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Archive for the ‘chakras’ Category

What if you had magic fingers and could touch a place on a person’s body and make all their pain and anguish disappear?  This would be the stuff of legends, myths and miracles! Here’s a research review by Kerry J Ressler  and Helen S Mayberg on the modern ability to electrically “touch” the Vagus Nerve.

The article,  Targeting abnormal neural circuits in mood and anxiety disorders: from the laboratory to the clinic discusses a number of “nerve stimulation therapies” wherein specific nerve fibers are electrically stimulated to relieve mental anguish associated with (drug) treatment-resistant depression.

Vagus nerve stimulation therapy (VNS) is approved by the FDA for treatment of medication-resistant depression and was approved earlier for the treatment of epilepsy20.  …  The initial reasoning behind the use of VNS followed from its apparent effects of elevating mood in patients with epilepsy20, combined with evidence that VNS affects limbic activity in neuroimaging studies21. Furthermore, VNS alters concentrations of serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA and glutamate within the brain2224, suggesting that VNS may help correct dysfunctional neurotransmitter modulatory circuits in patients with depression.

This stuff is miraculous in every sense of the word – to be able to reach in and “touch” the body and bring relief – if not bliss – to individuals who suffer with immense emotional pain.  So who is this Vagus nerve anyway?  Why does stimulating it impart so many emotional benefits?  How can I touch my own Vagus nerve?

The wikipedia page is a great place to explore – suggesting that this nerve fiber is central to the “rest and digest” functions of the parasympathetic nervous system.  As evidenced by the relief its stimulation brings from emotional pain, the Vagus nerve is central to mind-body connections and mental peace.

YOGA is a practice that also brings mental peace.  YOGA,  in so many ways (I hope to elaborate on in future posts),  aims to engage the parasympathetic nervous system (slowing down and resting responses) and disengage the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight responses).  Since we all can’t have our very own (ahem) lululemon (ahem) vagal nerve stimulation device, we must rely on other ways to stimulate the Vagus nerve fiber.  Luckily, many such ways are actually known – so-called “Vagal maneuvers” – such as  holding your breath and bearing down (Valsalva maneuver), immersing your face in ice-cold water (diving reflex), putting pressure on your eyelids, & massage of the carotid sinus area – that have been shown to facilitate parasympathetic (relaxation & slowing down) responses.

But these “Vagal maneuvers” are not incorporated into yoga.  How might yoga engage and stimulate the Vagal nerve bundle? Check out these great resources on breathing and Vagal tone (here, here, here).  I’m not an expert by any means but I think the take home message is that when we breathe deep and exhale, Vagal tone increases.  So, any technique that allows us to increase the duration of our exhalation will increase Vagal tone. Now THAT sounds like yoga!

Even more yogic is the way the Vagus nerve is the only nerve in the parasympathetic system that reaches all the way from the colon to the brain.  The fiber is composed mainly of upward (to the brain) pulsing neurons – which sounds a lot like the mystical Kundalini Serpent that arises upwards from within (starting at the root – colon) and ending in the brain.  The picture above – of the Vagus nerve (bright green fiber) – might be what the ancient yogis had in mind?

some updates:

here’s a great post on the importance of, and teaching of exhalation

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Manipura chakra
Image via Wikipedia

More on CG Jung‘s famous “chakra lectures” …

In lecture 2 he opines on symbolic and psychological aspects of the 3rd chakraManipura – shown here with a yellow center and red triangle that symbolize fire.  Interestingly, the location of this chakra overlaps with what we, today, call the “solar” plexus – not because of its symbolic connections to the fiery sun – but rather, simply because the neural projections from this plexus, located between the stomach and the spine, radiate outwardly in a sun-like fashion.

Jung notes that fire symbolism often follows water symbolism – just as occurs in the chakra hierarchy where the previous chakra is symbolized by water.  This ancient pattern of symbolism is common across many religious traditions.

“One sees all that very beautifully in the Catholic rite of baptism when the godfather holds the child and the priest approaches with the burning candle and says: Dono tibi lucem eternam (I give thee the eternal light) – which means, I give you relatedness to the sun, to the God.”

So, I guess, after a person emerges from the murky depths of water, the next stage of their spiritual journey or subconscious “awakening” is a time in their lives when they grow to feel connected to something greater than themselves, to something eternal, beyond the everyday world, perhaps cosmic or goldly, etc.  Jung suggests that this initial connection to “god” has long been symbolized by the sun and by fire.

“This is a worldwide and ancient symbolism, not only in the Christian baptism and the initiation in the Isis mysteries.  For instance, in the religious symbolism of ancient Egypt, the dead Pharoh goes to the underworld and embarks in the ship of the sun.  You see, to approach divinity means the escape from the futility of the personal existence, and the achieving of the eternal existence, the escape to a nontemporal form of existence.  The Pharoh climbs into the sun bark and travels through the night and conquers the serpent, and then rises again with the god, and is riding over the heavens for all eternity.”

Furthermore, Jung suggests, there is a shared, underlying psychological reason why so many ancient cultures used the common symbols of fire for this phase of their development.  It would seem that for many, that once they let go of the closely-held, relatively petty details of their day-to-day life and acknowledge a connection between themselves and the wider universe and things divine – that, upon letting go – their own fires of passion and emotion become alight.

So it is just that – you get into the world of fire, where things become red-hot.  After baptism, you get right into hell – that is the enantiodromia.  And now comes the paradox of the east: it is also the fullness of jewels.  But what is passion, what are emotions? There is the source of fire, there is the fullness of energy.  A man who is not on fire is nothing: he is ridiculous, he is two-dimensional. … So when people become acquainted with the unconscious they often get into an extraordinary state – they flare up, they explode, old buried emotions come up, they begin to weep about things which happened forty years ago.

I think I can relate to this notion.  Perhaps when you accept that you’re just a part of a larger plan, or just a single link in a long continuum, you stop worrying about the petty stuff which then allows your own deeper passions and emotions to flow more freely.  Both the good emotions related to creativity and love as well as feelings of sadness and loss that come along with recognizing your fate and limitations  – all begin to emerge.  These feelings make a person feel more “alive” than they would just playing it safe, workin’ 9-to-5 payin’ the bills etc., etc. and never allowing themselves to embark on their spiritual journey.

So it seems, as suggested by Jung, that we begin our spiritual awakening as humans have for thousands of years, by “taking the plunge” and choosing – not the “safe career” path – but a path in life that “means something” to us.  From the dark, uncertain waters, we emerge – and then the inner fires begin to burn, to inflame our passions and give us energy, to live and to create.

… can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

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This picture depicts the seven major Chakras w...
Image via Wikipedia

Am really enjoying reading  Carl Jung‘s 1932 lectures on The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga edited by Sonu Shamdasani.

Jung focuses on the chakra symbols – which have many different biological, physiological and psychological interpretations.  To Jung, the chakra symbols reflect a natural psychological process of self-awareness and spiritual development.  In the Kundalini Yoga tradition, there begins a “natural awakening” that occurs in life that motivates a person to pursue endeavors that have some sort of personal “meaning” rather than be content with just the basic ordinary existence.  I guess we all get tired of just payin’-the-bills, so to speak?

According to the ancient vedic texts, the “Kundalini” refers to a symbolic female serpent that awakens and starts to rise up inside of us.  In the very earliest stages of this awakening one goes from the low self-awareness of ordinary day-to-day life to a higher state of self-awareness – a more personal inner-awareness of our devotions, purpose or motivations.  His words from lecture 1:

Some strange urge underneath forces them to do something which is not just the ordinary thing.

This is a common, wonderful aspect of our lives right?  Don’t we all hit a point where we want to do something “special” with our lives?  I can’t help but think of all the coaches, music teachers, artists, etc. etc., that I’ve met in my life who weren’t happy just payin-the-bills and opted to do something “special” with their time.

But there lies some danger in trying to do something “special” !

If we step off the path of the ordinary, practical concerns of daily life to do something unconventional or “for the love of it”, we risk losing the safety and stability of our everyday life.  The banker who leaves work early to coach a little league team may put his career at risk.  The kid who chooses music as a major instead of accounting similarly trades a staid (boring) future for a more impoverished (but perhaps fulfilling) future.  And so on and so on.  We’ve all been there.

In terms of the chakra symbols, the shift from this lowest, ordinary, root, muladhara stage to the next swadhisthana stage involves a symbolic shift from earth to waterThis can be seen in the images on the chakra symbols:  a stable elephant in the root chakra and the sea with a leviathan as depicted in the next higher level chakra symbol (shown here).  Jung says the shift from “ordinary life” to the pursuit of a “meaningful life” is naturally fraught with psychological fear given the inherent risks, uncertainty and possibility of failure.

This very normal and common human psychological transition, he points out, has long been recognized by other ancient cultures.  Similarly, they characterized this very common psychological shift as one from earth to water.  I guess its not all that surprising if you think of the fear you’d have if thrown in the water and unable to swim (no such thing as swim lessons back in the day).  Jung opines:

The way into any higher development leads through water, with the danger of being swallowed by the monster.  If you study the beautiful mosaic pictures in the Baptistry of the Orthodox in Ravenna … you see four scenes depicted on the wall: two describe the baptism of Christ in the Jordan; and the fourth is St. Peter drowning in a lake during a storm …  Baptism is a symbolic drowning.

So perhaps the very first steps in taking on a new “meaningful” direction in life – from simply payin’ the bills to doing something personally fulfilling – is to face the inherent uncertainties and fears.  To move into the murky depths and confront the possibility of failure and loss.

OK.  I will try and ground my sit bones into the water – rather than the earth!

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