Developing Mind Down
Posted on 28th February 2021 at 17:59
In October 2020, I launched my Mind Down© podcast. Mind Down© is the name of a thirty-minute, guided exercise I perform in my practice, as a physical first aid for those experiencing stress and more than the usual amounts of anxiety. The greatest testament to its effectiveness is that clients have been easily able to engage with it and totally relax. Clients often asked if I had recorded it or if it was available on CD so that they could have access it to it outside of sessions. As levels of stress and anxiety rose during the pandemic, this consideration became imperative. I wanted it to be a professional production and to be able to use background music, which of course must be licensed in order to use commercially. So, I worked with a recording studio to develop the podcast and make it an effective stand-alone product. The result has been very encouraging, with reviews and feedback echoing that previously reported by clients.
So, Mind Down© works, but how?
Anxiety is a reaction to perceived threat, rooted in our core emotions and unconscious conflicts. The reaction takes place cognitively (racing thoughts), physiologically (our nervous system is aroused) and behaviourally (we try to escape). All forms of stress are linked to high anxiety. Experiences in the mind, body or environment can act as an anxiety trigger. The threat can feel sufficiently intense for the body to activate the fight-flight-freeze-fawn pathway. When operating at an acute level, anxiety is very physical, impacting the body in many ways such as: a racing heart, difficulty in breathing, tightness or constriction in the throat and a churning sensation in the abdominal area. In the head area, a person can experience dizziness, headache, brain fog, confusion.[1,2] Getting racing thoughts and physical symptoms calmed down is an important first step in therapy. A calming intervention becomes a tool that the client can then use in part or in total, to continue to help themselves.
Let’s go a little deeper
Neurological control of our organs and metabolism occurs through the opposing actions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system speeds things up as in the fight or flight response mentioned above. The parasympathetic nervous system has a relaxing effect in the body, acting mainly through the vagus nerve (also called the tenth cranial nerve), a complex system of nerves that connects the brain to the heart, lungs,digestive and immune system as well as muscles groups such as the throat and facial muscles.
Anxiety, as fear, activates the sympathetic nervous system. Chronic stress also interferes with the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system actions. As the vagus nerve has an inhibitory influence on sympathetic nervous system activity, practices that stimulate the vagus nerve have a calming effect on the body and mind, helping regain balance if you are anxiety strung or exhausted from stress. An optimal balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system actions is described as ‘healthy vagal tone’ and allows us to respond more healthily and robustly to the stresses of life. [3,4]
The components of Mind Down©are chosen to modify the impact of anxiety and stress on the body and include vagus nerve stimulation. These components are: grounding, deep breathing, body scanning and chakra meditation.
Grounding focuses on finding safety in the present and connecting to the body. It incorporates the “felt sense”– an awareness in the body of internal and external experience and sensations,for example, feeling the way your feet make contact with the ground or how your body makes contact with the chair supporting you. You recognise that your experience of comfort comes from a “felt sense” of comfort and not from the chair itself. It is [unconsciously] telling you where you are and how you feel in the moment, in the experience.  Grounding is about learning to find simple and safe sensations in the body.
With anxiety, breathing becomes shallow and fast causing us to get rid of too much carbon dioxide, leading to dizziness and feeling light headed. This makes the anxiety worse.In Mind Down,© I use deep, slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing, extending the length of the exhale, which has been shown to increase vagal tone. [3,4 ] In the exercise, I count to fouron inhaling and five on exhaling, but you can choose a number that best suits your breathing ability, just making sure the exhalation is one or two counts longer as this activates the parasympathetic nervous system and thus enables relaxation.
Combining deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation in one of the best ways to obtain relief from anxiety and achieve a relaxed state. In this part of the exercise, we check in with various muscle groups along the length of the body and release any tension that is stored there. Clients are usually surprised at the number of areas where their tension is stored and are unaware of the amount of tension stored there.
Meditation and The Chakra Energy System
Commonly used in Yoga and Reiki, the chakra system originated in India between 1500 and 500 BC, telling us that ancients knew the importance of a connection between mind, body and spirit long before our anatomy and physiology studies did. The vagus nerve endings are located in much the same positions as the seven chakra points (root/spine base, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, brow and crown), and so in this part of the exercise, I incorporate the chakra energy systems in a meditative exercise to capitalise on combining vagal nerve and spiritual nerve stimulation. The combination of this type of meditation with deep breathing, seeks to activate the vagal nerve to bring about calming and relaxation of the body.
On undertaking this Mind Down© exercise, available here, you will learn a new way of breathing to achieve relaxation, a check system for your body’s stress storage and a new practice of mantra meditation, inviting balance to your chakra system and connecting your mind, body and emotions. I hope you find it useful.
2. Haines, S (2018) Anxiety is Really Strange. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London
5. Levine, P.A. (2019) Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books, U.S.Al only be shown when viewing the full post. Click on this text to edit it.
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