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Did you know how healthy humming is?

October 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

A recent NPR article identifies the levels of stress so many of us are experiencing.   While we have communicated often about the importance of speaking up and taking action when we see issues that need addressing, right now we want to offer some information that you can utilize to bring some soothing calm to your nervous system and strengthen your resilience.

In January 2019 we did the simple “Happy Hum” mindful breathing exercise shown here with our Arroyo Rite of Passage class participants.

🎶 Happy Hum 🎶
1️⃣  Sit mindfully, with your spine straight and body relaxed
2️⃣  Close your eyes. Close your lips. Hum a few notes to yourself until you find one you like.
3️⃣  Breathe in deeply. With your out-breath, hum your note. Breathe in. Breathe out and hummm!
4️⃣  Press your hands to your chest to notice the vibration of your humming. What do you feel in your hand and body?
5️⃣  Breathe in. Breathe out and hummmm! Let your humming send calm into your heart.
6️⃣  Before you finish this exercise, quiet your humming and take three soft, slow, mindful breaths.

We had a guest speaker from the Niroga Institute  to present information on mindfulness. This was to support our students’ work on their community action project Wellness is for Everyone, to help address the high level of stress and anxiety that they and their peers were experiencing, thus affecting their human rights to an education and health.  Our speaker explained that humming was particularly helpful in positively activating the vagus nerve.  This led to all of us learning about what the vagus nerve is and how important it is to our mental and physical health. This Psychology Today article explains more.

Another important, related fact is that the vagus nerve is a major part of the Enteric Nervous System which surrounds our gastrointestinal system.  This nervous system is referred to as our second brain.  What seems most important to know from this, for our health and well-being, is that so much of what we experience emotionally is connecting physically with key bodily functions, as shown in this illustration.

With this knowledge of what impacts our emotional and physical health, we can take on our daily personal and worldly challenges with greater resilience.  To that end, a book I highly recommend is My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem.  Here is a link to a Psychology Today interview with Mr. Menakem about the book.

Mr. Menakem provides highly insightful historical, psychological and sociological information that offers essential perspective on the layers of trauma that have led to our struggles today.  He also provides guidance on how to gain more personal consciousness about our fears and anxieties, and then begin to heal ourselves and others around us.  An entire chapter of the book is devoted to understanding the function of the vagus nerve, which he refers to as the soul nerve. The following are key points Mr. Menakem makes about our soul nerve:

  • The soul nerve is the unifying organ of your entire nervous system, reaching into your throat, lungs, heart, stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidney and gut.
  • Your soul nerve is where you experience a felt sense of love, compassion, fear, grief, dread, sadness, loneliness, hope, empathy, anxiety, caring, disgust, despair, and many other things that make us human.
  • One of the main purposes of your soul nerve is to receive fight, flee, or freeze messages from your lizard brain and spread them to the rest of your body.
  • Another purpose is to receive and spread the opposite message of it’s okay; you’re safe right now; you can relax.
  • Your soul nerve is intimately involved with how your body interacts with other bodies.
  • Your soul nerve tells most of the muscles in your body when to constrict, when to release, when to relax and settle.
  • Your soul nerve is also where you feel a sense of belonging.More than anything else, each of us yearns to belong.
  • With some attention and patience, you can learn to work with your soul nerve -consciously and deliberately relaxing your muscles, settling your body, and soothing yourself during difficult or high-stress situations.

In this same chapter, Mr. Manakem provides guided activities that can help us soothe and positively activate our vagus nerve, including humming, buzzing, slowing rocking, om-ing, singing aloud to ourselves, and mindful breathing. Our thoughtful Rite of Passage students created this school handout on wellness as part of their community action project, which, like Mr. Manakem’s guidance, can help all of us.

We have much to do to help repair the social, economic and political schisms impacting all of our lives, yet we must do so with our own health, strength and resilience.  Perhaps we can start by taking a cue from a good friend who, upon learning about the vagus nerve and the benefits of humming, decided to start with Ripple.

With appreciation and best regards,

Sandy Sohcot, Director

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