3 Ways To Improve Your Lymphatic System

Did you know that the lymphatic system is one of the most powerful, yet neglected systems in the body, and it is crucial to our immune health?

As we already know 90% of all chronic disease is linked to excessive or persistent inflammation. How do we get rid of inflammation? Primarily through our lymphatic system, as well as our other detoxification organs. These can include things like our liver, kidney, lungs, tongue, fat, skin, and more. 

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Now let’s compare our lymphatic system to an aquarium. All of our bones, ligaments, joints, muscles, and organs are bathing inside of this lymph tissue. Let’s say that our lymph is the aquarium and if this aquarium happens to be unfiltered, toxic, and full of pathogens, then, unfortunately, all of those things within the lymph tissue are also going to be negatively affected. This means that we’re not getting the proper nutrients to our cells. That’s when we can have cell death and inflammation. This is what contributes to chronic disease.

So how is our lymph system negatively affected? First and foremost, our food and agricultural industry has changed dramatically since post-World War II. We have more GMOs, toxins, herbicides, pesticides, and we are constantly being bombarded with these things on a regular basis. That, in combination with the choices that we make and our lifestyle factors, such as eating a standard American diet, not exercising, and not getting enough sleep. All of these things can impact our lymphatic system. 

3 Ways To Improve Your Lymphatic System

Now let’s discuss three ways to improve your lymphatic system.

1) Diaphragmatic Breathing

 As we are diaphragmatically breathing, the diaphragm acts as a respiratory pump that pumps the lymph to the cisterna chyli, which is one of our major lymphatic ducts and drainage locations. This is located at the center of our abdomen. Breathing diaphragmatically 20,000 to 25,000 times a day is ideal. If you’re breathing more from your neck and shoulders, you can begin to slowly change your breathing pattern by starting with taking three nice slow diaphragmatic breaths every hour and building up to more.

2) Movement 

Movement is one of the key things that move our lymph. Sedentary lifestyles will be correlated with stagnant lymph. Think about every hour trying to get up, take a walk, move around, do some squats or push-ups, any type of mobility or stability work, or just any type of movement that you can do consistently. This is not sitting all day and then exercising for one hour. Instead, think of moving most hours of each day. 

3) Lymphatic Drainage

This can be a very powerful way to stimulate your lymphatic system. You’ll want to tiptoe the system and not go too fast too soon. You want to go slow with your lymphatic drainage and make sure you let your body adjust so that hopefully you can continue to progress.

How To Perform Lymphatic Drainage

To begin the lymph drainage, you will start by using a feather-light technique for five seconds, then faster deeper for five seconds, then tapping for three, and then pull in the direction of your heart for three. You want to start right above the left collarbone and then move to the right collarbone. Next, proceed to the following areas: pecs and axilla, abdomen, the inguinal area, inside the groin, behind the knee, and then inside the ankle. Make sure to always pull in the direction of your heart, and to always perform on both sides starting on the left side.

Face Lymph Drainage

The next progression is the face lymph drainage, which you will use a toothbrush. You will start with the left collarbone with the same technique of feather-light for five, faster deeper for five, tapping for three, and then pulling in the direction of the heart for three. Make sure to always start on the left side and perform on each side. After performing this above each collarbone, move to under the jaw, then lateral jaw, then next to the nasolabial lines, then the temple area, and then lastly the occipital area (you can just use your hands for this area). 

Dry Brushing Technique

The next progression is a dry brushing technique. You’ll start by clearing the left supraclavicular area. You can do this just by tapping. Then you’ll start with your feet and lower leg, brushing in long, slow strokes up towards the direction of your heart. Make sure to get behind the knee in that popliteal area and then move to the other leg. Once again, several strokes in each area.

Next move to the inguinal area moving up toward the direction of your heart. Then move to the abdomen, you can just do circles around your belly button. Next, move to the glutes and then to the low back. Next, move to the arms starting from the fingertips, and make sure you go through the axilla and pec area. Lastly, moving to the upper back. Once again make sure to perform on each side. You can do this right before your shower. 

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Chew Your Food To Heal Your Gut

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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 | Valsava Maneuver

Vagus Nerve Hack | Auricular Release

Vagus Nerve Hack | Neck Release

Vagus Nerve Hack | Valsalva Maneuver

Let’s discuss another vagus nerve hack that you can incorporate into your day to decrease your heart rate and regulate your nervous system. This one is a little unique; it’s different than our standard slow, deep breathing. The Valsalva maneuver is great for anyone that’s experiencing super ventricular tachycardia (SVT), which is an increase in your heart rate. In essence, it will slow the heart rate down and create a relaxation response.

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Anatomy

Now let’s talk a little bit about anatomy. The vagus nerve is leaving the brainstem and branches off to innervate muscles of the face, ears, throat, heart, digestive tract, and elimination tract. As it relates to the heart, specifically for this maneuver, the vagus nerve innervates the SA node of the heart. So, by creating pressure in the chest, it signals the SA node to signal the AV node to decrease the heart rate. In essence, the Valsalva will slow the signaling down in the lower chamber of the heart, which decreases the heart rate.

Precautions

Before we get into how you’re going to perform the technique, I do want to remind you who should not perform this technique. Anyone that has a known heart condition, congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, or heart disease, should not perform this, and/or check with your medical doctor. There is a temporary increase in blood pressure so it can place you at higher risk. If you do not fall into one of those categories, please feel free to give this a try.

How to Perform the Technique:

  • Inhale normally, pinch your nostrils, and begin to exhale.
  • Hold it for 10 seconds. You’re exhaling through the nose while you are pinching your nasal valves, thereby creating pressure in your chest.

Initially evaluate how you feel, and then you could repeat this several times. It should have a slowing of the heartbeat and relaxation response. A great thing to do is to take your pulse before and after the maneuver to see if it has lowered your heart rate. You can use your radial or carotid pulse, whatever is easiest for you. Just make sure not to use your thumb when taking your pulse. The Valsalva maneuver can be a great addition to your life and your health.

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Auricular Ear Release

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Neck Release

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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Vagus Nerve Hack | Neck Release

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Vagus Nerve Hack | Neck Release

Not only can you consciously tap into the power of your vagus nerve; you should.

Known as the “wandering nerve” in Latin, it begins in the brainstem and innervates the muscles of the throat, circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination tracks. It accounts for 80 percent of our parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous system.

Healthy vagal activity is associated with better physical and mental well-being. Otherwise, it can cause issues such as inflammation, heart disease, and strokes.

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In other blogs, we have covered some of the best vagus nerve hacks. Today’s neck release will not only target some of the key muscles that are involved in stress breathing, but also the carotid artery which moves into the carotid sinus, innervated by the vagus nerve.

So just like all the other vagus nerve hacks, this will induce a relaxation response. We are doing this through stimulation of the vagus nerve via the carotid sinus.

How To Perform This Exercise

To perform this exercise, use a small to medium-sized ball, preferably soft, and gently place it on the left side of the upper neck right under your ear. You will compress, shear, and lengthen, by placing some pressure into the tissue and then gently twisting the ball across the neck. You want to be gentle with your twist and you want to move your head in the opposite direction as you are doing this. Once you get to the center of your neck, you’ll want to be more cautious because you have your hyoid bone, larynx, pharynx, and esophagus there, which will be a little more sensitive. Then, continue to rotate the ball to the other side of your neck while naturally rotating your head in the opposite direction.

So what are some things that you may experience after performing this exercise?

1) You may feel like your face and neck feel much more relaxed or softened.

2) You may feel a sigh, swallow, or yawn which is a sign of relaxation of the nervous system.

3) You may feel warmth in your face.

4) You may feel like you can see, hear, or speak more clearly. This is due to the stimulation of the vagus nerve, and some of the other facial and cranial nerves.

The great thing about these simple vagus nerve hacks is that you can do them anytime and anywhere during the day. It can bring you back to this parasympathetic state, the state of social engagement, where you are connected, mindful, and joyful.

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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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5 Minute Facelift | Vagus Nerve | Cranial Nerves

Did you know that you can do a five-minute facelift that will make you feel completely refreshed, revitalized, and also bring you to a state of social engagement by stimulating the cranial nerves and the relaxation response? Do you ever feel like your face just feels like it needs a little bit of a lift, but you don’t want to do anything cosmetic? Well, this is exactly where you want to start. This can make a huge difference, and it’s recommended to perform this on one side of your face before the other side, so you can see the noticeable difference.

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Six Benefits of the 5-Minute Facelift

  1. Ignite the Relaxation Response

You will stimulate the cranial nerves that share the same nuclei with the vagus nerve. This will ignite the relaxation response.

2. Improve Your Face Circulation

You will improve the circulation of your face. Essentially, you are enhancing blood flow, and you are also moving the lymph.

3. Put Life Back into the Middle 1/3 of your Face

It’s going to put life back into the middle one-third of your face. Essentially, you can notice a shift in your eyes, in between the eyes, the forehead, as well as the mouth.

4. Brings Youthful Quality to your Face

It brings this youthful quality to your face allowing your expressions to come a little bit more naturally especially with smiling. That makes you a little more responsive with your interactions with others.

5. Makes Your Cheekbone Prominent and Softer

It makes flat cheekbones a little bit more prominent and higher cheekbones a little bit softer.

6. Brings You to a State of Social Engagement

Because it is creating this relaxation response, and you are stimulating the cranial nerves that attribute to facial expression, this will bring you to a state of social engagement which means that you’re more connected, more mindful, and grounded. This allows you to interact with the world better, and it allows you to be more associated with yourself and the greater world.

Here’s how you do it.

  1. Start on one side of your face. Come right outside of the nose and assess the tissue. Move it up and move it down, see which way it is not moving as well. Hold very lightly just on this outer surface of the skin so this doesn’t move. Just gently hold it again very softly to start and hold it until you feel a release— until you feel like the tissue just starts to soften and it becomes a little bit more elastic. That could be 30 seconds up to two minutes.
  2. Now move in towards the midline and then away. Figure out where there’s more resistance. Push into that resistance until you feel like you start to release.
  3. Now with a circle, go in one direction and the other direction. Still, just a moderate pressure where that velcro feel is. This time, hold this until you sigh, swallow, or yawn—and that is a sign of the relaxation of the nervous system.
  4. Lastly, one more time, go in a little deeper. Move through both layers in a circular motion until where you can almost feel the bone underneath. Find the resistance. Hold until you sigh, swallow, or yawn.
  5. Now move right inside the eyebrow and begin with assessing the tissue up and down.  Remember, light pressure here. Then, move side to side, and then sink in a little deeper. Figure out what that feels like for you.
  6. The next step is to do your circle, find the resistance, and hold until you sigh, swallow, or yawn.
  7. Now, go a little deeper, feeling the tissue, making your circle, finding the resistance, and then once again hold until you sigh, swallow, or yawn.
  8. Take a moment to check-in. Look at your one half of the face, maybe take a picture, look at the mirror, so that you can see the difference.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

This is a really powerful way to create a lot of benefits in a short amount of time. Not to mention that it feels amazing!

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How to fix your forward head posture | Cranial nerves

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How to fix your forward head posture | Cranial nerves

Do you have forward head posture, or do you have a friend or family member who does? Perhaps you’re always telling them to stand up straight, but they just can’t seem to do it. Let’s talk about the neurology and physiology behind forward head posture and most importantly, what you can do about it.

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Three things that contribute to forward head posture:

  1. Decreased tone in the trapezius muscle and increased tone in the sternocleidomastoid muscle

This is typically due to some kind of breathing dysfunction. That can be from an airway issue such as nasal valve collapse, deviated septum, chronic allergies, jaw issues, enlarged tonsils, just to name a few, which contributes to poor breathing mechanics, breathing more from the neck and shoulders as opposed to the abdomen and diaphragm. It can also be caused by a stressful event, trauma, or even chronic ongoing stress. This specific imbalance in these muscles is what contributes to forward head posture. Additionally, people that have asthma or COPD will almost always have a forward head posture.

2) State of the nervous system

If you are in a chronically stressed state, perhaps a fight or flight state, or even a freeze state where you feel shut down, how you hold your posture will be impacted. Your posture is your story and how you present yourself to the world. Do you walk into a room with confidence and standing up tall, or do you feel shy, reserved, and rounded forward? All of your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and activities impact your posture. We can’t simply think about your forward head posture as a plumb line.  It is so much more than that. 

3) Scars

No matter where the scar is or how old it is, it can affect your breathing, emotions, and movement. Scars contribute to postural changes, shifts in the nervous system, and contribute to muscle imbalances. It’s important to look at any scar in your body no matter where it is or what it’s from, and begin to address the scar from a fascial perspective. This means that doing scar work can influence your emotions, breathing, and movement. 

Now that you have three causes, let’s talk about three solutions. So, when we’re thinking about how we’re going to shift this forward head posture, we have to think beyond just simple exercises such as chin retractions and thoracic mobility. We have to think about the cranial nerves because they are impacting our nervous system, facial expression, and whether we’re in a state of social engagement, which means we’re mindful, joyful, and grounded. We’re going to address this more so from a cranial nerve perspective and optimizing breathing so that you can make a change immediately. You can also have a cumulative effect the more that you do these.

What I would recommend before you start the exercises is to have someone take a side view picture of your forward head posture. Then, take one again after you finish the exercises to see if there is a change. There absolutely should be at least a subtle change if not a very noticeable change. 

Three solutions for forward head posture

Three solutions for forward head posture

1) The Basic Exercise

With this, you’re putting input to the back of your head and looking with your eyes to create more blood flow around the brainstem. This is where the vagus nerve originates. What happens when we’re not in a state of social engagement is our first two vertebrae can become slightly misaligned. By bringing blood flow to the area and stimulating the vagus nerve can bring the first two vertebrae back into alignment, which means we’re back into a state of social engagement. This can impact your forward head posture almost immediately.

To perform the basic exercise, interlace your fingers and bring them behind your head. Look with your eyes only in one direction until you sigh, swallow, or yawn. When you’ve done that, repeat on the other side. This should take approximately 30 to 60 seconds, however, it can take longer depending on if your nervous system is ready to relax 

2) The Salamander Exercise 

This is also a cranial nerve reprogramming exercise, which will help to create more space in the chest cavity, the heart, and the lungs, therefore impacting breathing and forward head posture.

To perform the salamander, assume a table position. Look with your eyes first and then your head as you bring your ear to your shoulder and hold that for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side again making sure you lead with your eyes, then side bend your head bringing your ear towards your shoulder. 

3) The Trapezius Twist

This is essentially waking up all of the trapezius muscles. It’s not stretching or strengthening them. It’s just waking them up, which means there will be an immediate change in posture, breathing, forward head posture, as well as overall posture. Especially after you’ve been sitting for some time, get up and do these three twists! You won’t be disappointed.

To perform this exercise, start with your arms grasped together at waist level rocking back and forth. Next, move your arms up to the heart line rocking them back and forth. Lastly, raise your arms slightly above your shoulders and once again rock them back and forth. You should do about five to ten repetitions at each position. 

There you have it, some causes for forward head posture and most importantly some solutions. We do have to remember that with forward head posture it becomes a vicious cycle because the more forward the head is the more blood flow that is constricted from the vertebral arteries. This means less blood flow to the brain. It also is affecting our airway which means it’s impacting our lymphatic system, hormonal system, and causing inflammation in the body. It’s really important to understand the neurology and physiology of forward head posture and begin to think about it from a much different perspective rather than simply corrective exercises like the chin tucks, upper back stretches, and retractions. We want to think of it especially from a nervous system perspective.

Reach out for a 15 minute FREE discovery session to see how we can help you on your journey.

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How to Map Your Own Nervous System: The Polyvagal Theory

How to Map Your Own Nervous System: The Polyvagal Theory

With anxiety, depression and stress on the climb, have you ever wondered how you can understand your reactions to life’s challenges and stressors? Or maybe you wondered how you can become more resilient? Did you know that you can map your own nervous system? This is such a powerful tool that can help you shift the state of your nervous system to help you feel more mindful, grounded, and joyful during the day, and more importantly during your life. Before we discuss how to map your nervous system, let’s break down the autonomic nervous system a bit more.

The terms “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” are typically what we refer to when discussing this autonomic nervous system. However, there are three different aspects of the autonomic nervous system referred to as the polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges. The vagus nerve, referred to as the wandering nerve in Latin, is one of the longest nerves that originates in the brainstem and innervates the muscles of the throat, circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination. The vagus nerve is the major constituent of the parasympathetic nervous system and 80 percent of it’s nerve fibers are sensory, which means the feedback is critical for the body’s homeostasis. This amazing vagus nerve is constantly conveying information back to our brain. For example, when we take slow deep breaths, we are stimulating the vagus nerve. This will cause the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which signals back to the brain to create this relaxation response. Pretty amazing, wouldn’t you say?

When we are in this stressed state or potentially anxious state, then we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. In addition to not being able to be empathetic or curious, we are also not able to bring the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function,  communicating, guiding, and coordinating the functions of the different parts of the brain, back online. This essentially means that we are not able to regulate our attention and focus. Sound familiar?

Three nervous system states

  1. First, our “fight and flight” response is our survival strategy, a response from the sympathetic nervous system. If you were going to run from tiger, for example, you want this response to save your life. When we have a fight response, we can have anger, rage, irritation, and frustration. If we are having a flight response, we can have anxiety, worry, fear, and panic. Physiologically, our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline increase and it decreases digestion, pain threshold, and immune responses.
  2. Second, we have a “freeze” state, our dorsal vagal state, which is our most primitive pattern, and this is also referred to as our emergency state. This means that we are completely shut down, we can feel hopeless and feel like there’s no way out. We tend to feel depressed, conserve energy, dissociate, feel overwhelmed, and feel like we can’t move forward. Physiologically, our fuel storage and insulin activity increases and our pain thresholds increase.
  3. Lastly, our “social engagement” state is a response of the parasympathetic system, also known as a ventral vagal state. It is our state of safety and homeostasis. If we are in our ventral vagal state, we are grounded, mindful, joyful, curious, empathetic, and compassionate. This is the state of social engagement, where we are connected to ourselves and the world. Physiologically, digestion, resistance to infection, circulation, immune responses, and our ability to connect is improved.

Rather watch or listen than read?

polyvygal chart
Adapted by Ruby Jo Walker

As humans, we have and will continue to experience all of these states. We may be in a joyful, mindful state and then all of a sudden due to a trigger, be in a really frustrated, possibly angry state, worried about what may happen to then feeling completely shut down. This is human experience. We are going to naturally shift through the states.

However, when we stay in this fight or flight or this shut down/freeze state, that is when we begin to have significant physiological effects and also mental/emotional effects. As I mentioned earlier, this could be an emergency state. This can also be a suicidal state, if we are in this shut down mode for too long. If we are in a fight or flight state, we can have constant activation of our stress pathway, also known as the HPA axis, and we can really impact our stress hormones, sex hormones, our thyroid, etc. This stress will have significant inflammation effects on the body as well. All of these states can have considerable effect on our overall health, positive or negative, of course. Also, you can not get well if you are not in your “safe” state. No treatment intervention or professional will help you if you are not safe. This is why it’s really important to identify the states for each of you.

How can you map your nervous system?

  1. Identify each state for you.

The first step is to think of one word that defines each one of these states for you. For example, if you are in your ventral vagal state, this is also called the rest and digest state, you could say that you feel happy, content, joyful. etc.

When you are in your fight or flight state you could use the words worried, stressed, overwhelmed, etc.

In the freeze state you could use the words shut down, numb, hopeless, etc.

The first step is identifying the word that you correlate with each of those three states. This is really important because then you’re able to recognize which state you are in and identify with it quickly. This will allow you to really tune into your body and understand how you feel in that state, so you can help yourself get out of it.

2. Identify your triggers and glimmers.

You’ll want to identify triggers for your fight/flight state as well as your freeze state. These could be things like a fight with your boss, an argument with your spouse, a death of a loved one, if someone cuts you off while driving, etc. It is whatever things that cause you to feel stressed. You want to eventually have at least one trigger, if not many, written down for each of those states.

Glimmers are the things that bring you to that optimal nervous system state. It could be something as simple as petting a dog or something bigger like going on a vacation.

Click here for Deb Dana’s Worksheet to Map Your Nervous System

Summary

Once you can identify what those states are for you, then you can recognize what your triggers and glimmers are for that state. You can really begin to make a profound difference in your nervous system state. You can take ownership of what’s happening to your body, you can tune in to what’s happening, and know how to regulate your emotions and your responses to stress. Ultimately, this is how we can begin to develop resilience. This means being able to have respond appropriately to life’s challenges, go to that fight or flight state for a short period, and then return back to your state of social engagement. That should happen a few times a year not multiple times a day, or every day for that matter. To truly enjoy life, returning to your state of safety where you are mindful, grounded, and joyful, is a practice. It can start with mapping your own nervous system.  

If you need help on your journey, please reach out!

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Other things that may interest you:

How to test your vagus nerve

How to improve your vagal tone