I was listening to a mindfulness training recently when it struck me – they are talking about activating the parasympathetic state!
All the benefits ascribed to mindfulness and tools and strategies to achieve mindfulness are really correlating with activating the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system, which I refer to as the “parasympathetic state”.
In other words, Mindfulness = Parasympathetic State
Mindfulness practices have always felt a little challenging and unattainable as they often require time and practice to master. My goal is to make mindfulness, or the ability to access the parasympathetic state, easily accessible to everyone. This is my “why” for creating the Parasympathetic™ blend which can be topically applied in an easy and non-invasive way on your vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone).
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of feeling safe and allowing your mind and body to land in the present moment. In order to really drop into your body and clearly assess and respond to your thoughts, emotions and environment, you need to be in a parasympathetic state.
Remember that the sympathetic “Fight or Flight” state activates selective attention. In this state, your pupils dilate to help you limit your awareness so that you might focus exclusively on pressing danger. When survival is threatened and the sympathetic nervous system is activated, all focus is directed to identifying and surviving threats before you can dedicate your attention to anything else.
The parasympathetic state calms your body so you can maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Benefits of a Mindfulness Practice
The benefits of a mindfulness practice are similar to the benefits of activating the parasympathetic state, supporting your physical, emotional and mental health.
- Physical benefits include: reducing stress, chronic pain, high blood pressure, improving sleep, balancing blood sugar and alleviating digestive complaints.
- Mental Health benefits include: improving attention, enhancing focus and concentration, work and athletic performance
- Emotional benefits include: improving mood, reducing anxiety and depression, enhancing emotional connection through improved relationship skills, such as being present and attentive, regulating emotions, being self-aware, and cultivating empathy and compassion.
How the Parasympathetic State Supports a Mindfulness Practice
Parasympathetic™ can also be used in combination with the following mindfulness practices to help enhance the following benefits of your mindfulness practice:
The neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, released by your vagus nerve in the Parasympathetic state, plays a key role in memory, learning and your ability to focus your attention on the present moment or on your breathing.
Stimulating your vagus nerve by topically applying our stimulatory Parasympathetic™ behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone helps to stimulate the release of acetylcholine which helps enhance mindfulness. Try to expand your awareness and observe and accept your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. When you expand your awareness beyond immediate danger and are able to focus your attention on your inner processes and experiences, such as the experience of the present moment or your breathing pattern. This helps shift you out of negative thought patterns of anticipatory stress that can contribute to a viscous cycle of stress.
Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Resilience plays a key role in our mental and physical health. It allows us to better recover from physical challenges and mental upsets. Bolstering your resilience can help expedite your healing.
Topically applying Parasympathetic™ blend on the vagal nerve behind the on the neck, at the base of the skull and over the heart, can calm the system so you can drop into resilience. Read more about essential oils for resilience here.
When you hold on to anger or resentment, it vibrates through the cells of your body, impacting your health. These negative emotions like anger rarely improve the situation. Instead, they holds the negative energy in your field. And they can be hard to release. In order to release negative experience and emotional residue from your life, you truly have to forgive, not just the other person, but yourself. Read more about essential oils for forgiveness here.
Blaming others and staying stuck in the role of victim or taking responsibility for other people’s actions and other practices of poor physical and energetic boundaries can negatively impact your health. They are all forms of avoidance, keeping you stuck in the role of victim, surrounded by negative emotions including anger, fear, resentment, shame, guilt which can contribute to physical and mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. The longer you stay stuck in these emotions, the longer these emotions stay stuck in your body, creating stagnation which can impede detoxification and contribute to inflammation.
Essential oils, with their ability to travel directly to the amygdala – the emotional control center of the brain, can help to release any negative feelings and foster feelings of forgiveness. For example, essential oils can help amplify a forgiveness practice as you can breathe in the oils and release all past hurts and disappointment as you exhale. Inhaling an oil through the nose, then forcefully exhaling through the mouth allows the body to best release emotions that no longer serve.
Judgement, criticism or other negative opinions about external or internal situations and individuals (including yourself) keep you stuck in self-limiting belief patterns or relationships patterns. This is because your beliefs about other people limit your relationships and your potential. For example, you may make assumptions about what others are thinking and respond based on those assumptions. Sadly, these assumptions are often wrong, like if you believe that someone does not like you when they actually have no particular opinion or even think you are nice.
It’s also important to release judgement against yourself and the victim/victimizer mentality that keeps you stuck in a state of fear and lack- the opposite of the mindful parasympathetic state. Read more about releasing your victim story here.
The Parasympathetic state allows us to think rationally, release judgement and let go of the idea that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When you apply Parasympathetic™ over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone), it helps to calm your “fight or flight” reflex and help balance your nervous system. The Lime oil in the Parasympathetic™ blend can also help promote emotional grounding, encouraging a balance between the heart and mind, which is an ideal state in which to release self-limiting beliefs.
Enhance Social Connection
Social connection, including smiling and making eye contact, help you feel safe and activate your parasympathetic state. Your vagus nerve physically connects to your mouth and eyes, helping to both trigger and respond to safety cues from others.
“Through the history of humanity, when humans were threatened, they mitigate the threat response through social interaction, through being hugged, through being with a trusted individual. What we’re calling social distancing creates a problem because it takes away from us the toolkit that humanity had always used to regulate threat,” noted Dr. Stephen Porges.
Porges’s Polyvagal theory identifies the vagus nerve as the safety gauge for your nervous system and the key driver of your emotional regulation, social connection and fear response. Your vagus nerve acts as a brake, inhibiting over-activation of your sympathetic nervous system, by literally putting the brakes on a racing heartbeat through the release of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine. This physically calms your heart rate and promotes relaxation and self-soothing which allows you to feel safe and foster healthy social interaction.
On an emotional level, your vagus nerve also helps support heart centered communication.
It’s important to note that your vagus nerve’s capacity to activate or inhibit your sympathetic nervous system correlates with your capacity to engage with others during social interaction. Initiation of your sympathetic response triggers the withdrawal of your Parasympathetic state as both cannot be active at the same time, which has a significant impact on your ability to connect with others.
In the parasympathetic state you are better able to self-regulate, sustain attention, and calm down after a stressful experience. This capacity to regulate your emotional response and behavior helps nurture and support healthy relationships and allow you to respond appropriately to interpersonal stressors and demands.
Our ability to socially interact – including the ability to pay attention, clearly communicate with healthy emotional expression, manage our impulses and self-regulate and calm anxiety and depression that can interfere with healthy social function – are significantly more accessible in the parasympathetic state.
Manage Difficult Emotions
In Chinese medicine, negative emotions are believed to cause a disruption in the body’s energy system, often in connection to certain meridians and organs in the body. The word emotion includes the word motion, signifying that emotions are meant for us to experience and move through.
Apply the Parasympathetic™ blend and allow emotions to be present without judgment. It helps to name the emotions, like “anger”, “fear”, “sadness” or “frustration” – this unattached acceptance allows you to identify and release these emotions. Acknowledging your emotions from a mindful state allows you to observe your experience from a more detatched, less emotional place which makes it easier to process.
It is helpful to allow the emotion wash over you without feeling the need to judge yourself or avoid it. I try to drop into the parasympathetic state where I can pause and objectively observe the emotion. This mindfulness practice can help you process challenging emotions like anger, grief, fear, and sadness.
Smelling essential oils like Lavender™, Adrenal™ or Parasympathetic™ during this process can help keep your body grounded and feeling safe as your mind revisits scary territory. The combination of essential oils and certain tapping techniques allowed me to process through emotions. You can read more about the specific technique I used HERE.
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