I don't get sick very often, but when I do I usually fight back instead of letting the illness do its thing. I get angry at my body for “letting me down.” I tend to ignore the symptoms, deny my exhaustion, and plough through in order to be productive.
Getting sick is normal but in my refusal to admit I’m human, I aggravate my nervous system by fighting it instead of truly listening.
The Vagus Nerve plays a crucial role in healing, and it can do its job best when we pay attention to it. When we’re sick, it’s one of our gateways back to health, both physically and emotionally. It has an intricate connection to our nervous system, which can calm us down or rev us up.
When I’m fighting my body's natural signals, I’m actually stimulating the opposite effect necessary for healing.
It’s like I’m playing for the other team—against myself.
Not only do I fight being sick, but deep down I know my resistance doesn’t help—so I’m also fighting the fact that I’m fighting!
By denying my need to sleep, rest, and move slowly, I thwart the healing potential of my vagus nerve. I diminish its capacity for renewal in alignment with my nervous system.
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that branches out through the body. It’s often called the “wandering nerve” because of the vast area it covers. It causes physiological changes such as lowering heart rate and calming breathing.
When life is stressful and busy, the sympathetic nervous system allows our body to cope and meet life’s demands by increasing our heart rate, raising our blood pressure, dilating the lungs, and preparing us to take action.
As a counter balance, the parasympathetic nervous system—via the vagus nerve—decreases our heart rate, lowers our blood pressure, and allows the body's energy to focus upon digestion, elimination, and healing.
When we fight being sick we actually send a signal to our body to “fight” and kick things up a notch. This is counter-productive and actually decreases our body’s ability to heal. When we stop fighting, we allow our nervous system to do what it does best—processing and moving the illness through.
Via the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve releases neurotransmitters to lower heart rate, regulate blood pressure, and protect against systemic inflammation.
Whether we get sick or not, those of us who lead busy and stress-filled lives can work with our vagus nerve—we can play for our own team! We can find effective ways to reduce pressure on a daily basis. When we do get sick, our body will be used to doing what it needs to do.
Regular doses of relaxation stimulate the natural healing processes of the vagus nerve and allow us to meet the demands of our lives with more energy, vitality, and grace.
Here are Six Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve:
1. Get a massage or practice self-massage. Physical touch stimulates pressure receptors on the skin that signal the brain and increase vagus nerve activity.
2. Practice relaxing with an eye pillow. Our brow area or “third eye” is a reflex point for the vagus nerve. Applying gentle pressure stimulates the response of the vagus nerve, creating a cascading effect throughout the physical body.
3. Lightly touch the third eye, lightly focus on that area in meditation, or give the third eye a gentle massage. This works on the same principle as #2.
4. Eliminate or decrease your intake of caffeine—sometimes easier said than done! Caffeine is an artificial stimulant that revs up the nervous system and produces a similar effect as though you are stressed and needing to take action.
5. Meditate. The stillness of meditation offers the vagus nerve a helping hand in calming our breathing and regulating our heart rate so the body can release built up stress.
6. Practice Restorative Yoga. Restorative yoga accesses the parasympathetic nervous system by creating a safe place for the mind and body to release. When we come to a quiet place, slow down and move consciously, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Through conscious surrender we release what isn't necessary and let go of accumulated stress and tension.
When it comes to my health, I’ve decided no more playing for the other team.
A few weeks ago I got a terrible cold and had to cancel some work. Normally this would have irritated me and created even more stress in my body.
But this time was different. I accepted what my body was telling me—it wanted to slow down and rest. Much to my surprise, I was able to take time to sleep, practice restorative yoga, and relax into the sensations of the cold moving through me and cleansing my body.
I was aware of my symptoms and took steps to mitigate them through rest, hydration, and slow movement.
Are you a rookie like me, learning to play for your own team?
What do you do when you’re sick and missing your regular routine? I'd love to hear from you, in the comments below!
In love and light,