The vagus nerve, one of the 12 cranial nerves, connects the brain to the abdomen and acts as a pathway for mood-boosting neurotransmitters. It may also be an underlying factor in conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and mood disorders (depression/anxiety/PTSD). The vagus nerve has been shown to regulate inflammation in the body. It is becoming the focus of therapeutic treatments that address GI and psychiatric disorders.
Disruption to gut flora (from dietary and medication factors, especially antibiotics) and low vagal nerve function may increase pain and anxiety in addition to inflammation. There are methods for bringing relief to the mind/body while stimulating the nerve and increasing vagal tone: acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage combine well to reinforce each treatment; yoga and gentle exercise; chanting and singing, meditation, and belly breathing.
Belly breathing activates the diaphragm and increases vagus nerve activity, resulting in lowered heart rate and a switch to a state of "rest and digest." Relaxation occurs quickly, releasing the mind/body from stress and anxiety.
The vagus nerve, one of the the cranial nerves and the longest autonomic nerve in the body, connects the brain to the digestive system. It is a pathway for neurotransmitters, and according to research, helps regulate inflammation in the body. Issues with vagal "tone" -- that is a low level of activity/function -- may contribute to conditions such as IBS, depression/anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Disruption of gut flora (dietary factors and meds (antibiotics) can have an impact on physical and mental health. The brain-gut axis is being targeted in therapeutic approaches to treating mood and gastrointestinal disorders.
There are several ways to strengthen the function and increase the activity of the vagus nerve, such as receiving acupuncture, massage and chiropractic care. I like to reinforce my treatments by suggesting patients to combine these modalities. Other techniques are gentle yoga and exercise, chanting and meditation, laughing, singing and belly breathing. Belly breathing utilizes the diaphragm, and by expanding the diaphragm, the vagus nerve is stimulated. The results: lowered heart rate, a gentle massage of the digestive organs, and a quick switch of the mind/body into relaxation quickly (especially good in times of stress/anxiety).
The cooler weather of fall is here, and patients with colds, allergies and sinus problems are seeking relief with acupuncture right now. If you are not properly protected clothing-wise (still wearing shorts/sandals?), or are worn down by continual stress, then the seasonal shift in temperatures and weather patterns may catch your immune system by surprise.
The lungs are associated with fall; any deficiencies with respect to lung function will be amplified during this season. In Chinese medicine, the lungs are the first level of protection for the body, as the lungs open into the nose and are associated with the skin, our barrier to the outside world. This is the time to strengthen the lungs to address sinus problems, excess mucous or dryness of mucous membranes, recurrence of colds, bronchial issues, or skin issues.
According to Chinese medical theory, fall is the time for turning inward and consolidating energy for the winter months. What does that mean for daily life practices? Discontinue eating raw vegetables and salads and drinking cold smoothies. for starters. These are foods that are beneficial in summer time; they are refreshing and help cool the body. But in the autumn months, taking in these foods will dampen the digestive fire and create feelings of cold. It's also important to counteract the dryness of wind and indoor heating by eating foods that promote and astringe body fluids. Foods with sour flavors (olives, pickles, leeks, vinegar, cheese, yogurt, citrus, apples) and moistening qualities (spinach, barley, mushrooms, nuts, eggs, dairy products, milk, honey) are emphasized now.
Incorporating strength training into daily life can make a difference in how bone is built and maintained. People who are sedentary, either because of work or by choice, will start losing muscle mass as early as age 25. Strength exercises and routines can combat this loss and help with movement and balance. Avoiding injury is key!!!
If you are recovering from an injury involving soft tissue damage, or when muscle imbalances occur, strength training is not recommended. Best to let the injury heal fully before launching into a rigorous exercise or strength training program. When there is a muscle imbalance (usually one side of the body has muscles that are overdeveloped/hypertonic), retraining of muscles, not a general strengthening, should be considered. Strength training will only tighten muscles that are already in a shortened and tight position.
Kids/teens: activities, not workouts, will help establish a preference for physical movement and develop muscles.
Late teens/20s: Mix high impact workouts with lower-impact activities for a varied routine that won’t over strain joints, ligaments or muscles.
30s and 40s: Maintain muscular strength and bone density without pushing hard in competitive sports and risking injury (healing takes longer). Incorporate workouts for balance and mobility, such as yoga, pilates or gyrotnics.
Late 40s/50s: Strength training 2-3 times/week, interval training, and stretching.
60+: body-weight or light resistance strength workouts, low impact aerobics.
(Source: "Strength for Life," Spring 2015 Natural Choices Magazine)
A very basic but fundamental concept of Chinese medicine is the relationship between Yin and Yang, two opposing but complementary forces of the universe. Nature (including us humans) express this relationship. Day (yang) becomes night (yin), seasons change, and the cycle (and circle) continues throughout our lifetimes. There is a point at which something has reached ultimate yin or yang, and then it transforms into something else -- its opposite.
The only thing that's constant is change, yet we try desperately to hold on to what we know and love and feel comfortable with. Every moment we are being transformed by what we experience on a physical, mental and emotional level. We go back and forth between states of yin and yang, darkness and light, illness and health, peace and suffering.
The goal of Chinese medicine is to balance the disharmony that is taking place within a patient's body or mind and to bring about change and healing. A patient may experience a profound transformation during a 40-minute treatment, or it may take several months to experience subtle shifts. It is a process that is very different for every patient, and it may take more than one acupuncture session or a single course of herbs.
Transformation occurs all the time over the course of a life time. It never stops. Transformation is at the core of a Chinese medical practitioner's strategy. Which is why Chinese medicine can work for many conditions, at any stage of life.