When we ignore our body’s wisdom, and its innate ability to heal itself, we experience stress. Stress in the body sends a message to the brain that something is wrong, releasing stress hormones into the body. This is a normal response, and not a bad thing, unless it’s an everyday occurrence, in which case it’s called chronic stress. And chronic stress causes inflammation, which is at the root of many illnesses.
When stress levels are reduced in the body, so is inflammation. Your body is naturally more resilient to illness and your mind less prone to anxiety and depression.
So how can we reduce stress? By tapping into the body’s wisdom, the all-knowing nervous system, we can balance all aspects of our being: mind, body, and spirit.
Meditation and yoga are two ways we can work toward integrating mind, body, and spirit, and the reason they work is because of the breath. When we breathe deeply, as in the full yogic breath, the body responds by releasing tension, and the mind relaxes. The nervous system calms down.
What’s happening here, specifically, is directly related to the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve running from the brain to the gut, a two-way informational highway branching out along the spine and interacting with major organs until it ends around the area of the second chakra.
The vagus nerve is nicknamed the wanderer because it wanders into so many areas of the body. This wandering nerve gathers information from the body and sends it to the brain. When the body is under stress, it sends the brain a message that something is wrong. But when the body is at ease, it sends a message to the brain that all is well. Relaxing the body through gentle movement, stretching and breathwork, helps us turn off the alarm bells in the brain.
From an energy medicine point of view, this understanding of how the nervous system influences overall health is exciting because this major nerve runs along the same pathway as the primary energy centers; hence, breathing exercises automatically reset our subtle energy body. Likewise, as we work with our energy centers, and their particular God aspects, as explained in my book, The Eight Aspects of God: A Pathway to Bliss, we simultaneously calm an overactive nervous system. This understanding also explains those “gut feelings” that we can’t quite describe but we’ve all experienced. Think of your vagus nerve as your body’s intuition.
By working with your vagus nerve, a physical and tangible part of your anatomy, by way of intentional breathing, you are harnessing your natural ability to heal. Tapping into this energetic highway revitalizes your body and mind while empowering your spirit. And it starts with your breath.
Let’s try it:
If it’s comfortable, sit upright in a chair. Place your feet flat on the ground, hands resting on your lap. Close your eyes for a bit of regular breathing to get settled.
Once settled, begin breathing with intention. Imagine the breath as intelligent and able to travel anywhere in your body. See the breath moving up and down your spine—up on the inhale, down on the exhale. Now, imagine the breath moving along the spine but then branching out and reaching into the smallest crevices throughout your body. Let the breath flow. Let it pause and gather. Rest and relax.
It’s important to note that deep breathing should be easy, quiet and relaxed using the nose, mouth closed.
After ten minutes of practice, sit in silence. Then ask for any wisdom to come forth. Contemplate any messages from your body. Honor what’s being communicated to you with compassion, love, and understanding. Journal a few pages about what comes.
Note: this article was originally published on Contemplative Journal, 2016. The platform no longer exists, so I wanted to share it here. I made a couple of revisions for clarity.