Viva the Vagus

So, dear skeptic, you don’t see auras, and when people start talking about chi and chakras the hair on the back of your neck rises. We could suggest you mediate on your various chakras and send energy to those turning wheels of chi, but the thought might stimulate your gag reflex, and the mere mention of Shirley MacLaine might make you go weak in the knees. Don’t worry. You don’t have to miss out on the good stuff. Do you believe in the brain and the nervous system? Do you have glands? Would you like them to work together more harmoniously?

It is easily demonstrable that thought creates responses in the nervous system and the glands to which it is connected. If you vividly imagine eating a lemon with all its tingling tartness, you may well start to salivate. Your salivary glands activate in response to thought. If you think erotic thoughts, your glands will begin to prepare you for action as if your fantasy were real. If you read a horror story, or just watch TV news, your adrenal glands will likely prepare you for disaster by activating the fight or flight response.

So if we entertain thoughts and images of health and well-being, we can expect that our parasympathetic nervous system, which is in control of the relaxation response, will give the all clear signal and our glands and organs will do what they do when life is good.

Neuroscientists have had some success treating severe depression with vagus nerve stimulation . An electronic device is surgically implanted in the chest and wires are directed to the vagus nerve. By electrically stimulating that nerve, researchers have been able to alter the action of the limbic system, which is the emotional part of the brain that is impaired when a person is severely depressed. That this radical procedure might work suggests there could be other ways we might use this neural system.

The vagus nerve connects the limbic system with the larynx, diaphragm, stomach, heart and the ear and tongue. As part of the parasympathetic nervous system, its functions include returning the system to a relaxed, functioning state when danger is past. It carries the signals that deactivate the fight or flight response.

Neural pathways are typically two-way streets. When your brain is in happy mode, it tells your face to smile. When your face smiles, it tells your brain that you might be happy, so it should start releasing neurochemicals that are used in happy experiences. Smile and your hypothalamus smiles with you.

So here is the experiment. See what happens to your body/mind/emotions when you direct pleasant imagery to the organs that connect to your brain via the vagus nerve. Now we could mention that the organ systems in question correlate closely with the major chakras, but we won’t, so we don’t scare anybody off.

Sit or lie quietly in a position that allows your vagus nerve to rest unkinked as it stretches from the lower middle of your brain down past your ears and the back of your tongue, your throat, down the center of your neck to your larynx and esophagus, connecting your heart and lungs, diaphragm and stomach, liver, and your upper and lower digestive tract.

We want all systems to work harmoniously, so relax your muscles and release any tension that might squeeze those organs and nerve fibers unnecessarily. Create thoughts that all is well along this long bundle of nerve fibers. Recognize that the cells of this system communicate both ways. Your brain sends signals to the organs and the organs send signals back. Communication is easy and fluid. Imagine you can sense the subtle hum of neural activity on this important pathway.

Let's focus attention at the middle of your head. Your brain is an unimaginably complex bundle of neural and glandular activity. The structures of your limbic system will tell you whether to sleep or become alert, to get up and run away or slow down and finish digesting your meal. They tell you whether you are in stark terror or falling in love. Let’s suggest to this part of your brain that more of the love stuff would be nice. We want you to have thoughts and feelings of goodness, love, peace and joy. Suggest to your emotional centers that there is a new deal from now on: Less anger and fear, more love and joy.

Visualize the activity in these busy bundles of nerve cells as light glowing from every cell---nice, happy, healthy nerve cells touching and talking to every part of your body. Let your awareness of the glow spread.

Follow this glowing light down through your head and neck as it reaches your faculties of hearing and taste. Allow it to swirl and envelop the area of your throat where you form the sounds to speak your truth, where you draw air to your lungs and swallow your food and drink. This important place of interface between you and the outside world deserves your attention. Accept the power of our voice and acknowledge what a great service your throat does in sending air, water and food to the right places. Send some of your light to your thyroid gland, and wish it good health and success in it’s many important tasks.

The vagus nerve helps modulate your heartbeat, so let’s direct your attention to the beating of your heart. With your mind, see in the area of your heart a globe of pure bright light. The light surrounds your heart and fills it. Every cell of your heart fills with this light of health and healing Let that glowing orb pulse with your heart.

Remind your heart that all is well right now and there is no need to race. Invite your heart to the rhythm of peacefulness. Direct calm and peaceful thoughts to it. Peace is here. Thank your heart for its good work and unfailing persistence. Explore the light and see what emotions might be there. Stay with the light of your heart for as long as you like.

Follow the glow to your diaphragm, the area below your heart and lungs and above your abdominal cavity. Remind your diaphragm that this is a moment of peace and safety. It is time for it to relax. As your diaphragm relaxes, your breathing will grow deeper and your belly will rise and fall with each breath.

Follow the glowing light to your lungs. Filled with oxygen and blood and connected directly to your emotional centers via the vagus nerve, your lungs respond to feelings and thoughts. Your breathing though is subject to conscious control, and when you slow it and deepen it, your mind recognizes that all is well and relaxation may resume.

The light is growing: filling your lungs and heart and glowing up and down the pathway to your brain. Enjoy your awareness of body activities that usually work in the shadows of consciousness.

Tracing the neural activity farther along the vagus nerve direct your attention to the major intersection of nerves that is your solar plexus. Solar refers to the sun, so take this hint and visualize the glowing orb of the sun here in the center of your being. As spring sunlight brings new life to a dormant winter earth, your mental sunlight brings wellness to your earthly body.

Shine your light farther along to include your adrenal glands at the top of your kidneys and flood the light through out your abdomen bringing peace and wellness to the digestive organs.

Shine the light finally to the area of your bladder, rectum and reproductive organs. Release any shame thoughts and honor the connection between this area and your brain. Like a flower that opens and closes with the rising and setting of the sun, your lower organs hold and release in a natural rhythm in harmony with the needs of the greater system. Invite peace and comfort to this essential area of your body. Invite the many nerves of your sacral region to flow unimpeded by tension or unnecessary restraint.

See in your mind the column of light that now glows from the base of your spine to the top of your head. Feel the life energy in every organ system. No longer separate organs getting by on their own; see and appreciate the connections, the intelligent system that supports your life.

MindBody glows like a million stars.
Choosing light and peace in our MindBody,
Wellness and harmony is the result.
Calm and enlightened inside,
We carry peace and kindness to the world.

Back to the Interlude Home Page


© 2003 Tom Barrett