Are you in tune with your body? | INTEROCEPTION

Did you ever wonder why some people are so much more in tune with their emotions and their bodies than others? Did you ever wonder how in-tune you are with yourself? Interoception, otherwise known as your internal awareness is also referred to as the eighth sense, one that we’re a little less familiar with. It also tells us about our autonomic function, such as respiration, digestion, our heartbeat, and even our emotions. We have visceral receptors that are constantly giving us information about our internal senses, but often times we don’t listen to them. At the most basic level, interoception allows us to ask the question, how do I feel? Am I hungry? Am I safe? Am I full? Am I sad? Do I have to go to the bathroom? Being in tune with what is happening inside your body is an amazing skill to have and has been shown to improve emotional regulation.

Interoception helps us to be able to manage our bodies, listen to the signals,  and take action. Having this greater sense of internal awareness helps us to be able to manage our emotions as well. We often tend to stuff our emotions and push them away as if they don’t exist. When we can be in touch with our own body, emotions, feelings, and be able to learn how to express them; we can have a better quality of life. This also decreases our risk of chronic disease and illness that is associated with not being in tune with all of those things.

So you may be wondering, how can I test my interoception? A simple heart rate test:  You can do this by sitting in a chair with your arms down to your side.  Close your eyes or keep them open and without actually putting your hands on your body try to take your pulse. You want to attempt to sense your pulse, your heartbeat, for one minute. After you record your number, then you will actually take your pulse. To do this you will use your pointer finger and middle finger and put them on your wrist on the thumb side to feel your radial pulse. You can also use those two fingers and put them right behind your jawline to feel your carotid pulse. You want to use very gentle pressure, and you should not need to dig in. Take your pulse for one minute and record your findings. You’ll wait two minutes, and then you repeat the test. Then, average the results of both the actual pulse and the sensed pulse.

Now to complete the following calculation:

1-((Average heart rate- estimated heart rate)/ average heart rate) = _______

For your results: a result of .80 or higher indicates that you are very interoceptly aware. A score of .60 to .79 indicates you’re moderately self-aware. Lastly, a result of less than .59 indicates that you have poor interoception.

Although this is not the only way to measure your self-awareness, it is a good starting point. If you find that you have poor self-awareness that is okay, there are lots of ways that you can begin to improve your internal awareness. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to become more in tune and aware of your emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, surroundings, and become present in your own life. Many times we are anxious about the future or we may be depressed about the past, when in fact being present is actually a really wonderful place to be. Hopefully, you will appreciate how important it is to develop and integrate these interoceptive skills in your life so that you can be fully present and enjoy everything life has to offer.

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

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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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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!

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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!

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