Top 5 Vagus Nerve Hacks to Help You Relax and Restore

Do you know how important the vagus nerve is?

The vagus nerve is our wandering nerve that originates from the brainstem. It is one of the longest cranial nerves and innervates the muscles of the face, throat, respiration, digestion, and heart. It has such a profound impact, and it is 80 percent of our parasympathetic nervous system. This is important because it can allow us to fully relax, restore, recover, and digest. It can also help us become socially engaged, connected to the greater world, connected to ourselves, and be more mindful, joyful, and grounded.

Rather watch or listen than read?

Here are five vagus nerve hacks that you can do to bring you back to this parasympathetic state; to the state of relaxation and social engagement.

1) Humming

Singing is a great way for us as humans to communicate and be connected to the greater world. Humming is a means of vocalization that has an extended exhale. When this happens, we are releasing a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which will stimulate the vagus nerve and create this relaxation response. Additionally, when we are humming, the vibration of humming oscillates the air and causes the nasal cavity to release nitric oxide, which thereby increases vasodilation and circulation. Lastly, it can create a co-regulation with other humans. This creates a safe place for us and that brings us back to that state of social engagement.

2) Sternal Release

The vagus nerve innervates the SA node of the heart, which is also referred to as our pacemaker. It also sits inside of the lung tissue and passes right through the diaphragm. You have baroreceptors in your aorta and carotid which detect pressure changes, especially blood pressure changes. When we are stimulating these things, we can induce a relaxation response. 

To do the sternal release, place a soft ball under your sternum, inhale through the nose, and pretend to cough, but don’t actually cough. So, you’re breath-holding and then slowly exhaling. Perform this for 10 to 20 minutes.

3) Neck Release

Release the areas around the carotid artery, which moves into the carotid sinus, and is innervated by the vagus nerve. As we move through the tissues, we are moving, compressing, lengthening, and shearing all of these tissues around the vagus nerve.

You’ll start just below your ear by compressing and twisting the ball gently as you shear across the tissues. Gently lengthen the neck by turning your head in the opposite direction. Go slowly and carefully over the trachea, hyoid, and larynx in the center, because they can be a little bit more sensitive. After performing the neck release, you should feel warmth in the neck and perhaps even your face. You might even be able to use your senses a little more clearly; sight, sound, and smell. It might just feel like your face softens afterward as well.

4) Probiotics

The enteric nerves from the gut and the vagus nerve are connecting the gut and the brain, which is referred to as our gut-brain connection. Think of this as a highway, a beautiful bi-directional communication. This can be greatly impacted by our HPA axis, hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, referred to as our stress pathway. This can be influenced by probiotics. The two primary strains of bacteria that have been shown to impact mood, behavior, depression, anxiety, also referred to as psychobiotics are lactobacillus rhamnosus and bifidobacterium longum. Both of these strains have been shown to have improvements in anxiety and depression-related behavior, but they can also impact GABA, which in essence, inhibits feelings of fear and anxiety. This can have a profound effect on mood and behavior.

5) Visceral Release 

We tend to hold a lot of tension in our abdomen. It is important to remember that 80 percent of our vagus nerve is sensory indicating that it is providing information back up to the brain. The vagus nerve is innervating our gut, so if we’re holding tension here, we are signaling “tension” or distress to our brain. It’s really important to create these relaxation responses of the organs, tissue, fascia, and skin by stimulating the vagus nerve.

For the visceral release, lie on a ball or even a rolled-up towel or blanket on your side, and gently guide the tissue, skin, fascia, and organs over the ball. Breathe diaphragmatically, starting on your left side and then moving to your right. 

These are five of many different vagus nerve hacks, but please follow us (@themovementparadigm) on TikTok, IG, and FB, for more health tips to help you feel great again!

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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.

how to map your nervous system
Adapted from Dr Stephen Porges

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 a 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 Resilience | 5 ways to become more resilient

Did you ever wonder why some people seem to be so resilient despite what life has thrown their way, where others seem to have great difficulty dealing with even small obstacles? It is absolutely dependent on the environment that we are in as a child and as an adult. However, it is not innate within us, it is something that can be developed and refined as our lives go on. It allows us to deal with adversity, overcome adversity, and be able to live the life that we want to live regardless of our experiences.

Let’s talk about the science of resilience. What are some of the studies and research showing and how can we become more resilient?

1. Changing the narrative. There is something that we all tend to do when something negative happens to us is we replay it over and over again in our minds. This is a concept called rumination, where we just keep reliving whatever experience we have had. We can begin to shift the language that we speak and we can do that through journaling, writing, and speaking.

2. Expressive writing. This has been shown to be very effective in changing and shifting our perspective. You can begin to write and share your deepest thoughts on paper for 20 minutes or so, as opposed to having some kind of structure or writing about something very superficial. This allows you to reflect and shift your thinking about this experience that you have faced. This has been shown to improve overall outlooks on life and helps you become more engaged in life. Even for some of the pessimists that participated in the study, it allowed them to become less depressed and pessimistic.

3. Practicing self-compassion. This is something that we all have such a hard time with but allowing yourself grace and compassion for the deep human emotions that we all experience especially during suffering.

4. Meditation. The practice of mindfulness can be so powerful. The process of rumination causes us to continuously focus and dwell on our past experience, whereas mindfulness, conversely, is focusing on the present moment. It helps you to be truly in the present, knowing what’s happening in your body, and around you. Being able to cultivate a practice of meditation can be so powerful in giving you clarity in your life, allowing you to respond to situations rather than react to them.

5. Cultivating forgiveness. This can be profound in your mental and physical health. You can start by identifying someone that you may need to forgive, and recognizing that person, too, has suffered. That person has made the choice that they’ve made for some particular reason, and that they are human, as well. This practice through research has been profound in once again impacting your overall mental and physical health, and therefore resilience.

So, can resiliency be developed or is it something that you’re born with? I truly believe that our environment, past experiences, and circumstances play into our ability to overcome adversity. However, it is also something that we can consciously bring into our lives and work on and develop so that we can overcome life’s challenges and obstacles. We are always going to have obstacles and they are always going to be there. Expect the unexpected. We know that there’s always going to be change in our lives, so if we can expect that, then we may be more prepared to deal with what might come from it.

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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