Blog Post by – Steve Tanner, PathwaysToIntegration.com
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Well first of all what is referred as the ‘Vagus Nerve’ is actually of a complex of nerves that merge together to join the brain in the 10th position. It is also known as the 10th Cranial nerve. The Vagus Nerve is so called taking it’s name from Latin because it branches or travels in many directions. This aptly describes the way the Vagus connects with many different organs in our bodies such as the heart, lungs, intestines, throat and vocal chords etc.
Also there are two main branches of the Vagus Nerve known as the ‘Dorsal’ Vagus and the ‘Ventral’ Vagus. The Dorsal complex is much older evolutionarily and is part of the parasympathetic (rest & digest) branch of autonomic nervous system. The Ventral Vagus complex is actually much newer in our evolutionary development and forms many connections around the throat, neck and the face as well as to organs.
Here are some of the easy things we can do to stimulate the Vagus nerve.
- Sing – singing involves the use of muscle chords and throat and is a great way to engage the Vagus nerves ending there. With the movement of the voice and the control of air and vibration in the throat and lungs the Vagus nerve is stimulated and called into action! So sing away! Singing is a great way to self-regulate by using the Vagus nerve. For that matter screaming accomplishes the same thing is probably not as much fun!
- Gargle – gargling for most of the same reasons as singing. The Vagus nerve is once again called into action to control the throat area. The vibration from gargling also stimulates the Vagus.
- Hum – humming does the same thing. It creates vibration in the throat area and exercise throat muscles to hum different notes. My wife loves to hum while she sews and does chores. I always thought it was just a kind of nervous habit until I realized this is a way she self-regulates.
- Raspberries – not the kind you eat but the kind of sound make by closing your lips together and blowing air out through them causing your lips to flutter. It’s sort of a flatulent sound through your lips. But it also causes all kinds of vibration in your throat thus stimulating the Vagus nerve. Have fun blowing raspberries while you self-regulate.
- Laugh – for all the same reasons laughing stimulates vagal tone plus it relieves a lot of stress. So go for it.
- Slow rhythmic breathing – through slow rhythmic breathing moving air in and our lungs and air passageways. But particularly effective is to use a breath discipline such as what I call the 4-5-6 method so that the exhales are longer than the inhales. This methods works as follows: Slowing and evenly breath in for 4 seconds. Then hold your breath for 5 seconds. And slowing and evenly exhale for 6 seconds. The slow exhales require the use of the lungs and control the muscles in the throat and airways. This is also a great method for increasing parasympathetic rest and digest mode.
- Neurosculpting® Meditation – Neurosculpting meditation leverages what we have recently learned from neuroscience in order to make the limbic brain feel safe while also stimulating the prefrontal cortex in both hemispheres that yields more positive imagery. A healthy vagus is able to regulate over while range of thoughts and challenges. To read more about Neurosculpting read the blog on this site “What is Neurosculpting®?”
- Long, close cheek to cheek hugs and muzzling – The human face is filled with nerve endings connected with the vagus nerve. Human and other higher mammals experience more nervous system and emotional regulation through friendly face-to-face contact. To read more about the regulating effect through positive social engagement read about The Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges.
- “Smiling is my favorite!” – (2003 Movie Elf ) Just Smile. But intentional smiling is another way to stimulate vagal tone. When we smile we are using the facial muscles that contain the vagal nerves.
The advantage to using these methods is that they are easy to do and they are natural. They are simple ways to regulate ourselves and find balance.