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We are more complex as humans than we give ourselves credit for. We are also drawn to heal and connect, despite our sometimes funky coping strategies that keep us distanced from others.
Whether you refer to it as spiritual or psychological healing, many of us seek to rewire what was wounded in childhood. I tell my clients in my psychotherapy sessions this is "redrafting the childhood blueprint." Some of the drafting tools can be found in the chakra system and the vagus nerve. This article will briefly break down my approach with clients to help you identify how both systems can assist you in your life.
Let's start at the beginning, with your embodied Soul. Your Soul comes into the world by choosing a life plan, a body, and a general location on the planet to start your journey. Research done by the Newton Institute on our Souls' experiences between lives on Earth indicates we come here with an intention to learn.
As your body grows in utero, you utilize your essential senses—hearing, taste, and touch—through your central nervous system. The root and sacral chakra centers light up as your Soul blends with your new physical form. Your survival needs get met through umbilical attachment to your mother.
Once you are born, life's precarious experience begins. Your Soul adapts to your physical self and develops identities—or egos—to help you make sense of your world. This brings on the solar plexus energy of mind. Your vagus nerve begins signaling perceptions of safety or threat because you slowly understand you are separate than the people caring for you. Along the way, your heart chakra deepens the more you feel and express love with your caretakers, which is also engaging safety in your vagus nerve. This love and safety keep you connected to that Soul energy. You learn to make sounds to get needs met and listen for signals from your family. This is more engagement of the safety part of the vagus and brings on line the energy of the throat chakra.
The connection to Soul through heart and safety can override a lot; however, life is full of uncertainties. If parents are hurtful or not present, your small self turns to fear-based coping strategies to get your needs met. Those become ingrained in your central nervous system and brain as ways to manage your world.
To make things more uncertain, a process called synaptic pruning begins in your brain. In short, this is a trimming of neurons that your system interprets it no longer needs. Neurons carry memories and travel the brain through neuropathways. This pruning occurs both during young childhood and teen years. While this is a well-researched phenomenon, scientists can only guess at its reasons for occurring. I can't help but to wonder if it is designed to mute memories from our previous existences on Earth so we can stay present to the life at hand.
So now here you are in adulthood, with all sorts of early behaviors that may have helped you stay alive and cared for as a child but that are now hindering your loving connections to others as an adult. The blueprint was formed so deeply—you might not understand the how and why—because many coping strategies were formed before your rational memory came to be.
What to do? To begin with, I am clearly a proponent of everyone in the whole world working through their struggles with a licensed therapist. If you can find one that understands how we attach, has modalities that incorporate validated body/mind processing, all the better. In the meantime, here is a little human design 101 to help you understand how your body registers its own version of reality and responses of safety.
The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is part of your central nervous system. This nerve begins in the spine near your brain and connects to the major organs of the heart, digestive system, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), liver, reproductive systems, the thorax and facial muscles, and more.
The nerve is constantly sending messages of familiarity and safety to the brain. The brain signals back down its own interpretations along the vagus nerve and even into the organs. This internal "wiring" is gauging what is happening now based on past experiences. Does your stomach feel knotted up when you're scared? Does your heart race during work deadlines? Does your jaw clench when stressed?
Alternatively, does your body soften when cuddling your pet? Does your heart rate lower when you laugh with a loving partner? Do your shoulders relax when you experience a pleasant scent?
Have you noticed how a self-driving car will buzz when you get too close to the edge of the road, or slow down when the car in front breaks? Your vagus nerve and brain store information from previous encounters with the roadway. It operates off of subtle cues and will create reactions in your system before your conscious self is aware. Examples might be tensing at a high-pitched sound, blinking because it's windy, or sitting straighter as that car speeds past you on the highway.
There are three main branches to the vagus nerve. Each branch serves an important purpose. The ventral vagus is the social engagement nerve. It is located around the heart, throat, ears, and eyes. Through these organs it communicates with the brain and takes in social cues to determine if we are safe. The ventral vagus nerve is looking for signs of approachability in others. When we are calm, we are engaged in ventral vagal engagement. The second branch is the sympathetic. This branch helps us to register danger. When we know we are unsafe, our heart rate increases, our HPA axis releases cortisol for action, our muscles tighten to prepare us to run. When we believe we are in danger, based on past experiences, but are safe, our body still prepares itself for a fight or to run. If this neurological state continues for a long time, we may enter into a dorsal vagal state. The dorsal vagal nerve keeps us safe by closing our system down to help us conserve energy. Like a possum that collapses, you can find yourself sleeping more; dissociating; zoning out with food, drugs, alcohol; or just not being able to rouse yourself from the couch. Now see your Soul as the driver of your system. It negotiates with your body to navigate the roadways of your life. Can you also see that when the "wiring" in your body mis-reads cues, the Soul loses control over your automatic driving features?
When you find regulation within your body, you regain easier access to your Soul's communication.
There are multiple chakras in your body. In my book, Chakras and the Vagus Nerve, I focus on the seven major ones that run from the top of your head, along your torso, and down to your pelvis. As I have seen them in my work with clients, these seven make up dimensions of who we are as humans and what we experience as Souls managing in this physical world.
The seven chakras are energetic centers extending through and from your body from your Soul. The chakras hold what ancient Hindu practitioners call Prana. In simple terms, Prana means the energy of life—the breath of life. It is the energy that flows through us. Prana is our Soul energy.
I break the chakras down in two categories because they seem to present this way in my clients.
Below is a brief breakdown of these chakras as I see them present in sessions.
Being aware of how your body responds and what it is experiencing in any given moment is your portal to healing. It is within your vagus nerve and central nervous system that healing through stabilizing your system changes the way you engage in your life. You cannot "think past" your pain with exclusively positive thoughts if your central nervous system can't regulate itself through daily life stressors. Positivity sends safety through the system but what is in your system is already there and needs healing.
As your vagus nerve no longer interprets danger where there is none and makes new meaning through your brain, the chakra centers shift. They open, flow, and send out different information than it had before. As a result, you draw to new things. New people. New awareness. You can grow more deeply in honoring your reality if you honor the information your chakras are communicating. If you understand how this etheric process continues to send information through to the brain and so on, you can manage your discomforts and lean beautifully into your ventral vagus feeling tones. Having this knowledge is one more power tool in your tool box.
Find a comfortable place to sit. Position yourself in a way that helps you feel connected to your body. Finding your sit bones are always a good reference point since this helps you stay present and aligned but not inflexible.
Connect in whatever way you need to the ground. If appropriate, feel free to take your shoes off so you can feel the connection to the earth. Close your eyes if you feel safe.
Let yourself feel the pressure points of your feet and where they rest on the earth. Notice where your feet connect and where they do not. Spend time just observing this sensation. Be curious. Say hello to your feet and thank them for the work they do. What do you notice about them in a way you never did before?
Now gently draw your attention to your legs and buttocks as you sit in the chair. Notice which parts of your body are connected in the chair? Which feel more pressure and which are lighter? Just notice the experience of this.
How often are we not present to our body? Even this simple act can go unappreciated and unobserved. In this short exercise, what information were you able to take in about yourself? Your chakras are energetic gateways that act like beacons. The chakras align so beautifully with your vagus nerve that you cannot ignore the connection.
Accessing Soul is also about growing from your current situation. In order to do this, you need to know where you're going. You need a road map. You most certainly need to know how to drive. That means all aspects of your engine are running smoothly. Let's get those engines running.
C. J. Llewelyn, M. Ed., LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist. Her passion is combining the psychological, physical, and spiritual to heal trauma and facilitate personal and spiritual ...