Have you heard of a new study being done regarding vagus nerve stimulation to treat bulimia?
I have been very interested in this study for several reasons. One is because, as you probably read from my previous posts, prior to ever developing bulimia, I felt digestive distress. For me, it just felt like my whole digestive system didn’t work — it felt like it was really slow and stayed in my stomach for longer than it should have. It’s difficult to say whether it was fears and tensions that influenced me to be overly identified with pain in my digestive system — or if the pain in my body created fears and tensions in my mind.
The mind-body connection is too complex for me to know for sure — and I highly doubt anyone knows the answer, since studies are still trying to find the answers.
In any event, I found information on the vagus nerve and it’s relation to digestion. It is a sensory nerve that connects the brain to the esophagus, digestive system and other organs in between. The mind affects the vagus nerve if there is anxiety or depression present. This in turn can impact digestion — making it slower, causing ulcers or other digestive ills. Interestingly, the vagus nerve is being studied for answers on depression and bulimia — resulting in not only drug studies, but also a vagus nerve stimulator which can be surgically implanted.
The device sends a vibration or stimulation to the vagus nerve to reduce impulses to binge and purge — and it appears to be having success in treating both bulimia and depression. Learning this, I realized again how closely related bulimia and depression are. And what’s more, I learned how important the mind and body connection were in my digestive distress.
What About Natural Solutions?
all herbs are simply not right for all peopleThere are natural solutions, for those who want to try everything before going to drugs or surgery, both of which have side effects. One natural solution is herbs, as you can see in this article by Keith Stelling for the Botanic Medicine Society. Keep in mind that just like vitamins, all herbs are not right for all people — so check with a herbalist, medical intuitive, Naturopath or other health professional. My medical intuitive told me that valerian and St. John’s Wart would not be good for my system. She did recommend I use many other things noted in the article: wild oats tincture (mixed with passion flower tincture for a calming effect that helps sleep), skullcap tincture, lavender essential oil (in a carrier oil as a “skin lotion”) and lemon verbena scent. I didn’t realize at the time that each of these would have a calming effect that would ease my mind and help my vagus nerve (thus my digestion) function properly.
Breathing Techniques for Depression & Bulimia
I tended to have many “low moods” and depression when I had bulimia. The depression went away while I was in recovery (using the herbs above and the other things I mention here) and came back when I had longer-term relapses. Wanting to understand more about the connection between depression and bulimia, I attended a workshop on LifeForce Yoga for Mood Management by Amy Weintraub. Amy is a leader in her work on teaching yoga & breathing techniques to ease depression.
In her workshop, I learned a breathing technique called Kapalabhati. This is a kriya (means cleaning action) involving a rapid pumping of the stomach while breathing. According to Amy’s book, Yoga for Depression, this type of breathing stimulates the solar plexus, “the center of self-esteem and identity.” (page 136). Kapalabhati is nostril breathing while vigorously pumping the stomach (best done in-between, not directly after, meals). Amy explains how to do this in her workshops and her book, which I highly recommend. You can also learn how to do it with a yoga teacher or using resources on the Internet.
When I tried Kapalabhati in Amy’s class, I felt a sense of joy afterwards and was very impressed with the technique. Since it stimulates digestion and the vagus nerve, I felt it might help me in my recovery and I was right. Every morning, I started doing 15 – 20 minutes of breathing exercises before breakfast. Every day that I did them, they really helped me. Sometimes, I would do them in the middle of the day to relieve stress and tension. Amy has a great CD, Breathe to Beat The Blues, which leads you through these exercises.
My medical intuitive also suggested I start taking Hatha yoga. As Amy Weintraub teaches, a regular practice of yoga is great for depression. I found this to be very true. Because I thought yoga would be slow and boring after years of high impact workouts, I was not sure what type of yoga practice to start. I ended up taking Ashtanga yoga, which is a vigorous, athletic form of yoga (I later found out it’s Madonna’s yoga of choice).
I immediately liked this form of yoga because it follows a structured practice and all movements are carried by the breath. It felt like a subtle dance and yet it also allowed me to focus my mind on my breath & poses. This quieted my mental chatter, helped my digestion and lifted my moods — not to mention being a good all-over body workout. Little did I know when I began Ashtanga, that many yoga positions stimulate the vagus nerve as well.
I believe all of the natural solutions I used in my recovery helped tremendously. As you know from previous posts, finding a nutritional system that worked for me was the final piece of the puzzle. My journey points to the importance of taking action in all areas that are out of alignment. Many times during my recovery, I was working on one thing or another — experimenting with things on the level of mind, body and spirit. It seems like the final breakthrough that allowed me to heal was when I decided, taking all of these great techniques into account, to listen to my own voice.
My own voice was telling me that I was involved in too much DOING and not enough BEING. I was feeling fear and anxiety that if I didn’t do my meditation, do my yoga, do my breathing, etc., that I would not recover. Once I stopped worrying about what I was doing and started listening to my heart and my intuition, some mental wall came down. It was like a big sigh of relief. I could take the fear and pressure off myself and just feel my intuition guiding me to what was right. At that point, I started being. Listening to who I am and acting on what I wanted to do. I stopped putting pressure on myself to work hard, to be somebody, to make my mark, to get approval, to be productive. I started enjoying the slower, simpler life I created (instead of feeling guilty for not accomplishing something every second of my day).
My confidence in who I was BEING started to flow. This is when I decided to put everything I learned aside and find my own nutritional system.
FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real
Now given what I just said — that I started BEING who I am and trusting myself — while at the same time, experimenting with another way of eating, I wonder. Was it finally that my mind and body were in synch for the first time? Perhaps in previous times, my mind was ready, but my body hadn’t caught up? In any event, the fact that my mind and body were aligned set my spirit free. My days feel peaceful and blissful, just like I had always hoped would be possible. Yes, I still have angry times, fearful times, etc. But somehow, in this place of recovery, I am aware earlier of the impact these emotions are having on my body. This allows me to stop, breathe & CHOOSE to feel another way — the way I want to feel. I am no longer taken over by these emotions — they are losing their power & I am gaining mine.
Isn’t it funny that the only way to gain control is to surrender to who you really are? Bulimia and eating disorders are one way we try to take control of life through the energy of food and the form of our bodies. And yet, this is the way we lose control of our happiness and our lives. The more chronic the eating disorder gets, the more locked in fear we become. Fear becomes our prison. And like the elephant who learns as a baby that it can’t escape a tiny little rope — and becomes a powerful adult who doesn’t even try — we do the same with fear.
Fear is just a flimsy little rope around our legs as a child. Somehow we believe it has power to lock us up. What would it be like if we pulled free?
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Can passive exercise on the diaphragm, pushing it gently upwards with when breathing out, for a person with a very weak diaphragm due to stroke help stimulate the vagus nerve and also build the diaphragmatic muscle?