By Dr. Daniel Riordan IV, ND
Mind-body medicine is just as simple as it sounds – and as complex.
In short, there is a link between our body and our mind. Think about when you are stressed or nervous and your stomach hurts or you “felt butterflies”. That is all coming from our mind, having a physical impact on the physical body. Mind-body uses that same link to help treat the negative influences our mind has on our body.
One of the ways mind-body medicine works, is using our breath work to help stimulate the vagal nerve. The vagal nerve is so important because it helps control the two major components of our nervous system.
First is sympathetic, also known as the “fight or flight” response portion of our nervous system. Second, is the parasympathetic, also known as the “rest and digest” portion.
Of course, these two play a big role in our stress management from how we have evolved. Hundreds of years ago when our ancestors saw a bear, the most important thing was to run to save their life. The body has adapted from that so that we can immediately jump into a sympathetic state and our heart rate increases, our blood pressure goes up, and all of our energy goes into running from that bear and away from secondary processes like digestion. Today, we still react to stress in that same way when we have that difficult commute, that work deadline, or we race to drop the kids off on time. With all of these, our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, and we end up with, among other things, digestive issues.
Now back to that vagal nerve I mentioned earlier. Our breath, specifically the exhale, stimulates this nerve and can help move us from a sympathetic (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state.
Not a believer yet that our breath can be so involved in our complex nervous system?
Think of the last time someone scared you. How about the last time you were in
the clinic and I was about to give you a B12 shot or draw your blood and the needle was uncapped and I said those dreaded words…“Quick poke.” What was the thing you innately did that you may have never thought about? You took a quick breath in and held it, subconsciously trying to do what we can consciously achieve.
Why does this all matter? Who cares if mind-body medicine can stimulate our vagal nerve? Well, mind-body medicine has been shown in study after study to be effective in decreasing all cause mortality. In a 2012 randomized control trial by Schneider et al., mind-body medicine techniques decreased all cause mortality, heart attack, and stroke in those with cardiovascular disease by 48%. Mind-body medicine is so much more than just heart health though.
Just this last December, Medscape published an article on the FDA approving vagal nerve stimulators to treat headaches. Yes, that same vagal nerve that I mentioned above that can be stimulated by our breath. There are countless other conditions that mind-body medicine can help with, but to name a few: hypertension, anxiety, depression, pain, PTSD, insomnia, ADD/ADHD, and digestive issues.
Interested in how mind-body medicine can change your life? I’m experienced in working with people to develop the techniques needed to take better control of your physical body. Make an appointment today and let’s get to it.