By Melissa Lafrance on March 4, 2019
Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
Did you know that humans have three brains? There is the central nervous system (CNS) that originates in your cranial cavity (the “brain”) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that is based out of your brain, spine and pelvis. The PNS has multiple functions, two of which are the “fight and flight” response and the “rest and digest” response. The third, less-commonly-discussed one is the enteric nervous system (ENS) that originates in your intestinal tract — also referred to as the “gut brain”.
As far as we know, these brains are linked by only one vital nerve, the vagus nerve, by which they send their messages of joy and warning, back and forth. What’s astounding is that even if that vagus nerve is severed, the ENS keeps functioning without direction from the CNS brain headquarters. It is a “brain” on its own.
Mindfulness impacts the vagus nerve and thus the ENS directly. The ENS is a major factor in digestion and mental state. A mindfulness practice crosses both mental and physical aspects of health.
Let’s first learn about where the nerve hubs are:
- Origin of thoughts and reactions
- Over 85 billion neurons and 100 neurotransmitters
- 5% of serotonin, 50% of dopamine
- Origin of fight, flight, freeze and fall – the responses to situations of danger, fear and pain
- Slows digestive processes to direct attention toward managing threats
Brain, Pelvis and Vagus Nerve (PNS)
- Origin of rest, repair and digestion
- Directs digestion and bowels
Gut Tissue (ENS)
- Origin of “gut feelings”
- 100 million neurons and 40 neurotransmitters
- 95% of serotonin, 50% of dopamine
While the CNS certainly has the most influence on daily life, the vagus nerve is a two-way information highway connecting the gut to the brain. It delivers messages about the state of affairs between the brain and the gut. When the mind is at ease, the body can follow suit. Likewise, when the gut is at ease, the mind receives messages of calm. The gut brain is the group huddle for the body’s health and wellbeing.
Knowing this, let’s not only consider what we are eating, but also how we feel while we eat. A mindfulness practice is a tool that allows messages of restoration and digestion to flood the gut. An enhanced capacity for digestion can send messages of calm back to the mind
Take 10 to tame your breath and tame your gut
Before each meal, take 10 deep inhales and long exhales. This process changes your chemistry enough to signal to your vagus nerve that you are willing to go into a digestion phase of the day. Ten deep breaths is a short amount of time in relation to a day’s work – about one minute – but it can certainly feel long or inappropriate in your current rhythm.
Until it feels natural, perhaps do this by yourself, looking out a window or on a slow walk down the hall. Oftentimes, once we sit down to eat, our minds have already moved on to either hunger, conversations or time pressures.
Allow yourself the space and preparation to welcome your meals and let the nourishment begin.
Dr. Thara Vayali is a Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher, UBC alum and popular guest contributor to our Healthy UBC newsletter who specializes in intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. For more information about Thara, visit www.tharavayali.ca
By Miranda Massie on January 8, 2019
Welcome to a new term and a brand new year. By the time some of you are reading this, your work will be well underway. My typical day jumps from one workshop to the next and one project to the next, seldom leaving time for pause, reflection, or celebration.
Before things get too hectic and we really start to feel the pressure, I’d like to take a moment to arrive – where we have the space to take a deep breath, to reflect and to pat ourselves and others on the back for a job well done. Try it with me.
Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…
Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…
Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…
Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…
If you’re looking to incorporate a moment to arrive into your day, or even your team meetings, follow the instructions below:
- Pause before you begin a meeting, group activity or task.
- Invite everyone to take 1 minute to focus their attention on breathing.
- Allow the body and mind to settle and focus on what you are about to begin.
This month, I encourage you to take a moment to arrive – whether it’s at your desk, for a meeting or to connect your mind and body. Acknowledge the past and allow yourself to start fresh and anew.
We accomplished a lot last year and many of you took the time to share your feedback and tell us how Healthy UBC supports your wellbeing. Here are some of my (and your) favourite articles from 2018:
- Five Secrets to a Healthier Heart: Ways to improve the physical and emotional health of your heart
- Learn How to “Heart Your Parts!”: A quick guide of sexual and reproductive health tips
- What Your EQ Can Do for Your Relationship IQ: Harnessing emotional intelligence to positively impact relationships
- Clear Space to Be Well: Ways to enhance your space for better wellbeing
- Self-compassion: The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Finding ways to be kind to ourselves
Thank you for your kind words, your support for our efforts in workplace wellbeing and for your brave examples of hard work and commitment to lift up the people of UBC.
All the best for 2019!
Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (“Minute to arrive”)
Photo credit: Miranda Massie
By Miranda Massie on January 8, 2019
Guest contribution from Wendy Quan
Mindfulness offers a wealth of practices that can help in times of distress. It can allow you to observe when your thoughts are spiralling out of control and to notice what’s influencing your reactions. It can help you make better decisions, be more effective and not regret your reactions afterwards.
Here is a simple practice you can call upon in the heat of the moment:
Pause and take a mindful breath. Give yourself a micro opportunity to mentally ‘step away’.
Notice your emotions. Check in with yourself. It only takes an instant to do so. Can you identify and label the emotions you’re having right now, in this moment? It could be surprise, anger, disbelief or many other emotions.
By identifying and labeling your emotions, you give yourself the opportunity to gain some objectivity on the situation at hand. It gives you some space to consider what you feel are appropriate possible responses.
If you are in a situation that requires immediate action, take a mindful breath. If you have a bit more time (e.g. preparing to go into a heated meeting), close your eyes just for a minute and experience your breath. You can find some calmness, composure and clarity of thought in just a short moment.
3. Take Action
After making a decision on the best appropriate response, take action mindfully. Notice how you are responding: your behaviour, body language, tone of voice, etc. Being mindful of your actions lets you create the experience you wish to have, rather than succumbing to auto-pilot responses triggered in the heat of the moment.
Call upon this simple Pause, Notice, Take Action practice as a tool to get you through those unsettling moments.
Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is an industry leader in training and certifying experienced meditators to become mindfulness meditation facilitators in their workplace or community. She combines change management with mindfulness meditation to help people through difficult change and is the creator of the Dealing with Change Toolkit.
Wendy is a certified organizational change manager who has been recognized as a pioneer by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley, the global Association of Change Management Professionals and the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources. Her clients include Google, the government of Dubai, University of British Columbia, the US Senate, and individuals and Fortune 500 organizations worldwide.