HOW TO TEST YOUR VAGUS NERVE | Polyvagal Theory

Did you know that you can test your vagal nerve function, and not only can you test it, but you can begin to tap into the healing power of the vagus nerve? Your vagus nerve is responsible for the regulation of internal organs such as digestion, heart rate, respiratory rate and impacts certain reflex actions like coughing, sneezing, and swallowing. It is critical to optimal health and you can tap into it-but first, find out what state you’re in.

The Polyvagal Theory

Before we jump into how you can assess the vagal nerve, let’s talk a little bit about the autonomic nervous system. We used to think of the autonomic nervous system as simply fight or flight or rest and digest. However, Dr. Steven Porges’s work shows us that there’s much more to it and there are actually three circuits of our autonomic nervous system. This is referred to as the polyvagal theory.

Essentially we have our fight or flight state, which is also considered our sympathetic spinal activation. We also have our dorsal vagal state, referring to the most primitive vagal nerve, and indicates we are in a freeze state. This means we are shut down and feel hopeless. We are disassociated from ourselves and other people.

Lastly, we have the ventral vagal circuit, which means we are in a state of social engagement-a state of safety. This means we are connected to the greater world. We’re connected to ourselves. We are joyful and mindful. All three of these are critical and during the day we go through all of these different circuits, but most often we don’t even recognize that we do because we go through them so quickly. However, we can get stuck in these. We can get stuck in a fight or flight stress response where we’re constantly worried, anxious, frustrated, or irritated. It’s also easy to remain in a shut-down mode. We of course could be mindful and joyful. We’re constantly fluctuating.

polyvygal chart
Adapted by Ruby Jo Walker

Check out our previous blog on “How to Map your Nervous System” here.

Breaking that down a little further, let’s speak about the ventral vagal nerve. This originates from the brainstem just as the dorsal vagal nerve does. This innervates most of the muscles of the throat, such as the larynx, pharynx, uvular muscles as well as the levator palatini muscles in the back of the throat. Whereas our dorsal vagal nerve, which is more subdiaphragmatic, innervates the muscles of the stomach, liver, and digestive system. It also does innervate the muscles of the heart and lungs. Just a reminder, the dorsal vagal nerve is impacting that freeze state, shutdown mode, whereas the ventral vagal is eliciting that sense of inner calm and relaxation and is associated with our state of safety or state of social engagement.

Testing Ventral Vagal Function

You may need a partner for this. This is a really powerful technique that can have a profound impact on how you address your body. Remembering where all the powerful neural innervations are, one of the innervations of the ventral vagus nerve is the throat.

  • Grab a partner and a flashlight.
  • Have your partner look at the inside of the mouth at the back of the throat at the uvula that drops down right in the center.
  • Now, perform an “ah, ah, ah” sound.
  • When you open your mouth, you can use a tongue depressor or your fingers to push down your tongue so the uvula and soft palate can be more visible.
  • The examiner is going to look at the uvula to see if there is a deviation to one side.  
three mouths anatomy
Adapted from Stanley Rosenberg’s Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve

What you’re looking for, specifically, is if there’s any deviation from one side to the other. If the uvula pulls over to one side, then that is indicative of ventral vagal nerve dysfunction. If it moves up symmetrically, then that means that you are in that state of social engagement. So, if you have the soft palate moving up on one side, let’s say it’s moving up on the left side, and not moving up on the right side, then that would be indicative of a dysfunction of the pharyngeal branch of the ventral vagal nerve.

Now, that you’ve tested let’s move into how to stimulate the vagus nerve.

Vagus Nerve stimulation: The basic exercise

If your test indicated that you had a ventral vagal nerve dysfunction, perform the basic exercise for vagus nerve stimulation.

  • Lie on your back on the ground.
  • Interlace your fingers and bring them behind your head- right at the base of the skull
  • Look with your eyes to the right until you sigh, swallow, or yawn, and then repeat on the other side.
  • You may blink during the exercise.

Now that you’ve stimulated it, retest your vagal nerve and see if there was a change.

This is just one way to measure your autonomic nervous system function. This is also just one way out of many to stimulate your vagus nerve. However, recognize there are so many ways to become more aware, more in tune, and map your nervous system. You are completely in control of what’s happening in your life.

I want to give a huge thank you to Dr. Steven Porges for all of his amazing work in this area, as well as Stanley Rosenberg, for their contributions to this area of life-changing research. Make sure to check out the book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, by Stanley Rosenberg.

If you’d like to schedule a free 15-minute virtual discovery session, please email drarianne@themovementparadigm.com or text 302-373-2394 to schedule. We’d love to help you get healthy again!

For more content, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

HOW TO HACK YOUR BRAIN FOR NEW YEARS RESOLUTION SUCCESS

Are you a person that sets a New Year’s resolution every year, but doesn’t quite follow through with it? Maybe you know a lot of friends and family members that set goals, but by the end of the year, you ask them if they’ve done them and they haven’t. Whether you’ve been successful in the past or not, this is a new year, and you absolutely can hack your brain through cognitive-behavioral processes to achieve success in your New Year’s resolutions. You can do this in three easy ways. 

Setting SMART Goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Oriented.

Specific: You want to be specific about your goal and map out how you’re going to be able to do that. For example, I want to learn steel mace this year. I know the basics, but this year I’m going to dedicate some time towards getting better and more proficient at steel mace. At the end of the year, I want to certify in that, so I have a very specific goal. 

Measurable: How can you measure your goals? So my measure is going to be when I complete the certification. If that doesn’t happen this year that’s okay, but I’m going to work towards that, so that is my precise measurement. 

Action-Oriented: Next is action-oriented, how exactly are you going to achieve that goal? So, I’m working with a coach and I’m going to practice two to three days a week on steel mace. I’ve signed up for the certification so that each month I’ll be working towards a specific goal. Essentially, how are you going to map out achieving that goal? If you don’t do that, you are not setting yourself up for success. For example, if you want to lose weight, but you don’t like to grocery shop, then that is not going to work out so well. You have to figure out how you can meal prep or maybe you need to hire a professional to help guide you because you’ve been doing the same thing over and over again. 

Realistic: Is it realistic, is this possible, or is it too farfetched? For example, saying I’m going to lose 40 pounds in a month or I’m going to go to the gym five to seven days a week are not realistic goals. You need to give yourself time to adapt and work into a new habit as opposed to just going all in and then crashing come February. 

Time: Lastly is the building in the time. So what are you measuring and then what is your timeline to achive it? For example, by June or sooner I am going to begin to work out three days a week or by February or sooner I am going to eat six servings of vegetables a day.

Take your time and go through this process. Make sure your goals are strong, realistic, and measurable so that you can be successful. 

2. Hacking that habit loop, and rewarding yourself. 

When you are setting a new goal, you want to try to reward yourself immediately after you’ve done something. For example, you wake up in the morning and exercise, right after you are done exercising you want to reward yourself. That could be something as simple as taking a hot shower or eating a piece of chocolate. Whatever is rewarding to you. Research shows that you should do it immediately after the activity to help reinforce that process and reprogram your subconscious mind.

3. Consistency.

You have to be consistent when trying to gain new habits. Even when it’s hard, you have to commit, perhaps for two minutes or five minutes. You have to be consistent and once you do, it becomes easier and easier. Sometimes you have to break through a lot of barriers and a lot of subconscious behaviors that have been working against you for so long. Remember your subconscious mind always likes what’s easy and likes to follow the path of least resistance so you have to work hard to break out of that. 

This year, change things up. Don’t be the norm. Happy New Year!

If you’d like to schedule a free 15 minute virtual discovery session, please email drarianne@themovementparadigm.com or text 302-373-2394 to schdule. We’d love to help you get healthy again!

For more content, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

THE SCIENCE OF KNOWING WHAT TO DO BUT NOT DOING IT | 6 Mindset Hacks

Did you ever wonder why you know exactly what you should be doing to make your life better, happier, healthier, but you don’t do it? You keep saying next week, next year, in five years, but it never really becomes a reality. We have all been there but let’s talk about the science of why that happens and what you can do about it. To put it simply, we are humans and we all have emotion. With that, we are naturally going to gravitate towards pleasure and away from pain. Say for example, Friday night rolls around, and your spouse or significant other wants to order pizza. You’ve had a long week so even though you’re planning to have a salad, you go for the pizza. Another example is sleeping in versus working out in the morning. The reality is that we consistently overcomplicate things. We make them way too complex for what they need to be.

Your subconscious mind is 99 percent of your mind. This is the house of all of your past experiences. This includes your memories, beliefs, and unresolved emotions. This is the domain of your habits. Our conscious mind, however is one percent of our mind and is responsible for our thoughts, goals, awareness of self. For us to be able to set a goal and be able to succeed at it, we have to align the subconscious mind with the conscious mind. Even though we know what we should do i.e. our conscious mind, our subconscious mind is a million times faster and much more powerful. If those two are not aligned, then unfortunately we will not be able to meet our goals or set out to do what we said we were going to do. As it relates to habits, we run our day on approximately 45 percent to 95 percent on habits.  Our thoughts are actually part of our habits. We have about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. You can hopefully appreciate that if these conscious thoughts are overpowering our conscious mind, then we are going to default to whatever is easier. We are not necessarily going to move towards the pain, we are going to move towards pleasure, whatever is the easiest thing right now. Going back to that Friday night pizza, “I’ve had a long week and I’m tired,” so I’m just going to go back to what’s comfortable and what’s easy…pleasure.

Additionally, when we get out of our comfort zone, for example setting a goal to exercise every day, this signals fear to the body. Immediately we have chemicals released that are signaling fear and danger. So guess what happens? We also want to move towards what’s easy, what’s comfortable, and what’s pleasurable. We easily will revert back and not achieve our new year’s resolution to exercise every day.

So let’s talk about six ways that you can begin to align your subconscious mind with your conscious mind, you can begin to make your goals a reality.

1) Healthful habits

You want to develop healthful habits so that when your conscious mind gets tired from all those thoughts that are racing through your head, that your subconscious mind decides to take over and do the right thing.

2) Be aware

Be aware of your thoughts, inner voice, and most importantly the language that you are speaking to yourself. If you continue to say, “I’m never really going to get strong,” then you will not get strong. You will not necessarily work out like you’re supposed to in order to get strong. So, you want to make sure that you’re in tune with the language that you’re speaking and shift it to a productive language. “I am going to work out so that I am strong.”

3) Clarity

Have clarity about what you want, what are you striving to do, and the goal(s) that you are hoping to achieve. If you do not have clarity of your vision, dream, or goal, then it will be very challenging to allow that subconscious mind to be aligned with the conscious mind.

4) Take small action steps

This is extremely important to make sure that you are making small incremental changes, especially in your habits. Think of the first time that you were told you had to brush your teeth. Since you were a young child, you’ve been brushing your teeth every single day, at least we hope so. That’s a perfect example of how habits start.

5) Consistency

It is so crucial that for you to do what you want to do, to be consistent with your habits, day in and day out. Blocking time in your schedule, for example, to allow yourself the time to be able to perform whatever it is that you need to do. Whether that’s working out, meal prepping, or meditation. Be consistent with whatever you do so that it becomes a habit, just like brushing your teeth.

6) Celebrate

Celebrate your successes! This is where we can have serotonin and dopamine responses that can improve that feeling of happiness, as well as reward and motivation. It keeps you motivated to keep doing what you’re doing to keep this habit going to make sure that it’s truly part of your life.

There are six different ways to help you align your subconscious mind with your conscious mind, allow you to achieve your goals, and do what you say you are going to do.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation.

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