness. Studying for an exam or slamming on the brakes to avoid a crash activates the Sympathetic nervous system. We automatically become stimulated by some perceived threat or danger – and that helps us increase focus and react quickly. It helps keep us safe. Once the danger is over, or crisis averted, it’s important to return to a calm steady state. This is called self-regulation and is an important function of our nervous system. Perceived threats can be small things, like getting stuck in traffic when you’re late for work, or worrying about lifting a box because that was how you hurt your back before. We experience small, unpleasant stimuli every day, but too many of us aren’t able to self-regulate.
When a nervous system is activated frequently, we never completely recover. This can happen if we have experienced a lot of adversity in our early lives or frequent, low level stressors every day. A persistent “danger” state increases inflammation, makes breathing rapid and shallow, gives us sluggish or overactive intestines, and makes us more sensitive to pain. These changes can be helpful in the short term to “fight or flee” from a stressor, but if they continue long term it’s a problem.
Activating the Vagus nerve can do wonders for you. It facilitates rest, digest and repair. Your intestines move more (a good thing), inflammation goes down, sleep gets better and calm prevails.
Check out our “go to” exercises proven to increase Vagus nerve activation:
Fill up a cup of water and take a moderate sip. Leaning the head back, vigorously gargle the water for as long as possible. Once out of air, swallow the water and repeat until the glass is empty. Do 1-2 cups of water per day.
Pursed Lip Breathing:
Inhale through the nose, and exhale gently but intentionally through pursed lips for as long as possible without straining. Then pause for 3 seconds before inhaling again. Do: 3-5 minutes 1-2 times per day.
Take a normal sized inhale through your nose, then exhale and hum at a frequency that vibrates the throat, chest, and maybe even the abdomen. Go as long as possible without straining, then breathe back in through the nose and repeat. Continue this for 2-5 minutes. Perform this exercise 2x/day. Great places to do this are in the car or in the shower.
Gently place the palms over the orbits of the face, without actually pressing on the eyes themselves. The eyelids should be closed. Notice the darkest areas of your visual space and let the eyes settle into orbits. Do: 5 minutes 2-3 times per day.
So if pain has taken charge, tension is your middle name, your back muscles have a vice grip on your spine, or your stomach is tied in knots, these exercises are for you. And there’s more you can do. Call today – we can help you turn things around!