Vagus nerve hack | Diaphragmatic and Lymphatic Release

Did you know that the lymphatic system is one of the most powerful yet neglected systems in the body and it’s critical for our immune health?

As we know, nearly 90% of all chronic diseases and chronic health conditions are associated with excessive or persistent inflammation. How do we get rid of inflammation and detoxify our bodies? We do this primarily through the lymphatic system and our detoxification organs.

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Our liver is one of the most important detoxification organs, but we also want to factor in our lungs, kidneys, skin, and even our tongue.

How does this relate to the vagus nerve?

Although the vagus nerve does not innervate the lymphoid organs directly, it does play a huge role in the neuroimmune axis. There’s information coming into the brain via the vagus nerve and from the brain via the vagus nerve. Our diaphragm is one of our main respiratory pumps for the lymphoid system. If you are having any gut issues and if you suspect that your lymphatic system is congested, which it is for many people, this is a great technique to release the diaphragm to optimize your respiratory pump. The vagus nerve passes right through the diaphragm, so when you are stimulating the diaphragm, you are also stimulating the vagus nerve. 

How do you perform the technique? 

You can do this lying down or standing up. Use a scooping technique right underneath the ribcage on the left side. The diaphragm is attaching to the inside of the ribs. Push down towards the opposite hip with your hands gently to release the spleen, stomach, and pancreas. Perform this about 10 times.

Then, switch to the other side where we will release the liver and gallbladder. Perform 10 times.

Lastly, come into the center of the abdomen between the sternum and belly button. You will incorporate this with your breath. Inhale and relax the hands, exhale push in with your hands with a pumping motion. This will help pump the lymphatic system. This should not be aggressive at all, just intentional. Perform this for another 10 reps.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Trapezius Twist

Do you have forward head posture or know someone who does? Or maybe you are sitting at your desk all day and you are constantly feeling restricted? Well, if so, this vagus nerve hack is for you. We have Stanley Rosenberg to thank for the ever so simple, trapezius twist.

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Why do you have forward head posture?

Let’s talk about the neurology and physiology of why you might have forward head posture. Here are three key things that can contribute to it.

1. Airway Dysfunction

The decreased tone of the trapezius muscle and increased tone in the SCM muscle is often related to some type of airway dysfunction. This could be just from poor awareness of diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day or it can be related to structural abnormalities. This could be things like a deviated septum, small nasal valves, TMJ or other jaw issues, enlarged tonsils, and more. It can also have inflammation in the airway preventing you to be able to breathe optimally.

2. State of the Nervous System

Posture is your story. It is how you present yourself to the world. It is ultimately a reflection of your past experiences, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and activities of daily living. There are so many things that affect it. If you are in a constant fight/flight or freeze state, that will be reflected in your posture.

For example, if you are in a fight or flight state, you might feel a constant tension in your neck muscles. This means that you are over-breathing in that state and using a lot of your neck muscles to do so. Conversely, if you think of the frozen state where we are shut down, hopeless, and numb, this might lead to more of a rounded posture.

3. Scars

No matter where your scars are in your body, they can directly impact the function of your cranial nerves, autonomic nervous system, emotions, and stabilizing muscles in your neck. Scars can have profound effects even far from where the actual scar is.

In healthy tissue, collagen fibers are normally parallel, but when scar tissue forms the collagen fibers are now perpendicular. The tissue is stronger, but it is not as elastic so it will impede the surrounding or distant muscles.

When To Do Trapezius Twist

Now for the fun part. The trapezius twist is a fantastic exercise to do right after you are sitting for a period of time. If you feel like your head is just leaning forward or you are having a hard time holding your posture, the trapezius twist will activate the trapezius muscles. It is a neural activation that is waking muscles up. You can check your forward head before and after you perform the exercise to see the difference.

How To Perform The Exercise

To perform the exercise, grasp your elbows and twist side to side at waist level for about five seconds. Then move to the chest line for five seconds. Lastly, move above the shoulders for five seconds. Recheck your forward head posture after you finish.

If you found this vagus nerve hack to be helpful, make sure to give it a share. Also, check out all our other vagus nerve hacks and make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, The Movement Paradigm for weekly tips on mindset, nutrition, and movement. If you are interested in setting up a virtual or in-person consultation, please reach out to themovementparadigm.com. We would love to help.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Sphinx

The sphinx, another powerful vagus nerve hack, can improve your cervical range of motion, thereby increasing blood flow to the brainstem and stimulating the vagus nerve. Let’s briefly review the anatomy, how to perform the exercise, and the implications that it will have for you. Please make sure to check out some of our other vagus nerve hack videos on YouTube so you can explore what works best for you.

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Anatomy

In the meantime, let’s review the vagus nerve. Remember, it is the 10th cranial nerve and it is a paired nerve. It originates from the brainstem, exits anteriorly, and innervates muscles of the throat, heart, digestive tract, and is involved in all of our autonomic functions.

If we have forward head posture and limited cervical range of motion, our cranial nerves are going to be impacted since they exit from the brainstem. We need optimal cranial nerve function so that we can be in a state of social engagement. This means that we are connected, joyful, mindful, and/or grounded. It involves muscles of the face or facial expressions. Again, if our range of motion is limited, then that can impact the functionality of these nerves and thereby how we interact with the world.

Before you begin the exercise I would recommend checking your range of motion. You can start by keeping your head in a stacked position over your body and look all the way to the right and left. How does it feel? Is there pain and/or restriction?

You should be able to get your nose over towards your shoulder while keeping your eyes level, so make sure not to side bend when you perform this.

How To Perform

To perform this exercise, start by lying on your stomach and then prop yourself up to your elbows. From here starting with your head centered, lift your pubic bone off the ground, lift your head gently, and then slowly rotate to the left, holding that position for 30 seconds. Next, come back to the center, and then move to the right and hold that for 30 seconds.

Now that you’ve performed the exercise, you can reassess your range of motion to see how that feels. If it feels better, then that exercise was meant to relax or stimulate cranial nerve XI, the accessory nerve. This will relax your SCM muscle as well as your trapezius muscles. If it didn’t, then that means that there is another problem in another one of the cranial nerves. Just know that there are other exercises that may be more appropriate for you.

This is a developmental position, something we did as babies. When we prop up onto our forearms, it ignites a postural reflex. It is also optimal for reflexive stability. This is a great position, movement, and posture to work from, and even exercise from. If you have a stiff neck, or you experience migraines on a regular basis, then this is a powerful exercise to perform. Make sure to do it as often as you need to help with your symptoms.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Breathing Before Eating

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Breathing Before Eating

If you are experiencing acid reflux, bloating, constipation, or poor digestion, then this vagus nerve hack is definitely for you.

In order to have optimal digestion, we need a lot of blood flow to our digestive tract. When we are in a fight or flight state, or a stressed state, the blood is moving away from our digestive system which will slow gastric motility.

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Why perform diaphragmatic breathing?

Performing diaphragmatic breathing before you eat will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby improving your digestion.

We breathe 20,000 to 25,000 times a day. So, when we are breathing from our neck and shoulder muscles and not allowing our ribcage to expand with each breath, our diaphragm becomes restricted. Since the esophagus passes through the diaphragm, it will become restricted as well, which can cause symptoms such as acid reflux.

We want to optimize the bi-directional communication between our gut and brain since 80% of that afferent information is coming from the gut up to the brain. We do this by diaphragmatically breathing.

This means when you inhale, you have a full 360 degrees of pressure through the abdomen, and when you exhale your belly button goes toward your spine. This will help to calm the nervous system down prior to eating by stimulating the vagus nerve and releasing acetylcholine to create a sense of calmness.

Simply taking 3-10 diaphragmatic breaths before you eat will help with your digestion tremendously.

It is important to calm the nervous system before eating so that we can truly rest and digest.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Pelvic Floor Relaxation

Another great vagus nerve hack that you can do is pelvic floor release and relaxation.

The vagus nerve is integrated with a sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) almost everywhere in the body, but especially the gut and the pelvis. What’s interesting about the pelvic floor is that we tend to hold so much tension here. This is where we tend to hold our emotions, too.

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Let’s dive into the anatomy. The posterior vagus nerve actually integrates with a network of sympathetic plexus with a network of nerves:

  1. celiac plexus
  2. superior and inferior mesenteric plexi
  3. superior and inferior hypogastric plexi

This plexi actually forms an integrated circuit that moves blood flow in and out of the pelvis, and this is exactly what the autonomic nervous system is all about—moving blood. This network of nerves is where the vagus nerve brings blood to the heart and brain. Lastly, urination, defecation, sexual orgasm all require this complex integration of all of these nerves and blood flow from the pelvis to the rest of the body. In order to do all of those things, we have to feel safe in the bedroom as well as in the bathroom. Safety is the cornerstone of our state of social engagement of the ventral vagal nerve. Check out the video HERE to see how to perform:

1.   Pelvic Floor Release

Sitting on a ball and addressing the pelvic floor musculature is a great way to create this efficient relaxation response. The placement of the ball is behind the pubic bone to address the front of the pelvic floor and then right inside of the buttocks to address the back of the pelvic floor. Sit on the ball and breathe diaphragmatically until you feel a release or relaxation response.

2.   Happy Baby

This is a great relaxation exercise where there are lots of variations. However, you just need to get to a position where you feel very comfortable, and you’re able to inhale into the pelvic floor. When you are inhaling, that’s when the pelvic floor is relaxing and you are opening the pelvic outlet.

3.   Rock on Forearms

Resting on the forearms and knees wide, inhale as you rock back and exhale as you rock slightly forward. Once again, you’re opening up the pelvic outlet, inhaling into the base of the pelvic floor to create that relaxation response.

The pelvic floor is one of the most fascinating connections with the vagus nerve, so it’s a really great way to address this from a chakra standpoint. It tends to be an area for clenching and guarding, and especially for holding emotions.

You can see this intimate relationship with your nervous system and how it could affect you.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Auricular Ear Release

Let’s talk about another vagus nerve hack, which is the auricular release, also known as an ear release, that you can do anytime anywhere to continually improve your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Please make sure to check out our other videos on how to assess your vagus nerve, the polyvagal theory, as well as many other vagus nerve hacks that you can incorporate into your life.

The fascinating thing about the auricular release is the external ear is one of the only places in the body that the vagus nerve is sending this peripheral branch to. In fact, the auricular branch surfaces as the afferent auricular vagus nerve, which means that the information from the periphery is going to the brain. Thereby, we are stimulating the ear from the periphery and signaling back to our nervous system to create this sense of calm.

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Anatomy

As the vagus nerve exits the medulla oblongata in the brainstem, it comes down into the jugular foramen. As it leaves the cervical vagus nerve, it branches out into this auricular branch of the vagus nerve. It also connects to the facial nerve, and therefore can promote relaxation of the facial muscles as well. It is also referred to as either the aldermen nerve or the Arnolds nerve.

How to Assess

Pull each ear slightly out to the side at the ear lobe, the middle of the ear, and the top of the ear. Assess to see which one feels more tense and/or which side feels more painful.  Does it feel elastic or restricted?

How to Perform the Auricular Release

Place your finger right under the ridge inside of your ear. You want to think about pressing backward. Gently move your finger in slow, small circles. There shouldn’t be any pain or discomfort, although it may feel a little different side to side. Sometimes this will trigger a sigh, swallow, or yawn. That is a sign of relaxation of the nervous system. You should likely feel a sense of calm.

The second technique would be to come down almost as if you’re going to go into the eardrum with your finger. Gently press backward toward the back of your head, and perform slow, gentle circles. This could be done for one minute or as long as you feel like it is helping and it’s comfortable.

The third technique is performed by placing your finger on the skin behind your ear. You will gently pull the skin up towards the direction of your head, moving the skin over the tissue. This is a myofascial release. Hold until you feel a release. This could feel like your finger can move easier and the skin feels more elastic. It could also trigger a relaxation response. You can hold this for one minuet or longer if you find it to be beneficial.

The last technique is just gently pulling down on the ear lobe. This is considered a craniosacral technique, so it can have benefits for dizziness, headaches, and other neurological type symptoms. So, this is powerful for many different reasons, not just stimulating the vagus nerve.

After you finish one side then you would switch to the other, then reassess to see if it feels more elastic and not as irritated. 

The great thing about these vagus nerve hacks is that it gives you control over your own nervous system. You can incorporate these throughout your day since they only take seconds to minutes to perform. This will help to bring you back to that state of rest and digest and a state of social engagement where you can be joyful, mindful, grounded, and compassionate.

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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.

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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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