38 years ago, when I did my first meditation retreat with Stephen Levine, we would do long OMs at the start of many other kinds of practice. Last night, 35 years after my last class, I started another meditation class, this time with Jamal Rahman, a Sufi teacher. With each of the nearly 40 OMs we did, I recognized that we were directly impacting our vagus nerves by our long outbreaths, creating grounded calm and realized how brilliant the original Buddhist teachers were, so many centuries ago, to create this practice.
When we breathe out longer than than we inhale, it trips the vagus nerve to quiet the unmyelinated ventral part (tied to flight and fight) and switch to the myelinated ventral part, tied to relaxed, socially connectible, “normal” states. People with trauma or anxiety are taught to relax their panic, OCD patterns, flashbacks with this exercise: “Breathe out all the way. Hold. Breathe in halfway. Hold. Breathe out all the way. Hold. Repeat several times.” And they do relax. I love that the old learning meshes so well with the new!
My other favorite calm down method for anxious folks is “Silencing the Alarm”: “Brush the fingers from the inside point of the eyebrow to your ears, behind your ears, to the point of the shoulder, the point of the elbow, and off the back of your hand. At least 3 times on each side.” I learned this in the context of quieting the triple heater meridian. When I taught it to 1,200 people at a NYC conference, Stephen Porges, the Vagus Nerve researcher, told me and the whole conference that it worked because it directly impacted the vagus nerve. Who Knew!