What Happens in Vagus…
“exhaust (v.)1530s, “to draw off or out, to use up completely,” from Latin exhaustus,” Online Etymology Dictionary
Teaching has always been hard. But now… Who else feels their strength “drawn off” by the onslaught of affronts everywhere we turn. No matter where we go, we are reminded of where we are right now. And it ain’t looking good. I don’t need to go into the details. You know what I’m talking about. It’s exhausting. We are collectively exhausted.
No one wants to hear that what we are experiencing is a blessing in disguise. So instead, allow me to introduce you to your vagus nerve and the polyvagal theory.
The vagus nerve regulates our nervous system. It’s the go-to nerve for calming down or ramping up our biological responses. Need to chill out? The vagus nerve is at your service. Need to fight, freeze, or flee? The vagus nerve’s got you covered!
When our system is traumatized, the vagus nerve protects us by automatically assessing in nanoseconds which avenue of escape suits best: fight, flight or freeze.
Fortunately, we have this amazing process that saves us when faced with devastating, unbearable circumstances.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand down when the trauma ends. Hence, what happens in vagus, stays in vagus.
Our current responses are triggered based on what happened when we were traumatized rather than what is actually happening now. This nervous system hyper-vigilance happens without our conscious awareness that our body is producing stress hormones. These hormones elevate our heart rate and blood pressure and cause our muscles to tense for starters. Then we filter social and environmental situations through this heightened state that is out of sync.
Fortunately, the vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system and can be engaged in calming, soothing, healing ways. This nervous system hack happens with our conscious awareness.
One way to engage the power of the vagus nerve lies in our breathing. If we extend our exhale longer than we inhale, the vagus nerve sends the message to our body that all is well. This might happen when we sigh or sing, but it definitely happens when we practice breathing techniques.
Do this with your students for a few minutes every day to enlist the vagus nerve as an agent of calm.
We can’t control all the traumatizing situations swirling around us, but we can take control of our breathing for short periods of time to soothe and bring our nervous systems some relief.
I’ve combined a breathing technique with finger movements to help with focus. It’s called Breathing Fingers©.