Thanks to everyone who sent comments and questions inspired by last week’s newsletter. A lot of responses focused on the nervous system, so I thought I’d spend this week illuminating how and why the nervous system is such a big deal.
The nervous system is a MOOD. I’ve spent the last 6 months doing a deep dive into the how and why of this delicate and powerful system and I’ll say this, she’s a bit of a temperamental bitch. There are many entry points to understanding how this incredible system both serves us and holds us back, but let’s start with the basics.
When I refer to the nervous system, I’m talking about the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. Both these systems work hand and hand to enable us to survive life endangering threats, calm down and ultimately return to homeostasis. Here’s the thing though, our sympathetic nervous system is super primitive and evolved from the time of our hunter gatherer ancestors when a threat was coming from a much larger and faster animal and meant life or death.
While our sympathetic nervous system has evolved, it really has not evolved much. If you’ve ever heard a scientist talking about the lizard brain, our sympathetic nervous system goes hand in hand with the more primitive parts of our brain. The sympathetic nervous system is all about preparing ourselves for fight, flight, or freeze. And make no mistake, this is still useful. When we find ourselves in a life threatening situation, whether it is actively being attacked, or getting a signal from our body that a situation or environment might be unsafe, our body automatically goes into fight or flight. A series of changes occur biologically that prepare us to fight it out, freeze, or run like hell. These changes run the gambit from slowed digestion to sending blood to our extremities to more energy and power to our legs and arms so we can escape, fight or run.
When we are faced with an actual survival situation, our sympathetic nervous system comes to the rescue, prepares us for our best chance at survival and once the threat has passed, our parasympathetic nervous system begins to calm us down and help us return to homeostasis. Sounds good, right?
But here’s where things get a little messy. Most of the time we are not encountering the same kind of life or death situations our ancestors did. And our brains have evolved quite a bit. And this has created a kind of gap between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We have become so intelligent that just thinking about a traumatic experience can set our sympathetic nervous system into motion. Did you know that animals like Zebras forget about a threat once it has passed? Trauma exists only in the present. Once the lion has been out run, Zebras return to homeostasis with no residual trauma from the escape. Our minds however are more evolved and our nervous system can respond to not only real life endangering threats in the moment, but also threats of the past. And this is where things get messy.
It is totally reasonable to expect that many of us experience a sympathetic nervous system that never turns off. Meaning powerful hormones like cortisol that prepare us for fight or flight are constantly pumping through our bodies. Our unconscious feels threatened most of the time, even if we consciously know a threat does not exist. Being in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze means that the entire cascade of biological processes that are engaged when our sympathetic nervous system goes into fight or flight are always on. And we are exhausted. It’s just too much for the parasympathetic nervous system to bring back into homeostasis. Threat and trauma response become the new homeostasis. And this is bad news.
On a deeper level this constant level of threat response, means that our nervous system and also our unconscious regard almost everything as a threat. Just like the straw that broke the camel's back, even the tiniest little thing extra can become a threat. Newness becomes a threat, abundance becomes a threat, health becomes a threat, goals, success, and even love becomes a threat. Our body resists everything. And this is where I see the biggest conundrum.
ANY work, ANY process, whether it is coaching, therapy, anything, no matter the modality is up against this threat response. Meaning, you can pick whatever goal you want, be inspired by whatever word of the year, go through any coaching exercise, goal setting, manifesting - insert method here - and while your conscious mind may think it is working, the unconscious is seeing this newness as a threat and meets it with an even stronger resistance. Wild, right? In short, to reap the benefits of ANY work, you’ve got to close the gap between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.
So, how do we do this? Don’t panic. It’s actually easy. Really. But it takes trust and commitment. I wish I could say that there was one single way to address nervous system regulation. Like there was one answer and all you had to do was breath work or vagus nerve exercises, or meditation. The good and bad news is that in my opinion, we need to do a variety of things to achieve better regulation. But many of these exercises can be done in a few minutes a day. The key is, you have got to do them. Consistently.
The mood of the nervous system is one of the long con. Yes there are processes like meditation and breath work that help activate our parasympathetic nervous system in the moment - think of exercises like 4-7-8 breathing that can help with panic and anxiety. Yet healing the nervous system also takes a slow and almost invisible process akin to a long con. This is where guided imagery, hypnotherapy, and vagus nerve exercises are really impactful.
The vagus nerve is part of the body’s central nervous system. It is responsible for regulating the parts of our bodies that work without our conscious awareness. Think heart rate, digestion, saliva production, mood and even our immune system. It is a crucial part of our regulatory system and is not only essential to the regulation of our bodies but also our social and emotional wellness by helping us feel cool, calm and collected. I like to refer to it as THE ALL GOOD nerve.
Stimulating the vagus nerve can interrupt the fight, flight, or freeze response and send a message to our brain that we are safe and all is well. This messaging is really important, especially if we are in constant threat mode. And remember, this constant threat mode can be completely unconscious. Our body might be stuck in fight, flight, or freeze response to a past or imagined threat. Oftentimes this threat might not make logical sense. Our body remembers and the threat might be from the far away past and something that now as adults with more autonomy and agency we no longer see as a threat. But our body is still responding to it. Wow, right?!
Here’s the long con part. You may not feel the impact of vagus nerve work immediately, or even consciously. And a lot of people have a hard time getting on board with work toward results that you cannot see. But that’s kind of where we are at right now. Trust is important and long cons have a pretty good track record. Think about most RICO cases! LONG CON.
Vagus nerve exercises are probably the easiest and quickest modality to help support the nervous system. There are a variety of exercises to try and most of them only take a few minutes and many of them include simple and gentle breath work. Even things like singing, gargling and humming can help regulate our nervous system via the vagus nerve.
Vagus nerve stimulation builds over time. It’s akin to strengthening a muscle. You won’t be able to lift ten more pounds next week, but in a few months, yes. Vagus nerve regulation also might not be obvious. From my own experience, I notice outside changes more rapidly than a shift within myself. Things don’t feel so hard. There is an ease where there might have been a struggle. Opportunities are more abundant. It’s not like I feel more relaxed, or even keeled. Things just feel better and a bit easier. And that’s worth a lot.
I provide my clients with a nervous system regulation kit that includes a whole list of vagus nerve exercises (if you are a current client and would like a kit, respond to this email). I included my favorite vagus nerve exercise here. I actually dio find to feel more relaxed after this exercise, mostly because it includes 4-7-8 breathing and a bit of arm work which helps with my posture. I try to do this exercise in between clients or when I am making lunch. * 4-7-8 breathing is simply breathing in for a count of four. Holding your breath for a count of 7 and gently breathing out for a count of 8. Depending upon whether you practice yoga or not, what modality of yoga, you might be more comfortable breathing in and out through your nose or breathing in through your nose and lion’s breath out. Try all the ways. Whatever works for you is the right answer.
Vagus Nerve Exercise
- Extend arms out from the body 90 degrees with the left palm facing up and the right palm facing down.
- Use 4-7-8 breathing for 10 repetitions - this might be challenging at first, the goal is to work up to 10. Whatever you are capable of COMFORTABLY (this is not to prove how strong or badass you are. Do not push, that only creates resistance) is the right answer.
- Extend arms up above the head with the same hand positions (fingertips pointing up to the ceiling) hold this position for one 4-7-8 breath.
- Repeat the process with the left palm facing down and the right palm facing up.
This is just one of MANY. Give it a try and like really give it a try. Every single day for two months. See how you feel. You can do this for yourself.
What’s your experience with nervous system regulation?
OPEN G CENTER
I worked with a client recently who has what is known as an open G or Identity Center. This is the center labeled in the image below. Open means that there are no colored circles with numbers - or gates. When an energy center is not colored in but has colored in gates then it is said to be undefined. I thought I would share with you what a shorter version of some of the notes and information you can find in the customized booklet - MY ALCHEMY - that I create for clients as part of an introductory, intermediate, and advanced reading. These personalized PDFs are also available to Human Design Session clients who may choose to purchase a booklet after their reading.
In Quantum Human Design the G/Identity center is also known as the Calibration Center. It is biologically associated with the blood and liver and the heart chakra. The Identify Center is said to both offer the gift of and challenge to our resiliency in loveability, decisiveness, courage and authenticity. Its quantum purpose is to provide direction to love, sustainability, leadership, release, empowerment, Spirit (universe, God, higher energy - whatever you believe), embodiment, natural order, compassion, and peace.
An Open Identity Center allows for the experience of a variety of personal narratives as a way of learning and understanding authentic self-expression. You amplify and take in the energies of others - their life experiences, wounds, pain, sense of self and worthiness. Being open here enables you to deeply feel the stories and experiences of others. From this place of openness and understanding of what otters experience, you consciously choose your own path. It is through learning and collecting the stories of others that you discover your journey and are able to help others. This sensitivity can translate into questioning your lovability and authenticity. You may feel like others do not understand you or that you are inauthentic - acting differently depending upon who you are with. You may feel like you merge with people you are in a relationship with because you are able to feel wham so deeply. You easily see potential in people which is beautiful and can also lead to falling in love with someone's potential instead of who they really are.
Optimal Expression - in highest alignment
To possess a deep wisdom about the potential of the story of humanity. To choose which elements of the human condition and which stories or narratives you want to integrate into yourself. To know and understand you are evolving and expanding. To use other people’s stories and experiences as a guide to create your own direction in life. Being in the right environment your wisdom about love, identity and direction can be more accessible and easily expressed because you are amplifying the aligned values and integrity around you. When you learn to love yourself, regardless of how you are showing up you are living the highest expression of this energy.
Unbalanced Expression - in lowest frequency
To question your lovability and struggle with direction. To allow your direction to be conditioned by others. To struggle to feel at home in the world. To doubt who you are.
Lesson/challenge of openness
To not experience the narrative of another as your own, to not over-identify with them. Understand what identity narrative is yours and what belongs to others. To learn to sample stories and expressions of others and gauge which feel aligned with your values. Which ones feel like you. To integrate elements of these stories into your understanding of your unique path in life. To learn to place yourself in the right location and be embedded in the stories that reflect your lovability and authentic self-expression.
I feel pretty safe in stating that this might be one of the sexiest songs of all time. But to say so you'd have to be committed to keepin it weird and thinking that Jack White is a sexy beast. The answer is, yes he is. If you really want to lose your mind, check out this live performance. Jack White is the only man on stage and that's really all it takes. Wowzers. That suit. That voice. I might want to learn to play the tambourine.
I hope you enjoy it too. Hit listen to get a taste.
I want love to, roll me over slowly
Stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around.
I want love to, grab my fingers gently
Slam them in a doorway, put my face into the ground.
I want love to, murder my own mother and
Take her off to somewhere like hell or up above.
I want love to change my friends to enemies,
Change my friends to enemies and show me how it's all my fault.
I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me
I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me
Yeah I won't let love disrupt, corrupt, or interrupt me anymore…