Tag Archives: Research

Visualize your Vagus Nerve

Your vagus nerve is the commander-in-chief when it comes to having grace under pressure.
Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

Do you know about your vagus nerve? Know its characteristics?

I didn’t even know I had one until a few weeks ago. Wow, this one is major and perhaps you’ll join me on this inquiry about a fascinating part of us.

Vagus nerveHere’s an early anatomical illustration of the nerve, borrowed from an article in Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland. This should give you an idea of its importance.

Rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem, the nerve branches to both sides of the body and feeds information to and from most of our organs, all the way to the lowest area of our abdomen.

Mr. Bergland’s article is well written, informative, and easy to understand. I suggest you check it out. And then breathe deeply as you visualize your vagus.

The sympathetic nervous system is geared to rev you up like the gas pedal in an automobile – it thrives on adrenaline and cortisol and is part of the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system is the polar opposite. The vagus nerve is command central for the function of your parasympathetic nervous system. It is geared to slow you down like the brakes on your car and uses neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA to literally lower heart rate, blood pressure, and help your heart and organs slow down.

Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

What We Do Matters

This is a story about music, memory and sharing a simple, beautiful gift.

My Mom has dementia. Though we have a large, loving family, it was becoming difficult for us to visit with her. She doesn’t say much now. Sometimes she just sleeps. But she is alive inside. Maybe she knows who we are – likely she doesn’t. That’s OK. We visit anyway.

My husband and I came across a documentary film called “Alive Inside.” He describes it so well, I use his words here:

We just watched the documentary film, Alive Inside, which is well done, humorous, enlightening, inspiring — and about dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The therapy that Dan Cohen and the organization Music and Memory have implemented in facilities across the country is both effective and simple, safe and doable.

It involves connecting patients with music, music personal to their lives that reconnects them to themselves in a way thought forever lost. To harness “music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.”

The film and its real life stories offer hope for a condition perceived to be without any. It demonstrates joy, laughter, and peace in a population long relegated to confusion, depression, and often, to drug induced stupor.

Moreover to caregivers and families, the therapy offers an opportunity to do something for those they love that makes a positive difference. Making a personal music playlist on an iPod.

We encourage you to watch the movie and the additional features afterwards. It’s on Netflix and available from iTunes and there’s more info here.

We set up a personal music iPod for my Mom. The first time she listened we knew it was a great idea. She smiled, her shaking stopped, and after awhile she gave a quiet applause.

Here are some comments from two of my family members and a friend:

May 31, 2015

Thank you to Christine and Michael for putting together the I-pod for Mom and thank you to Joyce for making a complete package with the split earphones–I actually enjoyed listening to Simon & Garfunkel and Elvis, although The Sound of Music took a bit more effort!

Mom is getting the benefit of all your work. Also, several people at the nursing home were interested and said they were going to make recordings for their loved ones. So the progress seems slow, but is catching on.

Love, Julie


The last time I saw Mom, it was a beautiful day, so I took her out to the garden.  She was not very verbal, and I have learned, rather than asking her if she wants the earphones on, I just say…”Let’s listen to Elvis!” and I just gently put them on.  I showed her the iPod, showed her all the buttons, and told her how amazing it is that this little thing holds so many songs (and Mom did seem to be focused on what I was explaining).  So we sat in the warm sun for about a half-hour. During this time, the sun might have caught the iPod and she tried to grab it.  I realized what she was doing and I put it in her hand.  She held it tightly while listening to the music.  It was really special to see her wanting to hold this thing that (I think) she connects to enjoyment, contentment, pleasure…whatever positive feeling the iPod evokes.

So, thanks again, Chris – and please tell Michael also – for making this happen.  I think this is a great thing for Mom and I also believe this will help the other residents as well, as Julie described.

Love, Joyce


All of the nurses (and my skeptical siblings) were amazed at how happy my mom became, listening to her beloved Billy Joel on her new iPod shuffle!

Music makes such a difference . . . especially in someone like my Mom’s situation, who can’t read, watch tv, etc.

Hugs, Ellen

What we do matters. What can you do today to make someone smile?

The latest from Music and Memory.


Parkinson’s Disease and Movement

Kripalu Center for Health and Yoga in Stockbridge, Mass., partners with the National Parkinson Foundation to offer programs specifically for Parkinson’s patients. You can see scheduled 2015 programs at Parkinson’s and Yoga.

Insights found from NPR regarding various movement therapies to address Parkinson’s disease: Fight Parkinson’s: Exercise May Be The Best Therapy

Parkinson’s disease afflicts about a million Americans — more than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and ALS combined. Every year 50,000 more get the diagnosis, a number that’s going up as the population ages. They face a gradual loss of control over their muscles, leading to tremors, loss of balance and difficulty walking or speaking.

And boxing, it turns out, is only one of an expanding array of movement therapies gaining in popularity as antidotes to Parkinson’s. Other Parkinson’s patients are drumming, dancing to a Latin beat, practicing the ancient Chinese art of tai chi or golfing.

Dr. Daniel Tarsy, director of the Parkinson’s disease program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston sees meaningful change in a lot of patients who go into these exercise programs.

“I’m a believer,” Tarsy says. “Patients look a lot different walking out an hour later than they did walking in. They literally have a bounce to their step.”

Tarsy says patients often report that their movements become more fluid. That’s the opposite of the rigid, jerky movements typical of Parkinson’s.

“There is a growing consensus among researchers about the short- and long-term benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease,” the National Parkinson Foundation says on its website. “Research has shown that exercise can improve gait, balance tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.”

How Yoga Changes Our Experience of Pain

To me, yoga is about mindfulness. And mindfulness is transformational.

A study reported in 2011 [PDF] by York University in Toronto, considers the effects of yoga on women who suffer from fibromyalgia.  But it’s interesting for the rest of us too.

The point I most want to share is this:

“We saw their levels of mindfulness increase – they were better able to detach from their psychological experience of pain,” Curtis says. Mindfulness is a form of active mental awareness rooted in Buddhist traditions; it is achieved by paying total attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness of inner and outer experiences.

“Yoga promotes this concept – that we are not our bodies, our experiences, or our pain. This is extremely useful in the management of pain,” she says. “Moreover, our findings strongly suggest that psychological changes in turn affect our experience of physical pain.”

Many thanks to York University for sharing this information.