Vagal Toning: A Journey Home to Self

Embodied Spirituality

Vagal Toning with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Many of us have been taught that our spirituality is something that exists outside of us and that it is disconnected from our bodies.

What if those teachings had it backwards? What if your connection to your soul, to your wisest self, lives right here, under your skin, inside of your heart, your belly, your hips. Vagal toning is a way to tap into your body’s intelligence, one breath at a time.

The idea that we must seek our source of wisdom from outside of us disconnects us from our intuition…as a result it can become more difficult to make decisions, navigate our relationships, and feel connected to the world around us. 

Embodied spirituality resides at the intersection between science, soma, and your soul. 

Through a process of listening to your body, you re-align your life so that all of your choices, relationships, and actions become a form of soulful living…from the ground up, you can reclaim your embodied spiritual self. 

Vagal Toning Practice Group with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Beginning in April 2024, I will be offering Vagal Toning Practice Groups. This will be an opportunity for those looking to deepen their understanding to gather and enjoy the benefits of a group learning environment. These sessions will run for an hour and fifteen minutes, allowing for a 30-minute practice and 30-minute Q&A. While these groups are open to anyone, it is recommended that attendees have participated in a vagal toning course or training with me prior to joining.

  • When: April 23rd 12:00-1:15 MT | May 28th 12:00-1:15 MT with Arielle Schwartz
  • How Much: $40 per group practice session with Arielle Schwartz
  • Who: For those who have participated in a vagal toning training with Dr. Schwartz or anyone interested in deepening their understanding of vagal toning, regardless of experience level.
  • NEW! Assistant Dates: Ilene Naomi Rusk is offering a group on April 19th, donation based, see registration link below for details

Follow the link below to complete payment. Once payment has processed, you will be redirected to a Zoom Registration Page to register for the group. *Please note that you must complete both the payment and Zoom Registration in order to secure your spot and receive access details.


What is vagal tone?

Vagal tone is measured through the oscillations in heart rate variability that occur with the breath. This is referred to as Heart Rate Variability or HRV. Healthy tone of your vagus nerve involves a slight increase in heart rate on the inhalation and a decrease inheart rate when you exhale.

Healthy vagal tone can be thought of as an optimal balance of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system actions. People with higher HRV can move more easily from excitement to relaxed and can recover more easily from stress.

Simply put, vagal toning means you are adding gentle stimulation to the vagus nerve pathway through breath, sound, eye-movements, self-applied touch, and gentle movements that help you come into balance.

Since most of us are sympathetic dominant, balance involves more down-regulation of the nervous system into the parasympathetic. However, some of need up-regulating strategies to come out of fatigue or collapse. In that case, the same balancing vagal toning practices will still work, and you can also emphasize the inhalation and gentle expansive movements to up-regulate your system whereas you would emphasize the exhalation and inward awareness to down-regulate your system.

And what is happening as we tone the vagus nerve? We are strengthening the nerve pathway of the social engagement system through repeated practices within the context of connection and safety and we are resetting baseline HRV through conscious breathing, movement, and self-compassion.

Science

Vagal Toning with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Science looks at the research about why and how breath, movement, and awareness practices work. A key player in the mind-body relationship is your vagus nerve. This 10th cranial nerve functions as a superhighway of communication that connects your brain to your gut, heart, lungs, as well as the small key muscles within and around your throat, face, eyes, and ears. In short, your vagus nerve helps your body do its job, helping you respond to stress and return to restful states of ease.

The vagus nerve connects your mind and body and allows you to sense your innermost self. More specifically, your vagus nerve connects to your stomach and intestines which have been termed your enteric nervous system or belly brain. Your digestive system is profoundly intelligent in helping you navigate the world and it helps you to discern nourishing experiences from those that are unhealthy. This is true in relationship to food as your digestive system can distinguish nutrients from waste…and in the case of food poisoning will wisely reject that which is toxic. 

Your belly brain also helps you to digest all of the life experiences that you take in from your relationships, your family, and your environment. You instinctively have a gut reaction to experiences that feel good or nourishing as distinct from those that feel frightening or dangerous.

Unfortunately, some of us had to disconnect from our gut wisdom for the sake of survival. For example, if you grew up in an unsafe home you may have had to override your inner wisdom for the sake of attachment and relationships. This is because we all need relationships to survive and we will make even the unsafe ones good enough if that is all that we have got.

There is hope…and vagal toning is a key to reclaiming your birthright of safety, clarity, and inner calm. 

Soma

Vagal Toning with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Soma is Greek for body and the integration of body awareness invites you to deepen your relationship to your felt self. What does it mean to become embodied? Sometimes this comes naturally and for some of us, we have disconnected from our soma because living in this human world is challenging. Many of us have coped by learning to disconnect from our sensations.

With practice, you can learn to turn toward your experience of discomfort. However, reclaiming a relationship to your body needs to happen slowly, at a pace that you can tolerate. Slowly you can begin to develop trust again, in yourself, in your somatic experience, and in your inner voice.

The felt sense of contraction, when held wisely, can become the foundation for your deepest healing and growth. If this is new, you might feel the urge to push away the discomfort. You also learn to turn toward sensations of ease or pleasure. Engaging in vagal toning practices invites you into a felt-sense of safety that helps you to reclaim a relationship to your body.

Soul

Vagal Toning with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Soul invites you to listen deeply to the voice of your intuition, your wisest self, that is always accessible when you turn your attention inward with curiosity and compassion. Soul can be thought of as the deepest center of our identity that houses your sense of meaning and purpose. This helps us bridge the gap between our tangible, measurable physical world and the subtle, phenomenological qualities of our internal experience.

Soulwork is an invitation to discover the quiet, still, and unchanging Self that resides in the depths of your being. Spirituality can be thought of as a sense of belonging or connection to something beyond yourself, an interconnectedness with all of nature and life

When you have a history of trauma or chronic health conditions it is valuable to attend not only to your psychological and physical symptoms but also to your spiritual well-being. Chronic conditions can dramatically impact your sense of self. Many psychological and medical interventions tend to focus on reducing or eliminating distress without recognizing that many of us are also seeking experiences, connection, contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and optimism for the future.

Vagal Toning for Mind-Body Health

Vagal Toning with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Being human involves inevitable exposure to stress, and research suggests that most of us will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in our lifetimes. These challenging life events tend to take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. You might feel keyed up in anxiety or shut down by fatigue and depression. It is also common to experience health challenges such as migraines, digestive imbalances, or inflammation of your joints. 

When we look at the root cause of these symptoms, we recognize that they all come from a common source which is a dysregulation of your autonomic nervous system or your body’s innate stress response system…and this is regulated by the vagus nerve. 

So, what is Vagal Toning? Simply put, vagal toning means you are adding gentle stimulation to this nerve pathway through breath, sound, eye-movements, self-applied touch, and gentle movements that help your body optimize your well-being. Bodywork, time in nature, meditation, and mindful movement such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong all engage the vagus nerve to nourish your nervous system 

As a result of vagal toning practices, many people immediately feel a shift. This might be a subtle sense of calm, an urge to yawn, or a spontaneous sigh. Sometimes these practices lead increase your access to emotions or sensations. If this is new, you might feel a little bit uncomfortable at first. Some people even feel a little nauseas or dizzy the first few times. But overtime and with repeated practice most people begin to notice a greater feeling of ease, connection, and inner peace.

A Journey Home to Self

Vagal Toning Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder, CO

Have you ever had difficulty making decisions? Do you sometimes feel disconnected from your intuition? Vagal toning practices lay down a pathway that brings you home to your true self.

Remember, your vagus nerve connects your mind and body and allows you to sense your innermost self. However, ongoing stress or trauma can lead you to feel disconnected from your body. This can lead to profound sense of confusion or you might feel cut-off from your emotions and sensations. 

By toning the vagus nerve you re-awaken yourself to your instinctual wisest self that says “yes” I like this, or “no” that is not good for me. You clarify your boundaries and you re-orient your life based upon this inner compass that is always with you. It becomes easier to make decisions, to know who to trust, and to listen to the inner voice or your true self.

The above practice guides through natural vagus nerve stimulation practices. Based upon my book, Therapeutic yoga for Trauma Recovery, I share with you some key practices to held you regulate your nervous system.

Regulation of the nervous system relies upon the goldilocks principle. We recognize we are “too hot” when we feel keyed up, anxious, irritable, or panicky. We are too “too cold” when we are shut down, depressed, or feeling hopeless. Sometimes we alternate between the two which is like driving with one foot on the gas and one on the brakes. Practices that regulate the vagus nerve are aimed towards either relaxing or re-energizing ourselves depending upon what is needed to feel “just right.”

About Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Photo Credit: Jes Kimak

Arielle Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist, internationally sought-out teacher, yoga instructor, and leading voice in the healing of PTSD and complex trauma. She is the author of five books, including The Complex PTSD WorkbookEMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology, and The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook.

Dr. Schwartz is an accomplished teacher who guides therapists in the application of EMDR, somatic psychology, parts work therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of trauma and complex PTSD. She guides you through a personal journey of healing in her Sounds True audio program, Trauma Recovery. 

She has a depth of understanding, passion, kindness, compassion, joy, and a succinct way of speaking about very complex topics. She is the founder of the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy in Boulder, Colorado where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation. Dr. Schwartz believes that that the journey of trauma recovery is an awakening of the spiritual heart.


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