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Mind-Body Healing Through Vagus Nerve - An Outlined Mental and Physical Health Management Routine


* Download printable copy of this plan on the WORKSHEETS page


This is a daily routine that will focus on improving mindful awareness of the body and environment, resetting the parasympathetic nervous system (calm system) through activation of the vagus nerve, and increasing energy and positive mood through evidence-based techniques. This routine does so by activating numerous parts and systems within the mind and body based of the most recent research. Combining or “stacking” different coping strategies together increases the possible effects by targeting multiple systems at once and pathways shown to regulate the nervous system and decrease levels of distress. This routine is meant to be implemented as a proactive strategy (before symptoms), however these techniques can be used as a reactive strategy (experiencing symptoms) as well. Using each of these together as one holistic plan will offer the best results, however some is always better than none when it comes to self-care. Therefore, I suggest implementing one or two of these exercises into your day on a determined number of days per week and slowly introduce/add more techniques over time. This will set you up for success and not encourage feeling overwhelmed or too short on time.


FULL ROUTINE (25-35 Minutes)


1. Upon waking up splash cold water on your face or turn the shower to cold for 30 seconds before getting out. This is shown to stimulate the vagus nerve and can help expand your window of tolerance for the day. It also stimulates you to begin the wake-up process.


2. Drink 8oz. of cold water or more to stimulate metabolism, wakes up body and mind, and properly hydrates after sleep.

  • Add a probiotic pill, yogurt, kombucha tea, or other probiotic source for gut health, which influences physical and mental health symptoms through bacteria microbiome in the gut, serotonin production/absorption, and management of inflammation in the body.

3. Do a 5-10 minute yoga routine to activate the nervous system and more importantly to promote blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.

  • Incorporate diaphragmatic breathing to improve nervous system response.

  • Incorporate humming or chanting to stimulate vagus nerve.

4. Reset/Activate the Vagus Nerve and parasympathetic (calm) nervous system response

  • Lay on your back, legs bent, straight or propped for comfort.

  • Interlace your fingers and place hands behind the base of the skull, elbows wide, arms and neck relaxed.

  • Eyes are open as you gaze to the ceiling/sky, straight up.

  • Now without moving your head, move the eyes to the right as far as you can without feeling strain or pain and hold.

  • Hold for 1-3 minutes, or until you naturally yawn, sigh, swallow, or feel a deep exhale.

  • Repeat by moving eyes, not head, to look left now and hold for response or 1-3 minutes.

  • If you have low vagal tone due to stress, it may take a few tries to get a response, but you will eventually activate the nerve and elicit a response.

5. Stretch the Vagus Nerve


Neck Rotation

  • Slowly turn your head to the right.

  • Hold for 10 seconds.

  • Repeat on the left side.

  • Do 10 repetitions.

Tilted Forward Flexion

  • Tilt your head to the right.

  • Slowly drop your head towards your chest.

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • Repeat on the left side.

  • Do 10 repetitions.

Neck Extension & Flexion

  • Stand straight and slowly tilt your head backward (without arching your back), so that you are looking up at the ceiling.

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • Tilt your head downward until your chin touches your chest.

  • Hold for five seconds.

Lateral Extension

  • Place your right hand on your right temple.

  • Slowly tilt your head to the right, pressing against your hand and using your hand to provide resistance.

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • Repeat on the left side.

  • Do 10 repetitions.

Resisted Extension

  • Place hand at the back of your head, towards the bottom.

  • Push head backward against hand to provide resistance.

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • Place hand on your forehead.

  • Push head forward against hand to provide resistance.

  • Hold for five seconds.

Shoulder Shrug

  • Keeping your head straight, slowly raise both your shoulders.

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • Do 10 repetitions.

6. Do a 10 minute+ meditation to focus the mind and reinforce the connection between the mind/body and emotional health. You are essentially trying to maximize your window of tolerance for the day.

  • Incorporate diaphragmatic breathing.

  • You can add light therapy, which has been shown to improve mood and energy when used regularly.

  • Incorporate some humming or chanting to stimulate vagus nerve through vocal chords.

BONUS ADD ONS


1. Journal briefly about one thing you are grateful for currently or use a positive affirmation to apply to yourself and focus on positivity and disrupt any negative thoughts.

  • Targeting the nervous system and body first to address emotions and thoughts is considered a “bottom-up” approach, therefore adding activities that challenge any negative thoughts can add a “top-down” approach technique.

2. You can use a TENS unit to stimulate the vagus nerve through the ear.

  • This device can cost anywhere from $30 and up, but is used commonly by doctors, therapists, chiropractors, and others. I recommend TENS 7000

  • You may need to purchase ear clips separate for less than $10

  • Referred to as Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVAS)

3. Add a cold shower to your day in place of hot one or add a brief cold shower as extra.


4. Enhance the cold water on the face step by getting a bowl of ice water and lowering your face into the bowl of ice water for a few seconds at a time, repeat 5, 10, or even 20x.


5. Drink chamomile, milky oat tops, valerian, lemon balm, or passionflower tea at lunch or bedtime.

  • These are all considered to be a nervines, which means the ingredients help to promote healthy nerve function.

Other Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve and Parasympathetic Nervous System


1. Alternate nostril breathing

2. Apply cold compress to face and back

3. Exercise

4. Being in nature, getting sunlight

5. Sing along to songs in the car on the way to work or home

  • Stimulates vagus nerve through vibrations

6. Reflexology or massage

7. Probiotics and healthy, whole grains

8. Smile and laugh often

9. Fasting (consult a medical doctor)

10. Have an attitude of gratitude


REFERENCES

A., V. der K. B. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.


Gentry, J. E. (2016). Forward-facing trauma therapy. Compassion Unlimited.


Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: healing trauma: the innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. North Atlantic Books.


Mäkinen, T. M., Mäntysaari, M., Pääkkönen, T., Jokelainen, J., Palinkas, L. A., Hassi, J., Leppäluoto, J., Tahvanainen, K., & Rintamäki, H. (2008). Autonomic nervous function during whole-body cold exposure before and after cold acclimation. https://doi.org/10.3357/asem.2235.2008


Mårtensson, B., Pettersson, A., Berglund, L., & Ekselius, L. (2015). Bright white light therapy in depression: A critical review of the evidence. Journal of affective disorders, 182, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.04.013


Ogden, P., Fisher, J., Hierro, D. D., & Hierro, D. A. (2015). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: interventions for trauma and attachment. W.W. Norton & Company.


Porges, S. W. (2011). The polyvagal theory: neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. Norton.


Streeter, C. C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., Perlmutter, R.


Prescot, A., Renshaw, P. F., Ciraulo, D. A., & Jensen, J. E. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 16(11), 1145–1152. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2010.0007


W W Norton & Co Inc. (2017). The Polyvagal Theory.


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