The Vagus Nerve and its Keys to Wellness

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The vagus nerve may be the most subtly powerful part of your body that you’ve never heard of. Nicknamed the ‘wandering nerve,’ it originates in your brain stem and extends through your ears, tongue, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and sex organs— among other organs— connecting them and creating a body-wide network of influence (the nerve splits as it descends through the body, enabling its extensive reach).

The vagus nerve is a part of your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, which promotes calm, hormone balance, positive mood, anti-inflammatory effects, immunity, and benefits to so many wide-ranging aspects of your health. I’ve been fascinated by the influence of the vagus nerve since I found it to be key for activating a calming response in my own autonomic nervous system, which has for years been disregulated by Lyme disease. And during my research and experimentation, it’s demonstrated itself to be powerful for beauty and wellbeing at large.

WHY IT HELPS

Stimulating or activating the vagus nerve helps switch on your parasympathetic nervous system and normalize the influential HPA axis. It influences your blood pressure and heart rate (both directly through the heart and via the kidneys) along with a spectrum of bodily functions, including digestion and feelings of satiety. I find it particularly amazing that the 90% of vagus nerve fibers send signals up to the brain from the digestive tract. And 10% of its fibers send brain signals to your gut relating to the secretion of stomach acid and enzymes. It’s a true illustration of the gut-brain axis communication!

You might reason that stimulating the vagus nerve can help you stay healthy, balanced, and calm— and you’re right. But I find the advice around how to stimulate the vagus nerve to be a bit confusing and overwhelming. You see, there are dozens of ways to stimulate it. Almost too many to keep track of. My advice would be to pick just one or two methods and practice them consistently.

Here are a few of my favorites, all of which I find inherently calming (perhaps because of their effect on the vagus nerve!):

  • Singing, humming or chanting.

  • Deep breathing from your abdomen, with a long, slow exhale.

  • Yoga.

  • Foot massage.

  • Meditation.

  • Increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut (via fermented foods & probiotics!).

  • Acupuncture- especially ear acupuncture points.

  • Laughter.

I was also intrigued to see that OSEA just released a Vagus Nerve Oil meant to be applied to the back and right side of the neck to stimulate the vagus nerve and support vagus nerve health. I’ve been using it on my neck, as well as applying it to the center of my stomach (just beneath my ribs to above my bellybutton), where I can feel a calming effect from massage pressure. The blend of juniper, chamomile and lavender smells very grounding and is meant to diminish anxiety & stress and promote relaxation while stimulating positivity and wellbeing in the mind and body. I love discovering beauty products that have such a deep, holistic effect on my body and beauty— well done, OSEA!

KEEP GOING

Over time, stimulating the vagus nerve can help you achieve what is called ‘higher vagal tone,’ which improves blood sugar regulation and digestion, lowers blood pressure and inflammation, and can reduce migraines, depression and anxiety. Some treatments have gone so far as to implant a device that stimulates the vagus nerve with the goal of improving inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. One 2010 study found that higher vagal tone was linked to the cycle of positive emotions, physical health, and positive social connections— something we all strive for when it comes to wellness and beauty in our lives. And a 2018 study found that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) could be an important therapy for a range of conditions in the years ahead. I’d encourage you to think about your own vagus nerve health and the effect it could have on any inflammation, digestive issues, anxiety, or depression you might experience. Use some of these therapies consistently, and see how your own body responds to the calming effects.

 

The Meaning of Mala Beads

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Get inspired to wear your intentions this season.

In my own life, clothes have always been so much more than functional— or even fashionable. A new item of clothing (I’m talking tops, dresses, and underthings more so than gym socks, obviously) represents the person I am and want to be at the moment I wear it. This is the connection that first drew me to a career in fashion— even before my days as a beauty editor! Looking back through my closet, I connect with the person I was when I chose certain pieces; I remember where I wore them, and how I felt. But what about jewelry?

If your clothing is an outward expression of self and intention, your jewelry is even more so.

A metal ring, glass beads, pearl earrings— these natural materials can hold so much significance, and can last for years, to be passed on when you’re long gone as a reminder of you.

At times in my life, I’ve been seriously attached to jewelry items (whether or not they have any monetary value!). In my teens, I used to wear a tiny guardian angel pin every time I flew on an airplane. Going through a stressful time, I put on the same pair of earrings from my husband every day for months as a reminder of strength. After my son was born, I received a simple hammered metal pendant with his initials that I treasure. A plastic art deco pendant that I found in my grandmother’s jewelry box after she passed brings me close to her every time I wear it.

This spring, I added another meaningful piece to my jewelry with a beautiful set of mala beads. When I say beautiful, I mean that I honestly lost my breath when I pulled this strand of beads from its package!

I’ve been meditating on and off for years, but I’m still a novice when it comes to meditation culture and history. I learned from Mala Collective, the maker of this gorgeous necklace, that mala beads are traditionally worn as a meditation tool, to help you count mantras as you meditate. Their 108 beads are open to interpretation, but they may represent chakras, mantras, or Sanskrit letters. You get to decide what they mean to you.

To me, this set of beads is a reminder of my goal to meditate daily, as well as a wearable symbol of my commitment to live life as my best self, through any circumstance. I feel inspired when I wear it. I feel energy. I feel grounded in my intention to live my life accepting and expressing joy. That’s all I could ask for in an item that I can wear and keep with me daily!

These particular multicolored peach, mint green, rose, and blue beads are breathtaking— they’re mixed Amazonite, a stone meant to connect you to inner power and inspire you to take charge in your life. You can find malas made from an incredible variety of gemstone beads (Mala Collective has SO many exquisite ones), meant to inspire all kinds of feelings and actions in your life. You can choose the one you’re most drawn to, or one that supports your current goals. The brown beads are rudraksha seeds that are believed to provide inner calm, peace and freedom from negative thought. I like that they’ll darken as I touch them over time. This set of beads is hand-knotted, and I love imagining the care that went into its creation, just like love I put into a homemade meal.

Knowing the meaning of malas, and how personalized they can be, I now plan to give them as gifts to loved ones, with the hope that they’ll wear them and stay connected to their own intentions. They may be fashionable, and lovely, but fundamentally they’re a way to wear your desire to live your most beautiful life— a message for you to carry with you each day.

What jewelry or clothing items are most meaningful to you— and how do they connect you to your personal health goals and intentions?

Meditation for Beauty- and Win My Favorite Meditation App!

People ask me what I still struggle with most when it comes to beauty— is it sugar cravings? missing coffee? finding enough time to cook at home?

Nope, it's none of those things. My struggle is way more complicated than forgoing a brownie or cup of coffee— it's STRESS.

There are plenty of days when I toe the very fine line between balancing it all fabulously and feeling crushed by the weight of overwhelm. My mind switches between my roles as a mother, sister, wife, daughter, coach, author and editor like a flashing strobe light. And guess what? This is something we ALL deal with in one way or another. It's one more of our shared human experiences, and I think one of the best ways to deal is to support and empower each other to develop the tools to push back against stress mode when it hits.

My stress-reducing arsenal includes walking (living in a city, I love that I can fit in walks while running errands; walking instantly lowers stress), mindful breathing, my favorite magnesium drink Natural Calm, stress-busting aromatherapy, power naps (I'll admit, I've taken 10-minute power naps on my office floor when in dire need of a time out), and meditation. This last one is big.

I've dabbled in meditation for several years, but didn't fully commit until January 2015, when I set the intention to meditate for 10 minutes a day, every day. I don't know what's harder, sitting in meditation for 10 minutes, or finding 10 minutes to sit and meditate! I've tried all kids of apps to help me stay consistent when I'm traveling, and I finally found one that I love so much, I even use it when I'm at home. It's called OMG. I Can Meditate!, and I am so excited to give away ten 3-month memberships to OMG this week!

To enter to win one of ten 3-month memberships to the OMG. I Can Meditate! app, comment, tweet and/or follow, via the box below, by 6/5/15.

A screengrab from a meditation session in the OMG. I Can Meditate! app.

A screengrab from a meditation session in the OMG. I Can Meditate! app.

The connection between stress and beauty is real. Getting stress under control can be the key to restoring hormone balance, boosting the body's natural detox abilities, improving digestion, and lowering inflammation. Many of my clients struggle with breakouts that are connected to hormones and stress, and we work hard to develop ways to manage stress even as we build a diet that clears skin from the inside out. Stress greatly impacts sleep/wake cycles, weight and adrenal fatigue— all important for our overall beauty and wellbeing.

If there's one thing I would challenge you to do to lower your stress this year (and reap the added benefits of increased mental focus, reduced anxiety, and more radiant skin!), it would be regular meditation. Apps are great ways to start, and I fell in love with OMG. I Can Meditate!, for its beautiful images, relaxing narration voice (of its creator, Lynne Goldberg), and all kinds of cool extras— from bedtime meditations that help you fall asleep to kids meditations and 'missions,' where you choose your ongoing intentions. I'm still discovering all the content.

Enter to win your 3-month membership below— you will LOVE it!


6 Ways to Energize your Beauty when the Nights Get Colder

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There’s nothing quite like a day in the sunshine to make your complexion glow. But weeks spent indoors with the heat on full blast? That’s what you have to look forward to this winter, the season of looking pale and parched— right? Not necessarily. There’s more than one way to bring out your natural radiance, and the winter season offers some unique excuses to rest, replenish and rebuild beauty while nature does the same. Check out my favorite ways to use winter’s quiet darkness to look and feel your best:

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Even though it's tempting, resist making Labor Day one of those weekends that leaves you exhausted and drained. Make a real effort to start fall looking and feeling your best- focused, energetic and fulfilled. To get there, include these six tips in your last weekend of summer...

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5 Beautiful Ways to Start Every Day

This summer, try getting up 15 minutes earlier and doing one positive, nurturing thing for yourself before you head out to face the world. Read all about the top five beautiful ways to start your day...

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