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Gravity Brain


Katie Clancy

This super nerve might be the key to super wellness

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Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO
Ar 170209667
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO

It hardly requires a particularly sensitive person to tap into the severity of this situation: We’re the lucky ones, cloistered way up here in our protective bubble of our beloved Rocky Mountains. We have easy access to bliss, wild preserves, locally-grown vegetables, and a million modalities that promote meditation and awareness. We seemed steeped in safety.

Yet, even here, the suspicious villain within the psyche is creeping in. Not even a month into the Trump era, an agenda that seeks to control through mass paranoia, distraction, and fear, I feel the pressure.

I go from “real” to “really,” as in: How well do I REALLY know my neighbors? How good a friend is that person, really? Where there was once trust and connection, I am now learning to become suspicious, frozen like a cardboard cutout version of myself. There are moments of can’t sleep, can’t act, and can’t stop this heavy black hole spinning anxiety-riddled electricity through my veins.

We may claim to know peace and love, but are we really getting there?

If we have money (or white skin), we can turn away, build luxury bunkers and prepare for nuclear holocaust. We can try and run, retreat into the illusion of separation. Or, perhaps we can choose to stay woke.

A wise woman once told me that a contradiction – something that denies itself or another – becomes a paradox when the two ends of extreme poles finally meet and create a circle like the serpent ouroboros who eventually finds his own tail. When the heat of hatred and the coolness of peace find a place to see each other and become one, that’s when we can integrate. But how do we cross that abyss? Maybe all it takes is a moment of stillness.

When I begin to value the power of slowing down, I witness the magic of slow breathing. (I’m curious to hear what happens for you, especially right now.) From a GravityBrain perspective, stretching the breath stimulates one of the most intriguing nerves I’ve encountered on my journey. When it all feels shattered and frazzled, I retreat within to my true safety vein, the vagus nerve.

Deep within our brain stem lives a bundle of sensory fibers that extends into our bodies like a wise vagabond, networking the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. The vagus nerve is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming organs after the stressed “fight-or-flight” adrenaline response to danger.

Evolution theories claim we’ve been hardwired with this bio-information database since the primordial beginning, even before we were salamanders in the mud. Operating far below the level of our conscious minds, the vagus nerve is vital for keeping our bodies healthy.

It prevents inflammation, helps us make memories, tells our lungs to breathe, is intimately involved with the heart’s strength and rate, initiates our bodies’ relaxation response, and acts as a translator between our gut and brain.

“It’s the heart of the nervous system,” local yoga teacher Nan Cresto explains. “It’s a window into understanding how we human beings connect.”

A highly-tuned vagus nerve allows us to feel empathy and respond to another’s body language and emotional expressions. Research also shows that a high vagal tone makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

So how do we stimulate this clitoris of the brain? Like any good love-making session, the body needs to feel safe and calm in order to open up and become vulnerable. Find the textures and places that evoke that sense within your skin.

I’ve read about more gross ways to hijack the nerve, like wearing ice helmets, inducing gagging/vomiting, coffee enemas, and electrical stimulation, but who’s got time for that? I’ll start by finding slower and longer exhales.

To me, activism is the opposite of turning away, of rejecting reality and going to sleep. It’s a courageous way of turning towards our inner demons and shady neighbors to develop presence and find understanding. If I make friends with my breath, maybe I’ll become a little bit kinder, a little more capable of being vulnerable. Maybe I’ll be a better neighbor. I must remember that small acts of creativity and self-love can indeed be revolutionary.

The body is always present; the mind, hardly ever. In order to integrate these intense emotions raging through the system, I want to turn toward my body and cultivate presence. To me, it’s no longer a luxurious want; it’s a need.

The Trump era also reminds me of a very old saying that “... I’ve got one nerve left and damn if you’re not on it ...” Which might work out, of course, if that’s the vagus nerve.

Katie Clancy is a movement educator, dancer, and freelance journalist living in Durango. She dedicates her time to supporting healthy spines and structural alignment through the therapeutic traditions of Pilates, yoga, bodywork, and dance; she is also a member of 20Moons Dance Theatre. Find her here: www.altaer.org; clancy.katie@gmail.com.