Kundalini Meditation & the Vagus Nerve

“Medical science says the vagus nerve is important, Kundalini yoga says it is very important”–Yogi Bhajan

An important nexus between Kundalini yoga and Western medicine lies in their respective understanding of the importance of the vagus nerve in health and well-being. Breathing is the first line of defense in reducing stress, anxiety, and stress-induced depression.

The vagus nerve “wanders” (vagus, Latin for wander) through the body and affects all major organs and their functioning. It is the second largest nerve in the body, second only to the spinal cord. Originating deep within the brain, the vagus nerve wanders through the neck, affecting speech, voice, continues through the thorax affecting all the organs of the body, and continues to the pelvic floor.

Heart rate, blood pressure, sexual response, breathing, and the release of anti-stress hormones are examples of functions regulated by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve provides the gateway between the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the autonomic nervous system. All ten cranial nerves, including the vagus nerve, occur in pairs, right and left. The right vagus nerve innervates (goes to) the sinal-atrial (SA) node of the heart, the heart’s natural pacemaker, and speeds up or slows down the heart rate. The degree of vagal tonality is an indication of healthy cardiac functioning.

Essentially, all autonomic somatic processes are regulated by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve can be thought of as a bi-directional biological data bus, where most of the communication is efferent, moving information from the organs to the brain. Researchers at HeartMath® Institute report that “The heart sends more information through the nervous system to the brain than the other way around – as much as 80% – 90% more.” Similarly, yogis refer to the vagus nerve as the “mind nerve,” because the heart sends intuitions, images, and creative flashes to the brain. Developing a strong nervous system is foundational to Kundalini yoga on which virtually everything is dependent upon. A weak nervous system cannot support the emergence of the evolutionary energy of kundalini.

Although vagal tonality cannot be directly measured, HRV is an important indirect indicator of the functioning of the vagus nerves. In The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, researcher Robert W. Shields, MD of the Neuromuscular Center, Cleveland Clinic, reported in “Heart rate variability with deep breathing as a clinical test of cardiovagal function” that HRVdb [with deep breathing] is a reliable and sensitive clinical test for early detection of cardiovagal dysfunction in a wide range of autonomic disorder” (Vol. 76, Supplement 2, April 2009, p S37). If low HRV is a predictor of morbidity (refer to section on research studies), then improving vagal tonality, measured indirectly with HRV, may improve overall health and well-being.

Typically, the autonomic nervous system runs on “auto-pilot” without our conscious awareness, for example, we don’t have to think about breathing in our sleep, By practicing Kundalini yoga and meditation, one consciously manipulates the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and verifies the effect with the measurement of one’s own HRV. This combined method provides a powerful tool for stimulating the vagus nerve non-invasively and assurance that the outcome is favorable.

Vagus Nerve: Central Tuning of the Body

Ancient yogis referred to the vagus nerve as the “central tuning string of the body,” because when it vibrates at the proper frequency, the heart generates an electromagnetic field that is harmonious and coherent. When the vagus nerve oscillates coherently, it sets the frequency to which the nervous system aligns itself. Like a tuning fork, the vagus nerve sets the frequency with which all the 72,000 vibratory strings or “surs” begin to resonate. When the vagus nerve is out of tune, then the rest of the body falls into a state of incoherence, including the heart.

From a Kundalini yogic perspective, the portion of the vagus nerve that travels from the heart to the crown of the head is identified as the “mind nerve,” because the wisdom of the heart communicates its impressions and images to the brain. This is known as One-Star spirituality, or Ik Tar. The yogis referred to the heart center (not to be confused with the heart chakra) as “Ik Tar,” or one-star. Ik Tar relates to that portion of the heart that lies slightly to the right of the sternum. The Sanskrit word Hrdayam is synonymous with Ik Tar, neither directly translatable into English with a single word or two. “According to the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, Hrd” translates to “that which sucks everything in,” and “ayam,” means, “this” and “expansion,” together meaning the core of one’s heart and the light of one’s heart.

Sages and Saints from all Wisdom traditions have a specific name for this unique aspect of the heart; lotus of the heart, secret cave of the heart, flame of the heart, and others. This imagery is has endured and embedded into Western Science. Consider the logo for the American Heart Association:

From a Western perspective, the SA (sino-atrial node) resides in the left portion of the heart. The SA node is the body’s natural pacemaker. directing the heart to beat based on the impulses of the right vagus nerve. The vagus nerve innervates the SA node, and either slows or speeds up the heart rate. When you inhale the heart rate should gradually speed up and when you exhale the heart rate gradually slows down. When the vagus nerve (central tuning string) is healthy the heart (one star) beats in rhythmic and coherent fashion. The vagus nerve and the heart act in concert, and when the vagus nerve lacks tonality, the heart rate becomes erratic. The heart takes it cues from the vagus nerve.

HRV provides a dynamic window into ANS activity, and thus indirectly, vagal nerve tonality. Simply put, HRV serves as a vagal nerve activity index. Inhalation inhibits the vagal nerve as heart rate increases, and exhalation activates the vagal nerve as heart rate slows down. The vagal nerve is the primary “brake” on heart rate and other autonomic functions, evidenced by increased parasympathetic activity.

HRV feedback session performed with HeartMath® Desktop Pro while practicing left nostril breathing. The waveform is approaching a sine wave, the gauge is 88% green, and the spectral data at the lower right is concentrated close to the 0.1 Hz marker.

Vagal nerve stimulation through non-invasive yogic techniques including pranayam (specific breathing exercises), yoga postures, and mindfulness meditations are excellent technologies for stimulating the vagus nerve.

The first line of defense in improving vagal nerve tonality may well be the aforementioned non-invasive techniques before surgical options, specifically, implantable vagus nerve stimulator, (VNS) which electrically stimulates only the left vagus nerve through an implantable device. Due to the fact that the right vagus nerve goes directly to the heart’s SA node, artificial stimulation with electric impulses is not desirable. Whereas this device may be highly effective in its originally designed use of treating epilepsy, the FDA has also granted approved for its use in treating depression. See the research section for studies linking low HRV, depression, and heart disease.

Vagus Nerve Toning through Kundalini Yoga

Vagal Nerve Stimulation, through Kundalini Yoga, focuses on yogic techniques to help rebalance the autonomic nervous system after enduring long periods of stress, trauma, or stress-induced depression. Parasympathetic nervous system performance is overshadowed by the sympathetic activity during excessively long periods of stress, anxiety, and/or depression. Improved parasympathetic activity may lessen depression and conceivably help prevent stress-induced illnesses and conditions.

Effectiveness of vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) can be measured by monitoring daily HRV (heart rate variability), an index of cardiac vagal nerve tone as Kundalini yoga is practiced and mastered. One example specific to vagal tonality is “Sodarshan Chakra Kriya,” as detailed in Chapter 4, Section 22. Richard P. Brown, M.D. and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests that “Sudarshan Kriya may work like electronic vagal nerve stimulation, which has been shown to be effective for depression,” (“Yogic Breathing and Meditation: When the Thalamus Quiets the Cortex and Rouses the Limbic System” P. 17.)”

As a yoga practitioner, you determine for yourself whether the exercise is getting you into a state of heart coherence by measuring his or her own HRV. This is the power of Self-mastery.

Autonomic Nervous System and Kundalini Yoga

To build a bridge between Western medicine and Kundalini yogic anatomy, a few basic terms will be explained. The Eastern concept of nadis is distinct from the Western nervous system, yet the two are homologues. In other words, one might think of the nadis as being one step removed from the nervous system, aligned with yet subtler than the physical nervous system.

Kundalini energy releases through the primary central energy pathway, the sushmana nadi, which in Western terms is associated (but not identical) with the spinal column. The two biological systems work hand in hand, easily demonstrable through HRV and hormonal testing. The ANS and hormonal systems straddle between the subtle energy and gross physical systems of the body, both of which may be mastered by the yogi or yogini.

Kundalini yoga has specific protocols, posture sequences (kriyas), modulated by primal sound currents (mantra), and breath (pranayam), to safely and effectively raise kundalini energy. The power of kundalini underlies all yogic traditions, and historically the objective of yoga was to awaken and raise the kundalini energy in order to elevate the consciousness of humankind.

Raising the Roof on Your Vibration

HeartMath Institute
Good Vibrations: using the Inner Balance app from the HeartMath Institute

Meditation takes work…I don’t always feel like practicing. On those mornings when I’m a bit out of sorts, it shows, not only in my attitude, but also in my heart rhythm (see HRV graph). When I meditate with the Inner Balance tool (heart rate variability app from the HeartMath® Institute) I know where I stand, what to do about it, and how to raise my vibe.

My lowered emotional state makes my HRV go wonky and my heart rhythm appears chaotic.

That frenzied message is being transmitted throughout my body via the heart’s electromagnetic pulsations. Meditation isn’t woo-woo, it’s basic science, at least to start out with. Our heart generates an electro-magnetic field that either resonates or it doesn’t. Yogic science calls the field an aura, science refers to it an electro-magnetic field. It’s the same phenomenon.

Actually, there are degrees of coherence as shown in the HRV image above. Think of coherence as something that is in harmony, order, and free of chaos. Like a flock of birds when they move as one.

The red zone is a low vibration or resonating pattern, blue is medium, and green is a high vibe—being in the flow of life’s bigger magnetic patterns. Accomplished mediators can enter this state of tao at will, a state where there is no action, yet the source where everything comes from. Simply put, going with the flow of life and not fighting against it. In this high vibe state, you naturally attract what you need when you need it, especially when you align with your bigger destiny (that’s another post to be written).

Raising my vibration has taken a committed effort of 11-minutes a day

(aka 11-Minute Meds), but I’m making progress. My mind-body has learned what a state of high

sound patterns
Vibrations in water

vibration (heart coherence) feels like. I sit on my meditation mat and my mind-body knows what’s next.

I have found that I merely have to show up for meditation and my body “gets it.” When I set an intention and begin to breath, I naturally shift from red zone to flowing in the green zone. The “coherence over time” graph is set for level 3 difficulty out of 4 levels. That means for me to get into the green I have to surpass a coherence level of 4.0 out of a possible 16. Keep in mind that people walking around with a coherence score of 16 are on the level of Buddha, Christ, and other avatars who have walked this earth.

Conscious breathing and heart centering are my first steps to a higher vibe.

Conscious breathing is the step to raising your vibe, but I really have to shift my internal state, my emotions and thoughts, to raise the roof of my vibration. Your feeling state and thoughts contribute (low or high) contribute to your overall vibe, and its measurable. It’s no secret that feelings of gratitude, love, and compassion not only feel good, but they are good for your health as well. The coherence over time graph above shows an example of just how fast this physiological change can happen. A shift in emotions and thoughts can raise your vibe—every time.

Breath deeply and slowly. Use the breath as a healer and teacher. Inhale 5 to 10 seconds, and exhale 5 to 10 seconds.

Shift your thoughts and feel a state of calm, gratitude or whatever speaks to you in the moment. The key is to not just think it, but feel it—make it real.

Whether you have a device from the HeartMath Institute or not, an 11-minute meditation practice (every day) will help raise your vibrational state to a frequency that serves you well, and in turn serves the world.

The Basic Formula to Raise the Roof of Your Vibe:

  1. Allow your awareness to drift down to your heart.
  2. Begin to inhale through your heart center. Imagine your breath is entering and exiting through your chest area. Keep the breaths equal length on the inhale and exhale (balances the autonomic nervous system).
  3. Shift your emotional state to a positive one by not only thinking of pleasant things, but actually feeling positive emotions–this is KEY.

Do you have 11-Minutes?

Check out the meditation page for more ideas and please leave a comment or question.

Stress and hair loss: can meditation help?

Stress affects your mind and body in more ways than you may first imagine. In addition to high blood pressure, tension headaches, stress often causes hair loss. According to the Mayo Clinic stress can cause the loss of hair.

stress free hair
Healthy Hair

Major life events such as death, divorce, and financial catastrophe have a big impact on your mind-body. Hair loss can occur in the weeks following a stressful event, and continue for up to 3 months. The hair will typically begin growing back on its own accord in time.

Typically, we cannot control our stress response to these mega events, however we can control our response to the daily stressors in life. The temporary loss of hair, telogen effluvium, can also be caused by chronic stress, hormonal shifts, and poor nutrition. Check with your healthcare provider to confirm what type of hair loss you are dealing with.

Chronic stress takes its toll on your immune system, and contributes to thyroid problems, autoimmune diseases, and insomnia. My hairdresser confirmed my hunch that women with thyroid problems have thinning hair. Stress management through meditation is one way to ease the tension in your body-mind.

Kundalini meditations are highly effective in self-managing our levels of stress by balancing our autonomic nervous system, and in turn our hormonal system. The feel good hormones get turned on and your body reflects that radiance.

What does Kundalini yogic science say about the role of hair?

The word Kundalini, according to Yogi Bhajan translates from the word kundal, which means “a coil of the beloved’s hair.” Yogic science teaches that the hair can actually help raise the Kundalini energy (the evolutionary life force energy), especially when allowed to grow to its full and natural length, while increasing vitality.

Importance of hair in Kundalini yoga:

Have you ever noticed static electricity in your hair? Hair conducts electricity, which affects the electromagnetic field (aura) of the body. In turn, the aura nourishes the nervous system. Human hair draws in prana, the life force energy, and protects the crown of the head from the sun’s direct energy.

Your hair directs energy from the sun to the brain’s frontal lobes, which is further activated during meditation. Yogis believe that hair helps serve as a conduit, which allows cosmic energy and wisdom to flow in and stimulate the pineal gland.

Kundalini yoga tips for keeping your hair healthy:

  • To prevent hair loss, massage your scalp with organic coconut oil, then sit in sunlight (or sun lamp) until the oil is absorbed or dries.
  • Shampoo the hair every 72 hours, if possible.
  • Allow your hair to dry naturally, if possible in the sunlight so that your hair can absorb Vitamin D.
  • Use a wooden comb or brush to maintain and balance your aura, the electromagnetic field around your body. Static electricity drains energy away from your body.
  • Keep hair natural and healthy; silver/white hair increases the flow of energy as you age.
  • Come your hair front to back, then back to front, right to left, and left to right a couple times a day. This simple technique helps maintain hormonal balance.
  • Include vitamins A, C, E and lecithin in your diet to maintain healthy hair and scalp.

11-Minutes of meditation per day will help you manage your stress and build reserves of resilience.

 

 

 

Have 11 Minutes?

Stress Management
11 Minute Meditations

Do you want to change your relationship to stress, anxiety, or stress-related depression?

Or maybe you are trying to change your relationship to addictive behaviors such as over-eating or excesses in other areas.

In just 11 minutes a day you can begin to relieve stress and bring joy back into your life by changing how you deal with the stressors in your life. Stress is not going away anytime soon, it’s part of modern life. You can, however change how you relate to stressful events-internal or external.

11-Minute Meds™ are meditations from the Kundalini yoga tradition, as taught by Yogi Bhajan. These short meditations are highly effective  and work quickly. Most people begin to feel the effects right away.

Think of this short daily practice as a vitamin pill for your mind-body, which is more valuable than one longer practice done just once a week.  In just 11 minutes the nervous and hormonal systems begin to be affected, and you are building resilience every day. It’s like recharging a battery that is exhausted, a little bit every day.

And wouldn’t it be great if you had scientific evidence that the 11-minute meditations you are

Relieve anxiety
Touching the lotus of the heart

practicing are really healing your nervous system—your life?

11-Minute Meds™ combines the power of meditation with heart rate variability biofeedback based on HeartMath® technology so that you know when you’re in the zone of healing. HeartMath® provides a biofeedback app for your smart phone that uses an ear sensor to measure your heart beats. The heart generates a smooth pattern when in a state of high heart coherence or the zone of healing. A state where the autonomic nervous system operates at peak efficiency, followed by a reduction of stress hormones and an increase of the feel good hormones.

stress relief
11-Minute Meds affects your heart-brain interaction (Courtesy of HeartMath®)

11-Minute Meds offers a variety of meditations with specific outcomes based yogic science. Often our Western minds seeks evidence, and by combining yogic meditations with evidence-based HRV feedback you will know what meditations are most effective for you.

Do you have 11 minutes?