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Patanjali Knew It All Along

Photo by judith secanell
by Anndrea Terry MA LLPC NCC anndrea terry ma llpc ncc
Practice Yoga | Tips

how your vagus nerve can help you relax

Prana is the Sanskrit word for “life force” in other words its our breath. Prana is viewed as the universal life force that is responsible for our body’s life, temperature and maintenance.  Our breath, our prana is what keeps each and every one of us in our physical bodies alive.

According to Patanjali’s the great sage and author of the Yoga Sutras stated the practice of the 4th Limb: Pranayama helps to regulate and purify the body’s vital energy (prana). It is also believed that when your prana becomes unbalanced your body is more susceptible to illness, disease, and fatigue in your mind, body, and spirit. The amazing part of this is that modern research is proving this ancient knowledge to be true!

Your breath is linked to every emotion you experience. When you are angry, you might find that your breathing become short and rapid, when you are startled you gasp for air and may find it hard to regain your full breath and if you become excited you’ll find most of the time your breath is deeper and more rapid. 

Flight or fight is a survival mechanism that is controlled by our Central Nervous System (CNS) that enables us to utilize a lot of energy under stressful situations to survive. This can come in two different forms; flight is when we run to escape the danger; fight is when we are prepared physically protect our body. CNS increased and stimulates the production of the hormone Cortisol that is the key component in flight or fight. 

If our bodies are constant stress without proper care and/or coping skills, we weaken our immune systems therefore becoming ill more often, develop chronic disease(s) in the body and we become unbalance as Patanjali told us due to the excess amounts of Cortisol in the body. 

In current research performed by the Department of Neuroscience, Roehampton University, London, UK has found that the vagus nerve located in our brain is stimulated and enhanced by the practice of Deerga Swasam (3 Part Breath). The vagus nerve controls the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which is responsible for reducing anxiety, lowering levels of cortisol production, lowers blood pressure and reducing our heart rate. 

How can you use Deerga Swasam to help chill and relax? 

The 3 Part Breath involves sequentially breathing into three parts of the lungs: Chest, ribs, abdomen.

  1. Find a comfortable position where your spine is straight and your abdomen is not compressed. Easy Seat or savasana (lying flat on the floor) are great options.
  2. Close your eyes and breath naturally, allowing yourself to relax.
  3. Place one hand on your heart, the other on your belly and start to feel your physical breath moving up and down.
  4. Now start to bring more awareness to the breath, by slowly deepening it.
  5. On your inhalation, slowly fill your chest first, feeling it rise, then your ribs, followed by your abdomen. On your exhalation, abdomen empties, then ribs, followed by chest.
  6. Try to match the length of your inhales to your exhales.
  7. You’ll find as you practice this breathing, you’ll create a wave like movement with your front body.

    If you are new to pranayama, try this for 4-5 seconds per inhalation and exhalation and build from there. By practicing the 3 Part Breath you’ll be not only stimulating your vagus nerve but also encouraging the neuropath way to your relaxation center. Observe yourself over time and see if situations that caused you great stress before may not have the same stressful impact anymore.