Vagal Nerve Stimulation – all day long
Little Lifestyle habits that connect you to your Parasympathetic Nervous system
Why? Our vagus nerve, while have many different functions in the body ultimately calms us down. It is one of the ways we connect to the calming side of our nervous system which is the Parasympathetic Nervous System. We want to spend most of our days “parasympathetic dominant”.
A new evolutionary response to stress.
When we developed our stress responses it was back in the day of lions and tigers and bears. When we were stressed then, it was usually because a bear was chasing us, and your body would send all your energy to think quick and run and fight. If you had a bacterial infection, it didn’t matter if the bear ate you so your body stopped working on it. Once you survived and escaped the bear, stress response over, and your body goes back to combatting the bacterial infection.
The polyvagal theory states that we can train our vagus nerve to not just go from 100% PNS activity to 100% SNS activity ~ but that there are gradients in between being stressed and relaxed.
This is good news as we need a new evolutionary approach to stress. In cave man days which seems to be when our bodies learned the stress response, stress was life threatening… outrun the tiger or you die.
Most stress is no longer life threatening. We need a new evolutionary response to stress that allows us the benefit of some circulating stress hormones for motivation and energy without breaking down the entire body in the process. Turns out we might be able to do this 🙂
In the polyvagal theory, there are levels of tapping into a little SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System — aka the stress response) activity while we remain predominantly PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System aka the rest and digest response). This is the new evolutionary response I am talking about.
How do we do this? One way is learning how to relax yourself while you work all day long. You can do this with little movements that gently stimulate your vagus nerve all day long.
Whenever you start to stress and worry about something, ask yourself:
Is this life threatening? If not, relax. It can be figured out.
Ways to stimulate your vagus nerve all day long:
- Do your morning stretch routine in bed (1-2 minutes)
- Sit up and do about a 3 minute meditation. Take your breath as slow as you comfortable can, somewhere between a 3-5 second inhale and a 3-5 second exhale. Sit for 18-30 breaths (depending on your breath rate, to equal 3 minutes).
- Option 2 breathing meditation. This could be done in place of the meditation above or just before your bath, before a meal, or even just a nature break sitting outside while you do it. This is a nice easy breathing practice that Dr. Weil teaches:
- 4-7-8 Breathing Meditation:
- Inhale 4 counts – tilt head back, flare your nostrils and take in air
- Hold 7 counts (tuck chin toward notch in chest)
- Exhale 8 counts slowly through your nose.
For a total of 4 rounds — Both inhale and exhale through your nose —except last (on 4th round) exhale is through mouth — sticking your tongue out and rolling your eyes back 😉 — Its an emotional release — If you stick your tongue out and roll your eyes back it is a yoga pose called Lion pose or simhasana.
In your morning Routine
- Add Gargling (you could do this at night as well). Gargle longer and harder than you think you can, the longer and harder you gargle, the more effectively you stimulate your vagus nerve.
- Gargle Recipe below -Calendula/Myrrh Mouthwash. I can make this for you.
- Splash cold water on your face. I do this 7 times, once for each chakra.
- Nauli or the abdominal churning can also stimulate your vagus nerve. The link explains this practice — it is a practice that also stimulates your live to detox. It needs to be done on an empty stomach so in the morning with your morning routine is a good place to have it.
Throughout your Day – check in with yourself
Breathe through your nose all day long — Flare your nostrils and take in the air as often as you can remember throughout your day. More on this below.
Vagal Nerve stimulation all day long with Jiva Bandha. Whenever you are not speaking with someone make this jaw position your habit to fall back into – this goes very nicely with your nasal breathing:
- Close your lips, part your teeth.
- Say the letter ’N’ and keep your tongue there. This puts your tongue on the roof of your mouth making gentle contact between your tongue and palate just behind your front teeth. Jiva Bandha stimulates our vagus nerve to relax your body, and on a physical level helps to relax the jaw and keep you from clenching your teeth — which helps to align your head and neck in proper posture making breathing easier. More on this below.
Yoga! Duh … that’s what we do, right? Learn a 15 minute therapeutic flow that you can memorize (I can help you do this!). Try to get in the habit of a 15 minute yoga practice 4-6 days per week (with a couple of those days having your longer practice instead). This daily connection helps you to keep your connection to your breathing bandhas and meditative mind all day long as you take it with you off your mat.
Check in with yourself often – what are you thinking? How’s your posture? Is your jaw relaxed?
What are you thinking? Remember to mind your mind stuff all day long! This is a big important part of our health. Don’t be unnecessarily setting of your stress alarms by thoughts that will never be true.
If you find yourself facing a stressful situation here are some quick ways to Vagal stimulation to help mitigate stress:
- Breathe with bandhas – Another way to stimulate your vagus nerve with your abs. This is explained below. You can do this on the fly once you learn it in a meditative way.
- Softening your eyes, especially around the outer corners of your eyes has a calming effect on our nervous systems and body — the nerves that innervate around the eyes are connected to our parasympathetic nervous system (as are the mula and uddiaya bandhas) — sofenting your gaze as I always say in yoga .. helps us to relax and heal.
- Soften your face, are you holding any tension in your jaw?
- Rock yourself – just sway side to side. If need be, even add a shhhhh with your finger tapping your lips like you are telling your child to quiet down. This too calms us down.
Pay attention to not breathe through your mouth!
In the Evening
Make a relaxing herbal tea. Good options: chamomile, rose, tulsi, lemon balm aka Melissa, mamaki – or any combination of the above.
Take a bath with about 1 cup epsom salts, a little baking soda and ginger powder, about a 1/2 once of carrier oil such as sunflower or hazelnut with 5-7 drops lavender essential oil.
As you go off to sleep, set your nasal breath — And try to fall asleep breathing through your nose.
Talking Prevention – other ways to support staying in your Parasympathetic Nervous System
Recently David Perlmutter, PhD and his son Austin wrote a book called “Brainwash”. In the book they relate how processed foods and poor lifestyle choices actually hijack your brain and make it harder to make good decisions regarding food and health. Basically the processed foods shifts your brain from your prefrontal cortex (what we use for thinking and for decision making) to your amygdala which basically puts your body on a constant stress alert — this constant underlying brain stress basically “breaks your decider”.
We don’t want to hang out in our amygdala all day long, in addition to VNS (Vagal Nerve Stimulation) techniques as discussed above, what we need to do is get out of our amygdala and get into our prefrontal cortex. How do we do that?
To get out of your amygdala and into your prefrontal cortex and fix your decider?
- #1 Eat organic vegetables with every meal and eat whole, fresh, real foods.
- Get to Nature! And if you can’t do that bring the outside in! How many ways can you bring the outside in?
- Put plants in your office and home
- Diffuse essential oils — especially the tree scents.
- Pay attention to setting up healthy sleep patterns for yourself.
- Yoga and Meditation
- Be aware of social media use and screen time. Keep your screen time productive — don’t sit there and scroll through your news feed …
Follow up Information:
TAKE IN THE AIR
When you are outside or practicing yoga or meditation and breathing, how you breathe can increase your oxygen absorption. Animals do this very well, have you ever noticed a rabbit breathing? Animals nostrils are very mobile and flexible and expand with each inhale — and so are the nostrils of humans that still live in nature such as tribes in Africa.
When we normally breathe our nostrils barely move — and sometimes they even pinch shut a little as the suction from inhaling tends to draw them inward.
So instead try to TAKE THE AIR, expand or slightly flare your nostrils as you inhale — notice how the air enters more easily, in greater volume, and in better balance between both nostrils.
Opening the nostrils during inhalation directs more of the air toward the area in our nose with the most sensitive nerve endings. The air current that enters our nose is divided into three streams — 2 of the directions are in and down, the third direction brings the air across our olfactory region at the top of our nasal cavity.
This olfactory region — where our sense of smell is — is also the region of our nose that absorbs the negative ions from the air we breathe (which is what gives us vitality). As you breathe through your nose you want to feel most of the air go in and down the two currents that direct the air into your lungs, and a small amount go into the stream to the olfactory region. Putting too much of your air into the olfactory region will create a “sniff”. Sniffing gets you less oxygen as it uses your chest muscles more than your diaphragm — and this is every inefficient way of getting oxygen.
A purposely slowed breath, or when smelling something, or a purposefully rapid increase in the breath rate as we do for uth pluthi (a pumping breath done at the end of an ashtanga practice), or in the pranayama practices of bhastrika or kapalabhati all increase the flow of air to the olfactory region giving us the opportunity to absorb more negative ions, known in the yoga world as prana. Prana is a yogic word for processes happening throughout your body, often explained as the movement of energy. Energy moving through your body is blood flowing through your arteries and veins, neurons traveling in your nerves delivering their messages, lymphatic fluid moving through our lymph vessels and nodes clearing out pathogenic bacteria, hormones secreting, your heart beating, and your eyes shining.
Prana is akin to Negative ions . . . or we could say . . . Negative ions in the atmosphere are akin to Prana. An ion is an atom or molecule with a charge — we have positive ions and negative ions. Negative ions are very small and active mobile ions — in the atmosphere they work to keep our air clean. In our body negative ions take part in all vital functions and are the catalysts for oxygenating our blood. Positive ions on the other hand are larger and not as mobile as negative ions and tend to hold on to debris from the air. So we want to collect negative ions or prana in our body to help oxygenate our blood for cellular processes.
The olfactory region in our nose is our prana accumulator. Breathing this way directs more prana over the olfactory nerve endings in our nose which take in prana from the atmosphere. (You will understand and learn more about prana and vitality as your work your way through this book.)
By flaring your nostrils slightly as you inhale you pull more air into each airstream. You will notice that by taking in the air with your nostrils like this makes breathing easier, harmonious, and well balanced. Breathing this way increases the amount of inhaled air by at least 10%.
Here is a little breathing exercise to help you establish the habit of nasal breathing.
Sit comfortably in any position, but in good posture. Pelvis level (not rocked forward or back), spine long — ribs far away from your hips, shoulders relaxed, back of your neck long with your chin just slightly tilted downward. Let your muscles hang and relax on the support of your skeleton. Your skeleton supports your posture so your muscles can relax. Now add:
Close your lips, part your teeth. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth making gentle contact with your tongue just behind your front teeth . . . this is known as jiva bandha. Jiva Bandha stimulates our vagus nerve to relax our body, and on a physical level helps to relax the jaw and keep you from clenching your teeth — which helps to align your head and neck in proper posture making breathing easier. It also helps to keep you from salivating as much . . . which is useful in a meditation practice. And when holding jiva bandha it is impossible to breathe through your mouth . . . so making jiva bandha a habit will help with your nasal breathing all day long.
To perform jiva bandha just silently to yourself say the letter “N” and feel where your tongue softly touches your palate. You can also touch your tongue just behind your front teeth and feel a ridge . . . with a bump. Just behind that bump relax the point the just behind the tip of your tongue. Be careful not to push your tongue onto your teeth — this can lead to forward head posture putting stress on your neck and spine and could displace your teeth as well. Your tongue should be slightly back from your teeth creating a light cupping motion toward the roof of your mouth — but keep your tongue relaxed. with your tongue in this position you can feel how relaxed your jaw becomes removing tension and making it easier to smile 🙂
Now breathe, take a full exhale through your nose – empty your lungs first.
As you inhale flare your nostrils and take in the air:
- Exhale slowly and set about a 5 second rhythm to both your inhale and exhale. Feel your rib cage expand with each inhale, pay special attention to feel your back ribs expand with each inhale (this assures you are using your diaphragm to get more oxygen for less effort)
- Feel abdomen move with your breath too, you can slightly engage your abdominals as you exhale to assist in the exhale helping to push the carbon dioxide-d air out.
Sit with your breathing like this for anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. You will be surprised how energizing it is. As you prepare to leave your meditation, take your breathing and jiva bandha with you . . . you can even take it to work with you . . . It is like whistling while you work . . . only its through your nose instead!
Breathing exercise using your breath and abdominals to stimulate your vagus nerve:
Breathing with Bandhas Meditation
Connecting our bandhas to our breath helps us feel the bandhas from the inside — instead of using too much external muscular effort. Here is a nice short meditation to connect your bandhas to your breath:
- Sit with a relaxed abdomen, eyes closed, tongue on the roof of your mouth. Inhaling and exhaling both through your nose only, and keeping your abdomen relaxed; feel your abdomen expand with each inhale and relax inward on your exhales. Feel this in your body for a few breaths.
- Start to become more active with your exhale; as you exhale follow the natural inward upward movement with your abdominals tucking up in under your rib cage. As you become more active in your breathing process you will get a deeper exhale that is just a little quicker as the lifting of the bandhas pushes the air out a little quicker. Relax on your inhales and let your belly drop. Sit with this breath for a few breaths.
- Now becoming more active with both the inhales and exhales; as you exhale connect with the inward upward lift–HOLD that inward upward lift and inhale. As you inhale instead of your abdomen expanding your ribs will expand instead. Feel this expansion in your back ribs, side ribs, as well as your front ribs. Sit with this breath for a bit.
- Taking it just a little deeper, with your inhale perform the anal squeeze/mula lift, gently hold that lift as you exhale into your uddiyana bandha. Try to gently hold both bandhas steadily as you breathe. Inhales moving from the root of your spine to your heart. Exhales continue the journey around to the front of your spine connecting with the inward upward lift under the ribs. Feel your breath moving up and down your spine, feel your breath moving in your body.
Pulling together your breathing and bandhas fills your body with prana — like a form of oxygen, prana is your energy; a yogic energy that helps you feel awake and alive and energetic. Prana is intelligence at a cellular level (oxygenating our cells!), intelligence is called buddhi in Sanskrit, which comes from the root “bud,” which means to wake up, and so it is the energy of waking up.
This is a recipe I revised a bit from Rosemary Gladstars Healing Mouthwash in her book ‘Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health’.
1 cup water
1/3 cup organic vodka
3 dropperfuls calendula tincture — I vary this tincture, echinacea is nice.
1 dropperful myrrh tincture — I vary this tincture
6-7 drops Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil
3 drops Mentha x piperita (peppermint) essential oil
3-4 drops Commiphora myrrha (myrrh) essential oil
Drop your essential oils into the bottom of a glass mason jar and let them mingle while you gather your other ingredients. Add remaining ingredients and shake well. Decant into smaller bottles (I use 2 4 oz + 1 2 oz boston round bottles) and shake before each use.