Conscious Breathing and the Vagus Nerve | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Healing the Nervous System Through the Breath

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Breathing and the Vagus Nerve

“I Can’t Breathe” 

These are the words feverishly and frantically expressed by countless individuals who have died from Covid-19. 

“I Can’t Breathe”

Eric Garner, George Floyd, and Elijah McClain each uttered these words being killed as a result of police brutality. Now, these words are chanted around the world as hundreds of thousands march against systemic racism. 

“I Can’t Breathe” 

Air quality index spikes to hazardous levels across the West Coast of the United States forcing many to stay inside…it isn’t safe to breathe the air.

“To breathe is to live. Grief is often felt as a heavy weight in the chest. We cannot take for granted the health of our body, our sense of safety in the world, of the cleanliness of our air. These precious gifts are our birthright; yet, they need to be protected. To breathe fully in the midst of intense times is an act of courage.”

Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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Healing PTSD: Mind and Body in Trauma Treatment | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

A Compassionate Approach to Care

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Healing Trauma

In trauma treatment, we are looping our consciousness around places in our psyches and in our bodies that hold unprocessed sensations, emotions, images, and thoughts. Like dusting off old furniture or opening boxes that were pushed into the back of an attic, healing involves going into the recesses of the mind and heart. We bring the light of conscious awareness to our wounds—we attend to the pain so that we can feel integrated and whole. 

While it can initially feel frightening to revisit difficult memories, it can also feel empowering to reduce the power they hold over us. Lingering feelings of anxiety, shame, powerlessness, or frozenness need our unconditional acceptance in order to heal. This asks us to suspend any tendency to make ourselves wrong for feeling hurt. Instead, we learn turn towards our pain with love and compassion.

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The Vagus Nerve and your Health | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Natural Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Resilience Informed Therapy Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Did you know that activation of the vagus nerve keeps your immune system in check and releases an assortment of hormones and neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and oxytocin. This results in reductions in inflammation, reduced allergies, relief from tension headaches, improvements in memory, and feelings of relaxation (Groves & Brown, 2005).

Traditional vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) treatment, also referred to as neuromodulation, involves surgically implanting a bio-electronic device that provides stimulation for the vagus nerve. However, it is also possible to indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve naturally.

The vagus nerve passes through the belly, diaphragm, lungs, throat, inner ear, and facial muscles. Importantly, 80 percent of vagus nerve fibers are afferent or sensory nerves which means that they communicate messages from your body back up to your central nervous system. That means that when you move and breathe into these areas of the body, you can influence the functioning of your vagus nerve.

In this post, I share with you additional yoga, breath, and movement practices that help stimulate and balance the vagus nerve (you can find previously posted practices in my post on natural vagus nerve stimulation and here mind-body therapies for vagus nerve disorders)

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Juneteenth: A Statement In Solidarity | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Black Lives Matter

Photo credit: Betty Martin

Today is Juneteenth, a historical day in the United States which commemorates the day when slavery ended. Unfortunately; however, racism has not. Anti-Black racism in particular, has a centuries-long history of bringing violence and pain to Black communities.

This is an unacceptable reality.

Today, in the United States and worldwide, communities are coming together to challenge this state of affairs. Communities are coming together to eliminate hate, racism and their traumatic effects. Communities are coming together to imagine a new reality that centers marginalized communities, uplifts the validity of lived experience and builds genuine connections based on open communication.

It is time to for all of us to stand up and speak out for equality and justice. It is time for us to listen and offer our presence to hear this pain. It is time for each of us to take personal responsibility for our own participation in racism.

Even if it didn’t begin with me or you, racism is a form of legacy trauma–it gets passed on across generations contributing to our unconscious biases and prejudices. And, now, it is our responsibility to take hold of what has been passed down and create change! It is time to open up to uproot racism and plant compassion. 

In Solidarity

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Resources for Traumatic Stress | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Traumatic Stress Reactions

Traumatic Stress Dr. Arielle Schwartz
In her shell by Arielle Schwartz

During and after traumatic events, it is common to experience feelings of confusion, sadness, fear, anxiety, panic, irritability, agitation, anger, and despair. It is also common to experience physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, sweating, shakiness, nausea, or dizziness. These are just signs that our innate stress response has kicked into gear. We might feel an urge to flee or fight. Conversely, we might want to curl up, like a turtle in a protective shell.

While these symptoms can feel unsettling, it is important to recognize that these feelings are expected and they are normal. In fact, they are your body’s natural way of digesting traumatic stress.

However, if you notice that you are having intrusive images, nightmares, or difficulty sleeping, this is a sign that you should seek support with a therapist trained in the treatment of trauma. Otherwise, you might begin to feel stuck. For example, you might not want to go to places, participate in activities, or see people that are associated with your trauma. Overtime, these symptoms can inhibit your ability to live a happy and healthy life.

The Body’s Wisdom in Threatening Situations

Boundaries and the Self Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder

As human beings, we are equipped with a physiology that has built-in protective mechanisms to helps us survive threatening situations by mobilizing our defenses or disconnecting us from our pain. When we experience a threat, our sympathetic nervous system helps us to move into self-protection through the release of adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine throughout the bloodstream. Just as animals seek to flee or fight a predator; we too, might rely upon these defense mechanisms to survive.

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Reclaim your Life from C-PTSD | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

“It was Never my Fault”

C-PTSD recovery Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Having a history of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) from childhood trauma can lead you to struggle with your self-perception. Having self-perception issues refers to a sense of self that is based upon inaccurate beliefs that you are damaged, inferior, worthless, or unlovable. These beliefs are commonly accompanied by feelings of shame and guilt. It is common to feel as though you do not belong or that you are irreconcilably different from other people. Difficulties with self-perception can also lead you to mistakenly believe that other people are rejecting or feeling critical of you. 

It can be difficult to tolerate the discomfort associated with shame, anger, and hurt that often accompany childhood trauma. This can lead to a wide range of avoidance symptoms including perfectionism, unrelenting self-criticism, and addictions. For example, you might react angrily toward others or become hypercritical of yourself in order to avoid feeling sad.

“In order to heal, it is important to work with self-perception issues as they are experienced, mentally, emotionally, and physically. You can learn to be with your emotions without the need to run away, attack yourself, or attack others. You can learn to validate your experience, and with practice, you can reclaim your life from C-PTSD.” -Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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A Practical Guide to Complex PTSD | Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Compassionate Strategies for Childhood Trauma

This book, A Practical Guide to Complex PTSD, is meant to provide compassionate support for the process of healing from childhood trauma. You can think of it as a lantern that will illuminate the dark spaces and provide a sense of hope in moments of despair.

The practical strategies you will learn in this book are taken from the most effective therapeutic interventions for trauma recovery. You will learn the skills to improve your physical and mental health by attending to the painful wounds from your past without feeling flooded with overwhelming emotion. My wish is to help you discover a new sense of freedom. The traumatic events of your past no longer need to interfere with your ability to live a meaningful and satisfying life.

“I have dedicated this book to those of you who have suffered from abuse or neglect as children and to the caring individuals who walk with you on your healing path. May the words and practices offered in this book provide guidance and inspire you with hope.” ~Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Covid-19: A Collective Hero’s Journey Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Walking into the Darkness

Hope for C-PTSD Recovery

“Covid-19 has led many of us around the world to experience feelings of shock and confusion. This collective crisis has disrupted our orientation to the world as we have known it. We have been thrust into a process of self-discovery and a requisite redefining of our lives. It is impossible to go back to the old ways of living.” ~Dr. Arielle Schwartz


American mythologist, Joseph Campbell (2008), describes personal transformation as a hero’s journey. The hero must enter the darkness, face challenges, slay the dragon, retrieve the treasure, and emerge stronger. Here, we understand that challenging life events can serve as a call to enter the hero’s journey. You may feel as though you have been thrown into an abyss. The dragons you must slay are the inner demons. You walk into the darkness in order retrieve the treasures that exist within you, such as inner strength, wisdom, and hope. You emerge with an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose, which become the gifts that you have to offer to the world.

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Strengthen Your Resilience During Covid-19

Raising Resilience in Community

Resilience Informed Therapy Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Something beautiful happened. Several hundred people showed up online from around the world to focus on building resilience during Covid-19. From Slovenia, Turkey, Dubai, New Zealand, UK, Sweden, France, Germany, Canada, and across the US. 

It just blew my mind…all of us connecting around our shared experience. The fear, the loneliness, and the profound resilience that is within us as we come together as a collective, with an intention to support each other with compassion.

If you would like you can watch the recording. You’ll find it below.

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Polyvagal Theory in Psychotherapy: Practical Applications for PTSD Treatment| Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Polyvagal Theory in Psychotherapy

Polyvagal Theory in Psychotherapy Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Polyvagal theory in psychotherapy offers co-regulation as an interactive process that engages the social nervous systems of both therapist and client. Social engagement provides experiences of mutuality and reciprocity in which we are open to receiving another person, as they are. For the client who was rejected in childhood, this moment of being received can be profoundly reparative.

Before offering any interventions aimed toward regulation, develop your understanding of the client’s current experience within the context of their developmental, social, and cultural history. For example, if they are angry, firmly validate why this anger makes sense in the context of their experiences in the world. Explore how it feels to nonjudgmentally accept them and yourself just as you are.

“The goal of regulating emotions is not to make feelings go away. Rather, the aim is to help clients build their capacity to ride the waves of big emotions and sensations. Initially, this occurs because they know that we are willing to join them in these difficult moments. In time, this process helps them learn that temporary experiences of contraction can resolve into a natural expansion of positive emotions such as relief, gratitude, empowerment, or joy.”

Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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