HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR VAGAL TONE | 9 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve

Did you ever wonder how you can consciously tap into the power of your vagus nerve to trigger your sense of inner calm and reduce inflammation in your body?  The vagus nerve is also referred to as the “wandering nerve” in Latin because it begins in the brainstem and it has multiple branches to the heart, viscera, and many other organs. It is one of the longest nerves in the body and it is 80 percent of our parasympathetic nervous system, also referred to as our ‘rest and digest’ system. In 1921 a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that when you stimulate the vagus nerve it triggers the release of acetylcholine. Why is that important? Acetylcholine is like a tranquilizer that we have the power to tap into at any point through slow, long, deep breaths. When we have a high vagal tone or healthy vagal tone that is indicative that when you inhale, you have a slight increase in your heartbeat, and when you exhale, you have a slight decrease in your heartbeat. It is also associated with better physical and mental well-being. Conversely, if you have a low vagal tone, this is associated with inflammation, heart disease, stroke, poor psychological well-being, and much more.

Now let’s get into nine different ways that you can stimulate your vagus nerve to improve your vagal tone.

1) Cold exposure: Research shows that acute cold exposure will activate the cholinergic neurons that are part of the vagus nerve pathways, and it stimulates the vagus nerve. Cold showers are the easiest way to integrate this into your life. At the end of your shower, lower the temperature for 30 seconds of cold water and aim to do that consistently over time. That will,  in turn, decrease your fight or flight or your sympathetic pathways.

2) Deep, slow breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing, that is. You’ll want to make sure that as you’re inhaling, you’re getting full expansion of your abdomen 360 degrees. The key is a slow breath with a long exhale. You could start with a tempo of three seconds in and three seconds out. Over time, you want to begin to lengthen your exhalation as well as your inhalation. As you progress with your breath practice, the slower the exhale the more you will stimulate the vagus nerve and also create that relaxation response that we’re seeking. Especially in times of stress and anxiety, this should be a go-to. For some that have experienced trauma, however, this may not always be a safe place.

3) Chanting, singing, humming, and gargling: These are great ways to stimulate the vagus nerve because the muscles of the vocal cords are connected to the vagus nerve. This is a great way to improve vagal tone and increase heart rate variability, which is a sign of a healthy nervous system.

4) Probiotics: There are two specific strains, lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium,  that are directly related to the gut-brain connection as it relates to mood, anxiety, and depression. This is directly linked to the vagus nerve as well. It has been shown that by taking probiotics, you can improve the vagal tone and stimulation.

5) Meditation: This is a great way to improve vagal tone, decrease your stress response, and improve your mindfulness awareness over time. Register here for free weekly mindfulness sessions.

6) Omega-3’s: This comes from your fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, etc. These are great foods that can help with improving vagal tone, overall mental health, and cognitive decline if there is any. Make sure to eat your fatty fish regularly to ensure you’ve got the appropriate amount of omega-3’s.

7) Massage: Make sure you get regular massage, or perform self-massage, to enhance the vagal activity and improve vagal tone. Things like foot reflexology is a great way to stimulate the vagus nerve. At the minimum, make sure to get your regular massage.

8) Exercise: Movement is such a powerful way to improve your vagal tone, to be more connected, and to enhance your sense of happiness. Making exercise and activities that you enjoy a big part of your life will help to improve your vagal tone and overall happiness.

9) Socializing and laughing: It’s such a great way to improve mood and enhance overall well-being. That of course is happening by enhancing the vagal activity and once again improving overall vagal tone. Make sure that despite the current circumstances in the world, you’re able to connect with people, socialize and laugh, and enjoy life as much as possible.

So there you have it, nine different ways that you can improve your vagal tone to make sure that you’re more connected to the world, you’re enhancing your physical and mental well-being, and you’re living life to the fullest.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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IS YOUR IBS ACTUALLY SIBO?

Have you been experiencing abdominal symptoms? Bloating? Cramping? Indigestion? Abdominal pain? Or maybe you are experiencing anxiety and depression? If so, you should know about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and how it is most often under-diagnosed as a source of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many individuals have a diagnosis of IBS that they have been given at some point in their lives by a doctor and they are just trying to manage it on their own with no real solution to addressing the root cause. In most cases, IBS is in fact SIBO.  SIBO is a serious condition affecting the small intestine and happens when bacteria that normally grow in other parts of the gut, grow in the small intestine.  When you are diagnosed with IBS it’s really important to make sure that you get the proper testing and determine if this is one of your root causes. Let’s now talk about how you can tell if your IBS is actually SIBO.

Symptoms:

If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, bloating, digestive issues, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, overall puffiness and discomfort around the abdomen, and even such symptoms as heartburn and acid reflux, it’s really important to get properly evaluated.

Testing:

You will have a breath test, which will determine if you have methane or hydrogen gas in your gut. The breath test will be over a series of a few hours.  After you ingest lactulose, depending on how it ferments in your gut, will determine what type of gas is produced and this will indicate whether or not you have SIBO.

Treatment:

If you have a diagnosis of SIBO or IBS, and you’re in the process of trying to determine how you can feel better, it’s highly recommended to go on a low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, and polyols) diet.  These are hard to digest fibers and sugars, and therefore do not pass through the small intestine well. In the colon, the high FODMAP foods will ferment and cause gas, and in the small intestine, they will pull water causing bloating and stretch in the intestinal area.

The first part of the low FODMAP plan a complete elimination of any moderate to high FODMAP foods. After the elimination phase, which can be anywhere from two to six weeks, then you can begin a reintroduction. You would reintroduce one FODMAP food at a time and see how your body tolerates it. After you’ve done that you can personalize your plan, and determine what foods are aggravating you and contributing to some kind of bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, etc. The first goal of the program is to decrease inflammation and symptoms and try to settle your system down. Once you do that, you can begin to transition into a personalization of the food plan.

After you’ve determined you may have SIBO and you have initiated a low FODMAP plan, you want to follow a 5R protocol for restoration. So, that would be removing the inflammatory triggers, replacing the digestive enzymes, reinoculating with good bacteria, replacing any nutrients that you may be deficient in, and also rebalancing your lifestyle factors. After you have worked through a 5R protocol, there is a chance that you may need to take an antibiotic, whether that’s herbal or conventional. The research shows that both an herbal or conventional antibiotic can be equally effective. It does depend on if your body is ready to support it, and if you are well enough to be able to handle the antibiotic.

Summary:

If you are a person that has had a diagnosis of IBS, or you’re dealing with a lot of abdominal symptoms and you really want to get to the bottom of it; it’s really important to consider SIBO as one of the possibilities. You want to make sure that you’re using this as a possible diagnostic tool to rule in or rule out, and to treat the root cause, as opposed to just treating your symptoms.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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3 AREAS IN YOUR BODY YOU HOLD YOUR STRESS

Did you know that there are three primary areas of the body that typically hold tension? All of us have preferred places in our body where our pain, worry, and fears are most readily expressed in muscular tension. The three key areas in the body, that have the potential to be most affected by emotional forces, and that is the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, and the jaw. Many of you have experienced tension in your neck and jaw and tightness in your low back. This can be driven primarily by emotions. If we think of it this way, pleasurable experiences typically will cause us to relax, energize, and expand. Conversely, unpleasant experiences are going to typically cause us to contract, be tenser, and possibly even depressed. We must recognize that this stress or muscular tension that we are holding in these three primary areas is subconscious and that rather than just addressing the symptom, we have to focus on what is the root cause. Is there another way for you to express your emotion? Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, and talking to a friend or talking to a psychologist are all really powerful and often necessary. I’m going to discuss some quick bio hacks that can help with addressing these tensions and hopefully make you feel great.

  1. Jaw: Many people tend to clench their jaw or grind their teeth, whether that’s during the day or at night. This is a subconscious behavior indicating that the nervous system is in a survival mode. Here are two easy things that you can do while you’re brushing your teeth and then also during your workday that are very simple to relieve jaw tension and hopefully retrain and reprogram yourself to not clenching your jaw.
  • The first thing is to make sure that you have the optimal tongue position. Make sure that the tongue is resting on the roof of the mouth and the back of the front teeth. You’ll want to make sure that your teeth are slightly apart and your lips are gently closed. If you make a humming sound, your tongue will naturally be in the ideal position. Practice this multiple times a day to make sure you are tuning in. Also, when you are breathing diaphragmatically, your tongue would be in it’s resting position.
  • Another aspect of jaw tension is when your jaw is compensating for other things. For example, if there’s a lack of core stability and tension in the abdomen, you could be clenching your jaw to create stability. You do want to be properly evaluated but if you know that your jaw is tight you can do this release. Your masseter muscle is right on the outside of the jaw. Then you have your lateral pterygoid, which points up toward the ear and then the medial pterygoid, which goes down toward the bottom of the jaw, like scissors.  You can take your toothbrush in your mouth and move it up toward your ear to release the lateral pterygoid. You do this by holding your toothbrush in your mouth in that direction on the right side and then moving your jaw down, left, up, and then to the right. Then to release the medial pterygoid you would stick your toothbrush in your mouth again but this time toward the bottom of your jaw. Then, while holding the toothbrush on the right side you will move your jaw down, left, and then close. Now, to release the masseter, you will hold your fingers against the outside of your jaw on the left and then move your jaw down, right, and then close. You can do all of these on both sides. You can also use this as an assessment to see how tight your jaw is. 

2. Diaphragm: This tends to be an area where we can hold a lot of emotional tension and grief. We breathe 20 to 25,000 times a day so how you breathe matters. It’s not just about if you’re breathing to stay alive, it’s how you’re breathing. With practice and conscious regulation of this muscle, we can regulate our response and our emotions. However, during times of high stress, like right now in the world, the diaphragm can become very restricted which therefore can cause one of your most common complaints which is neck tension. Many will say “I hold my tension in my neck,” but that’s because they are breathing from the neck and shoulders, as opposed to the diaphragm.

You can check out my other video on how breathing is your superpower. But, for now, try to take three diaphragmatic breaths every hour. This means that you’re breathing in through the nose, ideally out through the nose, if possible, and you’re expanding your abdomen 360 degrees. That means that your chest will not rise up and down, but your abdomen will expand. The longer the exhalation, the more of a relaxation response you will have. You want to start with a breath that feels comfortable for you. For example, three seconds in and three seconds out. As you feel more comfortable please try to extend your inhalation, exhalation, and even your pauses at the subtle shift before your exhalation, and then before your inhalation. This can be calming for the nervous system, but it also allows you this opportunity to tune in with what’s happening in your body, to be mindful, to understand what your emotions and thoughts are, and what your physical sensations are.

3) Pelvic floor. This is often considered taboo, however, is one of the primary areas for men and women, where we unconsciously store emotions. This is also based on Eastern and Western medicine as it relates to the chakras, but also science. The pelvic floor is critical for our emotional and energetic health. Think of dogs when they are expressing their emotions or they have done something wrong and their owner is upset; the dog will tuck their tail between their legs. That is the same concept of what happens where as humans, we create this tension in the pelvic region and we don’t even know it’s there. Pelvic floor issues very commonly present as hip pain, low back pain, and sometimes even knee pain.  It can be something that is an underlying issue that is often overlooked but very common. Here are two exercises that you can do to relax your pelvic floor.

  1. Rock on your forearms: Place your elbows outside of your shoulder, knees outside of your hip, and keep your eyes gazing towards your fingertips. Inhale as you rock back, exhale as you rock forward. Make sure you keep your spine nice and straight. Your eyes gazing forward will allow that to happen. Inhale as you go back to relax the pelvic floor, exhale as you go forward belly button will go in towards your spine.

2. Happy baby:  Lie on your back, grab your toes, outside of your shin, or inside of your shin. Inhale all the way down to the pelvic floor to relax it and you can rock gently back and forth.

In summary, start with the tongue on the roof of the mouth and resting on the back of the teeth. When you inhale, your pelvic floor is relaxing. The deeper your diaphragmatic breath, as that intra-abdominal pressure goes down, your pelvic floor is lengthening and relaxing. When you exhale, your abdomen tightens up like a corset. Just your breath alone with the proper positioning of your tongue can address all of these areas of emotion or muscular tension. Then, you can integrate that into your movement. When you are doing the happy baby or rocking on your forearms, make sure you integrate all those aspects together. Especially during this challenging time, make sure to be kind to yourself and the emotions you are feeling right now.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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6 REASONS TO UP YOUR PROTEIN

Let’s discuss one of my favorite nutrients, protein. This can be a very controversial nutrient especially as it relates to animal-based versus plant-based protein. Not only does protein help build new cells, repair old cells, and help keep our muscles and bones strong, but it also keeps us satiated between meals to prevent us from overeating and having significant cravings. Your body needs 20 different amino acids to function properly. However, nine of those are essential amino acids, meaning that they are required from your diet. The amino acid is a building block of protein. This allows our body to function optimally especially as it relates to repair and recovery as well as immune health. The key sources of the amino acids are primarily your meat products like meat, poultry, eggs, and fish, as well as the plant-based protein, soy.

Now, let’s discuss six different ways that protein is so important for your body.

  1. Helps with weight loss and improves metabolic function

One of the key ways it does this is by suppressing the hormone ghrelin, which is produced in the stomach and secreted by the pancreas and the small intestine. It also boosts Peptide YY which is a hormone that makes you feel full. This can help with cravings, late-night snacking, and eating too much throughout the day. In addition to that, protein has a higher thermic effect of food which is 25 to 35 percent versus fats and carbs which is five to 15 percent, so that means that you’re burning more calories overall by eating more protein sources.

2. Increases muscle mass and strength

It does this in two ways. One is that it increases glucagon, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which is important for fat mobilization. The second is that it increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is an anabolic hormone that is necessary for muscle growth. Therefore, it is very important that if you are doing a strength training routine of any kind that you make sure that you’re eating enough protein. It’s also really important to make sure that if you are in weight-loss mode that you are consuming more protein because your protein needs are higher to preserve that lean body mass.

3. Improves bone health

Despite what some unwarranted research states, protein helps with improving the structural matrix of the bone, helps with increasing urinary calcium, increases your intestinal calcium absorption, as well as increases the IGF-1.

4. Lowers your cardiovascular risk

Not only can it lower blood pressure by reducing the systolic number, but it can also lower your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. If you are at current risk for cardiometabolic risk factors, or you have a family history of heart disease, I would highly suggest that you incorporate protein into your diet.

5. Helps to heal our body

Protein is necessary to help fight bacterial and viral infections. It is a vital part of our immune system cells, for example, antibodies. We need protein to make antibodies. So, if you are lacking in protein you can feel weakness, fatigue, apathy, and have poor immunity.

6. Helps to heal your body after injury

Often times our protein needs are even higher after an injury to help with all the things I just mentioned. Remember, protein is the main building block of our tissues and organs. Even as we age and we develop things like sarcopenia, a loss of muscle mass; optimal protein intake coupled with physical activity, especially weight-bearing activity, is critical to prevent that.

Now you know all of the amazing benefits of protein. It can help with weight loss and fat mobilization, increasing muscle strength, helping your body recover from injury, helping your body prevent and recover from viral and bacterial infections, lowering your cardiovascular risk, and improving your immune system.

What is the appropriate amount and when should I eat protein?

For women, 20 to 30 grams of protein is recommended every few hours. For males, it is suggested to have 40 to 60 grams every few hours. Most people get about 15 percent of their calories coming from protein, but really, we need 25 to 30 percent. It is easy to think of it this way. At every meal and snack you’re having, pair it with a good high-quality source of protein. This means we are aiming for a full profile of nine essential amino acids. That’s primarily going to come from your animal proteins. I recommend hormone-free, grass-fed, lean meats. Soy is also another plant-based form that contains the essential amino acids. You can as a vegetarian or vegan consume enough protein, however you just need to plan extensively to make sure that you’re getting enough protein and not focusing so much on the carbohydrate sources.

So, I hope that was helpful for you. I do think it is such an important nutrient to think about as it relates to all of these aspects of health and there are so many misconceptions about it, so I wanted to make sure that I address some of the science. Hopefully, this will help you and your meal planning. I always say as it relates to your meals, use the KISS principle (keep it stupid simple). Consume a protein, a healthy fat, and a fiber source with every meal and snack.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

For more content, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

HOW TO TURN YOUR CHALLENGES INTO OPPORTUNITES | Become a Warrior

I’d like to discuss something that is very personal to me…..how you can turn your challenges or crises into opportunities. When you look at people like Michael Jordan, Rocky Balboa, and Bruce Lee, you can see that these spiritual warriors have the most unbelievable focus, attention, and tenacity.

Here are some practical tips that you can do in your life to develop this resiliency and turn your challenges into opportunities. As George Mumford highlights in his book The Mindful Athlete, when we walk the path of a spiritual warrior, we can we think about the journey as opposed to the destination. When we look at some of these incredible athletes and true warriors, we can see that it isn’t about the outcome or the results, it’s about the journey. “An ordinary man takes everything as a blessing, or as a curse, whereas a warrior is going to take everything as a challenge.”

All right, here you go! Three things that can help you turn your challenges into opportunities.

  1. Noticing what’s right

We tend to, during times of crises or challenges, focus on what’s wrong and what isn’t going right in our lives. However, rather than focusing on that, we can focus on the beauty of the moment, with all of its imperfections, and we can find this deep wisdom that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. When we can really begin to look inward at this inner critic and emotional blueprint, and ask questions and explore it with curiosity, we can inquire about this really amazing wisdom. This will allow us to be able to look from a different lens to be able to see this obstacle or this challenge as an opportunity for growth.

2. Emotional error correction

Rather than blaming someone, something, or even ourselves, we need to think about asking the question “why?”. Have wonder and curiosity about why this happened and potentially what do you have to learn from this? Whether your challenges are small or big, there’s always something to learn about yourself. There’s always an opportunity to transform your growth as a human being. When we can transform the frustration and aggravation into the joy and satisfaction of learning about ourselves, we can begin to have more teachable moments in our lives. We can begin to have these experiences or these challenges that bring us awareness and make us more focused and present in our own lives. So, essentially when we are experiencing these different emotions, we can bring this wonder and this curiosity to the forefront because when we do that, then we begin to see the experience and situation so differently. We can ask with an open heart, and we can inquire about ourselves, be inquisitive about the situation and begin to grow.

3. The right effort

 This is where we focus on the journey, not the destination. This is where we don’t necessarily think “life’s a grind and I’m just going to try to push through.” Instead, we appreciate all the moments, experiences, and people along the way and appreciate the process, not the outcome, results, or the destination. This is where we can sit, and we can simply enjoy sitting. It is when we don’t have to be on the go and running and doing a million things. We can actually just be present and pay attention. We can pay attention to our experiences and be in tune with what our body needs. This is the right effort, not pushing so hard that you just continue to get hurt in your exercise program. Instead, you just give the right amount of effort so that you see these adaptations over time, for example.

There you have it, three ways that you could help turn your challenges into opportunities. I was diagnosed with stage three liposarcoma two months before my wedding about five years ago. That was when I made this commitment to myself that I wanted to not just survive cancer, but I wanted to thrive during cancer. With that, I have taken all of these steps to optimize my mindset, nutrition, and movement to really help me achieve the life that I want to have. I hope that you can turn this current challenge into an opportunity for you.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

For more content, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

Check out my TEDx talk below to see my story of turning challenges into opportunities.

How to Map Your Own Nervous Sytem: The Polyvagal Theory

With anxiety, depression and stress on the climb, have you ever wondered how you can understand your reactions to life’s challenges and stressors? Or maybe you wondered how you can become more resilient? Did you know that you can map your own nervous system? This is such a powerful tool that can help you shift the state of your nervous system to help you feel more mindful, grounded, and joyful during the day, and more importantly during your life. Before we discuss how to map your nervous system, let’s break down the autonomic nervous system a bit more.

The terms “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” are typically what we refer to when discussing this autonomic nervous system. However, there are different aspects of the nervous system referred to as the polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges. The vagus nerve, referred to as the wandering nerve in Latin, is one of the longest nerves and is a cranial nerve that originates in the brainstem and innervates the muscles of the throat, circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination. The vagus nerve is the major constituent of the parasympathetic nervous system and 80 percent of it’s nerve fibers are sensory, which means the feedback is critical for the body’s homeostasis. .Pretty amazing, wouldn’t you say?

When we are in this stressed state or potentially anxious state, then we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. In addition to not being able to be empathetic or curious, we are also not able to break the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function,  communicating, guiding, and coordinating the functions of the different parts of the brain, back online. This essentially means that we are not able to regulate our attention and focus. Sound familiar?

Three nervous system states

  1. First, our “fight and flight” response is our survival strategy, a response from the sympathetic nervous system. If you were going to run from tiger, for example, you want this response to save your life. When we have a fight response, we can have anger, rage, irritation, and frustration. If we are having a flight response, we can have anxiety, worry, fear, and panic. Physiologically, our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline increase and it decreases digestion, pain threshold, and immune responses.
  2. Second, we have a “freeze” state, our dorsal vagal state, which is our most primitive pattern, and this is also referred to as our emergency state. This means that we are completely shut down, we can feel hopeless and feel like there’s no way out. We tend to feel depressed, conserve energy, dissociate, feel overwhelmed, and feel like we can’t move forward. Physiologically, our fuel storage and insulin activity increases and our pain thresholds increase.
  3. Lastly, our “rest and digest” is a response of the parasympathetic system, also known as a ventral vagal state. It is our state of safety and homeostasis. If we are in our ventral vagal state, we are grounded, mindful, joyful, curious, empathetic, and compassionate. This is the state of social engagement, where we are connected to ourselves and the world. Physiologically, digestion, resistance to infection, circulation, immune responses, and our ability to connect is improved.

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Adapted by Dr Stephen Porges

As humans, we have and will continue to experience all of these states. We may be in a joyful, mindful state and then all of a sudden due to a trigger, be in a really frustrated, possibly angry state, worried about what may happen to then feeling completely shut down. This is human experience. We are going to naturally shift through the states. However, when we stay in this fight or flight or this shut down/freeze state, that is when we begin to have significant physiological effects and also mental/emotional effects. As I mentioned earlier, this could be an emergency state. This can also be a suicidal state, if we are in this shut down mode for too long. If we are in a fight or flight state, we can have constant activation of our stress pathway, also known as the HPA axis, and we can really impact our stress hormones, sex hormones, our thyroid, etc. This stress will have significant inflammation effects on the body as well. All of these states can have considerable effect on our overall health, positive or negative, of course. Also, you can not get well if you are not in your “safe” state. No treatment intervention or professional will help you if you are not safe. This is why it’s really important to identify the states for each of you.

How can you map your nervous system?

  1. Identify each state for you.

The first step is to think of one word that defines each one of these states for you. For example, if you are in your ventral vagal state, this is also called the rest and digest state, you could say that you feel happy, content, joyful. etc.

When you are in your fight or flight state you could use the words worried, stressed, overwhelmed, etc.

In the freeze state you could use the words shut down, numb, hopeless, etc.

The first step is identifying the word that you correlate with each of those three states. This is really important because then you’re able to recognize which state you are in and identify with it quickly. This will allow you to really tune into your body and understand how you feel in that state, so you can help yourself get out of it.

2. Identify your triggers and glimmers.

You’ll want to identify triggers for your fight/flight state as well as your freeze state. These could be things like a fight with your boss, an argument with your spouse, a death of a loved one, if someone cuts you off while driving, etc. It is whatever things that cause you to feel stressed. You want to eventually have at least one trigger, if not many, written down for each of those states.

Glimmers are the things that bring you to that optimal nervous system state. It could be something as simple as petting a dog or something bigger like going on a vacation.

Click here for Deb Dana’s Worksheet to Map Your Nervous System

Summary

Once you can identify what those states are for you, then you can recognize what your triggers and glimmers are for that state. You can really begin to make a profound difference in your nervous system state. You can take ownership of what’s happening to your body, you can tune in to what’s happening, and know how to regulate your emotions and your responses to stress. Ultimately, this is how we can begin to develop resilience. This means being able to have respond appropriately to life’s challenges, go to that fight or flight state for a short period, and then return back to your state of social engagement. That should happen a few times a year not multiple times a day, or every day for that matter. To truly enjoy life, returning to your state of safety where you are mindful, grounded, and joyful, is a practice. It can start with mapping your own nervous system.  

If you need help on your journey, please reach out!

For more content, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

Beat anxiety with curiosity

We all know that anxiety and chronic stress is on the rise, especially with young adults, older adults, and even in children. This is why it is really important to understand this powerful concept that can be possibly life changing for someone. When we are in a stressed state, our limbic system, our emotional center of our brain is going to detect a threat, specifically the amygdala in the brain. When this happens, we activate  the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis). When this axis, i.e. stress pathway is activated, it induces the pituitary gland (located in the brain) and the adrenal gland (located above the kidney). This signals a cascade of stress hormones. A little of this here and there is normal, however it is commonly overactivated in may people.

When we are in this stressed state or potentially anxious state, then we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. In addition to not being able to be empathetic or curious, we are also not able to break the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function,  communicating, guiding, and coordinating the functions of the different parts of the brain, back online. This essentially means that we are not able to regulate our attention and focus. Sound familiar?

How can you beat anxiety with curiosity?

So, how can we use curiosity to help decrease anxiety? When we are curious that means we are also able to be empathetic, turn the prefrontal cortex back online, and able to regulate our attention. We can accomplish this in a few different ways:

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1) Be curious about your anxiety

Ask yourself what sensations you feel in your body? Tension, warmth, coolness? Explore what you are feeling. You can totally flip the script by exploring how it feels in your body.

2) Seek out new knowledge

Become curious about something new. It can be finding a completely new skill, hobby, information,  that can make you curious about learning.

3) Mindfulness

This is one of the best ways to regulate attention, be aware, attentive, and present. Check out Three Informal Mindfulness Practices . Also, if you are already meditating, check out Three Tips to Improve your Meditation Practice. It’s a practice that needs to be cultivated, but that practice of being aware and being attentive can assist you in exploring your own body and your own needs. Practicing this on a regular basis can be profound in once again regulating attention, which means that you’re being curious, and you cannot be anxious.

4) Improve interoception, otherwise known as self-awareness

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs? The bottom of the pyramid is our basic physiological needs. For example, are you hungry or are you full? Do you need to go to the bathroom or did you hold it for too long?  Do you need to rest today or can you push it a little harder in your workout? Tune in to what’s happening from an internal standpoint, not necessarily just external. We want to think about what are we feeling on the inside.

Summary

Bonus! Curiosity can significantly enhance learning and retention of information over time!

Seeking out new knowledge, cultivating mindfulness, and tuning into to what is going on in your own body can have profound impact on decreasing anxiety and also preventing anxiety, and potential undue stress.

If you need help on your journey, please reach out!

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How to exercise your brain

Have you ever feared losing your mind as you age? Have you ever wondered how you can exercise your brain? It is really important to do since it is estimated that by 2050 we are going to have 30 million Americans suffering from dementia, and currently there’s five million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s. After the age of 40 we are going to begin to have some cognitive decline and after the age of 60 we really should have a brain evaluation, otherwise known as a neuropsychological evaluation. I know that many of you have the fear of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. So, let’s discuss how to prevent all of this!

Stages of Cognitive Decline

There are three different stages that are associated with cognitive decline. The first is a preclinical stage where we might notice some memory difficulties or other subtle changes, but it would never show up on an actual test. The second is going to be a mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In this stage, we might begin to forget people’s names and we may go into a room and forget what we were looking for. The third stage would be dementia. This is where those types of memory loss really begin to interfere with your day to day capabilities to go through life.

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Dementia vs. Alzheimers

Dementia is an umbrella term and is in fact, a group of symptoms, very different than Alzheimer’s, which is classified as a neurodegenerative disease. The process for Alzheimer’s is very different and it is important to make that distinction.

How can you prevent cognitive decline?

So, what can you do about it? Exercise, exercise, exercise! Specifically exercise geared towards integrating your brain and body. All of your aerobic activity, strength building activity, and really any skill development are critical for cognitive health and preventing cognitive decline over time.  Try a new practice or discipline such as Thai Chi or Qi Gong, deadlifts, aerials, dance, golf, tennis, etc. At the end of the day, all movement is really important for brain health. A 2015 study showed that those who make aerobic activity part of their life are able to decrease brain disease risk by over 50 percent!

Additionally, I am going to provide you with three exercises that you can do on a regular basis that can be super valuable to preventing these declines, and keeping your brain and body healthy for a lifetime.

  1. Puff breathing with a march– Inhale for two quick sniffs and exhale for four as you march forward.

Extended exhalation-based practice can improve CO2 and oxygen. Oxygen is the one of the top two sources of energy for the brain. Take two puffs in through the nose and follow it with four puffs out through the mouth. Add marching, walking, side stepping, cross crawl pattern.

2. Cross crawl pattern– Place your hands behind your head and bring your elbow to your opposite knee as you march forward.

The cross-crawl pattern of the brain stimulates more complex and nervous system integration. In essence, you are reorganizing your mindbody connections by stimulating the corpus collosum, the dividing of the two hemispheres.

3. Dual tasking– Walk backwards as you count back from 100 by threes.

Performing a physical and cognitive task together can yield excellent benefits in both gait and executive function in the brain. Try walking and the alphabet backwards, too!

Summary

These are simple things you can incorporate daily to prevent losing one of your greatest assets. Make sure to “build the time in” not “fit it in.”

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

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What’s the deal with gluten?

So what is all this talk about gluten? You’ve seen more and more gluten-free items on the menu. Many of your friends, family and colleagues are gluten-free. Gluten sensitivity? Gluten intolerance? Celiac?  You may be thinking, “is this a real thing and should everybody avoid gluten?”  Let’s dive in.

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s in everything, it’s in sauces, breads, pastas, crackers, cakes, etc. We’re surrounded by it.

Celiac Disease

Let’s first talk about celiac disease. Celiac disease is associated with one percent of the population. It is an autoimmune disease. When you consume gluten or gluten containing foods for quite some time, your immune system attacks itself.  It causes inflammation in the small intestine, and then people are not able to absorb or digest the gluten properly. This contributes to malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies which can lead to a whole host of problems.  

Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity

What if you know that you are not in that one percent? Outside of that population, it is estimated that 13 percent of the population has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Although it may seem there are more than that, that is what’s reported at this time. Fifty percent of those people that are reporting a non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience either constipation or diarrhea on a regular basis. In addition to that there are lots of symptoms that you could experience if you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.  See my video on adverse food reactions here. Some of these symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, depression, anxiety, skin issues like psoriasis or dermatitis, iron deficiency or anemia, and neuropathy. These symptoms especially draw a red flag if you experience them right after you consume gluten or foods containing gluten.

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When you’re experiencing these symptoms, it is very important to get properly evaluated by a doctor, registered dietitian or functional medicine practitioner. These symptoms can of course be associated with other conditions as well. This will help to determine if you have undiagnosed celiac disease, especially if you’re symptoms are a little more severe, or to see if you might have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

You can also evaluate if gluten is an issue for you by doing some form of an elimination diet. Please feel free to reference some of my other videos on adverse reactions, elimination diet, and inflammatory foods to understand how you would eliminate the food and then reintroduce. The reintroduction is the most important aspect of it and one that most people forget about. That can provide insight into a sensitivity.  Of course, you can also determine if your symptoms resolve by removing our diet.

Leaky Gut and Gluten

Gluten can trigger the body’s release of zonulin, a protein that opens up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining. Because gluten can initiate the release of zonulin, it can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as intestinal permeability. When leaky gut is present, the spaces between the cells open up too much allowing undigested food, pathogens, bacteria, viruses and larger protein molecules to get into the bloodstream. This in turn causes an immune reaction. Once that happens, the body is constantly in defense mode, contributing to an overload on the liver and chronic inflammation.


So, what are some causes of increased zonulin and leaky gut ?
1. SIBO( small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
2. Candida or fungal dysbiosis
3. Parasites
4. Gluten containing foods – Gliadan Yes, gluten.  Therefore, it’s important to recognize that gluten affects intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in everyone to different extents.  More importantly, if you have a thyroid condition, autoimmune disease, chronic disease, or leaky gut, it is HIGHLY recommended to be gluten-free.

But wait … don’t forget that when you eat other non-gluten grains like corn, rice, oats, etc. your body can detect it like gluten . It can have a cross reaction and see them as foreign invaders.

But wait, why can you eat gluten in Europe?

Now here’s a quick, little fun fact.  Have you ever gone to Europe and eaten all the bread and pasta that you want and not had any issues, but when you’re here you have digestive issues, fatigue and joint/muscle pain from eating gluten?  I’m sure if you haven’t, you’ve heard of somebody that has. Often, I tell my patients and clients not to worry about it when they are in Europe and just enjoy themselves. Eat the gluten and things will be fine. Sure enough, they are! So why is that?

There’s a few theories behind it and nothing that’s clearly evidence-based at this time. One of the huge factors is that there are different types of wheat that are used in Europe versus the U.S. In Europe, there’s actually a lower gluten content naturally in the type of wheat they’re using. The other huge factor is the glyphosate. I’m sure many of you have heard of glyphosate that is used in the pesticides and it’s been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s on infomercials everywhere. The glyphosate specifically has been linked to gluten sensitivity and is used everywhere in the U.S. We’re exposed to it constantly as it’s used in our produce, wheat products, and our surrounding environment. It is the first and center product that you see when you walk into big chain stores.  So, the question is, is it the glyphosate or is it the gluten that our bodies are having such a hard time with? In addition to that, there’s GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). In essence, a GMO is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering. In Europe, GMO’s are highly regulated and illegal in some countries where in the US, more than 93 percent of the corn and soy planted is genetically modified in some way. We are not meant to eat genetically modified foods. We have a wonderful abundant food supply that we shouldn’t need to have genetically modified foods. Last but not least is preservatives. In the U.S. we have way more preservatives added to our food supply, specifically our wheat products, then we do in Europe. Specifically, there are far more vegetable oils to preserve the shelf life of breads in the US.   All of these conditions factor in to why our stomachs are not happy eating gluten in the U.S. compared to Europe.

Summary

Yes, it can be challenging to explore gluten’s affect on your health, but I strongly suggest that if you have a host of conditions, complaints, and medical symptoms,  that you explore gluten. For many people it can be very beneficial and sometimes life-changing.  For others, not so much. It’s a valuable experiment to determine if this is an issue for you. If nothing else, it might just make you think a little bit more about what you’re eating and how it is affecting your health.  There is always a reason to why you are feeling a specific way, and it’s just about figuring out what that is.

Summary

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

7 ways to improve your sleep

Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Having trouble losing weight? Do you feel groggy in the morning? If you do, you should definitely read this. Here are  seven important tips of how to improve your sleep habits.

  1. Minimizing or Avoiding Stimulants

Do you want to take a guess of what the biggest offender is?… drumroll… alcohol. It’s important to limit alcohol within three hours of going to bed because it is something that will negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Even though you might be asleep for seven hours, it doesn’t mean that you are getting the proper REM and deep sleep that you need. Have you ever woken up after drinking and felt a little crappy, under the weather, with a little brain fog? That’s the effects of alcohol.

Decrease TV and phone time! If you are using blue light, please consider wearing blue light blockers after 7 pm. Otherwise, this can be a huge stimulant. See number three for planning and preparation.

Third, consuming caffeinated beverages after two o’clock such as soda, coffee, or iced tea can contribute to restless nights.

You also want to limit any type of decongestants or other cold medicines because they act as stimulants.

Lastly, you want to try to limit aerobic exercise after six o’clock, or at least three hours before bed time.

These are all things that can keep you awake or prevent you from going to sleep in the first place.

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  1. Decrease Nighttime Tension and Anxiety

First, avoid any anxiety-provoking or stimulating activities before bed. Some examples of these activities are watching the news, having an argument with your child or spouse, doing financials, reading the stocks, etc.

The more you perseverate on what you need to do the next day, the more stressed you become, followed by a rise in cortisol levels.  Also, try to limit negative judgments associated with not being able to go to sleep. If you feel like you can’t go to sleep and you keep having thoughts about why you can’t go to sleep, then that will also feed into the inability to fall or stay asleep. When you start to have those thoughts, try taking some diaphragmatic breaths and remind yourself that there is nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.

3. Planning and preparation.

The most important aspect of preparing for sleep is developing some type of ritual before bed. We know that the amount of sleep is really important and it’s a little bit different for each person. However, you do want to think about allotting for eight to nine hours of time in bed, although all of that will not be actual sleep time. So, when you are preparing your schedule keep that in mind so you can strive to prepare for that amount of time in bed.

Another thing to plan for is preparing for sleep about 30 minutes before bed with something that will relax your nervous system. This could be done by breathing, meditation, yoga, reading, essential oils, taking a bath with Epsom salt, etc. So, there’s lots of options and you just need to figure out what is best for you.

You also want to think about finishing eating within three hours of bed time. The late-night snacking is not ideal because your body is trying to digest, which is a huge metabolic process, while you’re trying to rest, regenerate, and repair. It’s really challenging to do both of those things at the same time.

Overall, just think about preparing your body to relax, so you can calm your nervous system. Epsom salt baths and lavender can be really powerful for that.

4. Strategies to use with trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

These strategies can be very beneficial and it doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, or the reason for your ability to not be sleeping. These are all universal.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re up for 20 to 30 minutes, then you want to actually get out of bed. Go into another room, perhaps a relaxing room and do something calming. That could be breathing, meditating, journaling, or write down what you’re experiencing in that moment. Try to down-regulate (i.e. relax) your system and then return back to sleep.

If your beloved partner is snoring, consider ear plugs to prevent you from awakening.

Drinking water before bed is almost a sure way to wake up in the middle of the night to urinate. Try to limit within an hour of bed.

Another strategy is to make don’t have any EMF within eight feet of you, which includes your phone, tv, etc. This will help you get good quality sleep.

5. Light, noise, temperature, and the environment

Try to keep your room as dark as you possibly can. You can use dark window shades and block out any lights that are showing in your room. Also, keep your room cool. Electric blankets, for example, can cause you to wake up very hot and frequently during the night.

6. Bedding and pillows

As it relates to bedding, think hypoallergenic. Also, the appropriate amount of pillows is important.  If you’re a side sleeper, for example, make sure you have enough support for your neck so that you’re not in an uncomfortable position that causes pain. If you have bursitis in your hip and it’s difficult to lay on your hip, roll away from the hip so there’s not as much contact there. And of course, if you have pain anywhere, see a physical therapist!

7. Supplements

Melatonin is the most commonly prescribed over the counter sleep supplement. One to five milligrams can be taken to fall asleep, and/or you could take five to 20 milligrams of a time- release melatonin to stay asleep. Taurine and magnesium can also be beneficial. There are calming herbs like ashwagandha that can help decrease cortisol. Also, drinking herbal teas before bed can be very beneficial.

Summary

These are seven tips that can really help you get that quality sleep you deserve. Just like anything else, start small. Choose one or two things out of this list and work on them until they become a habit.  

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash