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The Nerve! One of the Most Ignored Healing Pathways in History for Anxiety and Trauma

The vagus nerve is a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system, or “calm” system. It is identified as the 10th cranial nerve and the longest, connecting to your brain, heart, gut, lungs, and many other vital systems throughout your body. It influences your breathing, digestion, heart rate; all of which have a significant impact on your mental and physical health. Increasing your vagal tone (health) activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress. This is not philosophy, it is science. There are even FDA approved medical devices and implants that are designed to stimulate the vagus nerve for people non-responsive to medication or common interventions for pain or mood symptoms. But you can stimulate this important nerve yourself with various simple interventions. The more you do and the more often, the more results you can expect.

Vagus nerve stimulation causes a decrease in activity in the areas of the brain that produces physiological responses to stress and panic (Moshin, 2019; XZhang & Liu, 2019). You can view an article I wrote previously outlining the vagus nerve function and significance HERE. The remainder of this article will focus on providing various exercises that are shown to focus on improving vagal tone, or health. You may also go to my videos section under resources and there is a walkthrough video of various methods to stimulate or reset your vagus nerve; HERE and HERE. First a list of mostly everyday activities that have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve:

  • Alternate-nostril breathing

  • Apply cold compresses to your face and the back of your neck

  • Breathe deeply and slowly

  • Connect with nature

  • Diaphragmatic breathing, the slower the better

  • Eat a whole-foods diet

  • Exercise (To your ability)

  • Expose your skin to sunlight

  • Have an attitude of gratitude

  • Hum or sing

  • Laugh and giggle often

  • Listen to music with uplifting, happy, grateful lyrics and calm music

  • Massage

  • Meditate

  • Nostril breathing (versus mouth breathing)

  • Reflexology

  • Smile as much as possible

  • Take probiotics or eat probiotic foods

  • Gargle water

The list provided above is adapted from How You Can Repair Your Vagus Nerves – Caring Medical Florida. Another way to stimulate the vagus nerve, and relieve neck, muscle, or nerve pain is by doing the neck exercises listed below, which focus on healing the vagus nerve:

Neck Extension and 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.

Neck Rotation

  • Slowly turn your head to the right.

  • Hold for 10 seconds.

  • Repeat on the left side.

  • Do 10 repetitions.

Lateral Extension

  • Start by keeping your head straight.

  • 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.

Shoulder Shrug

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

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • 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.

Deep Stretching

  • Sit on a chair and keep your back, neck and head straight.

  • Drop your head towards your right shoulder.

  • Use your right hand to pull your head down further. You can brace your left hand on the arm of the chair for support.

  • Hold for 30 seconds.

  • Repeat on the left side.

  • Do three repetitions.

Resisted Extension and Flexion

  • Keep your head in a neutral position throughout.

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

  • Push your head backward against your hand and use your hand to provide resistance.

  • Hold for five seconds.

  • Place your hand on your forehead.

  • Push your head forward against your hand and use your hand to provide resistance.

  • Hold for five seconds.

Towel Pull

  • Roll up a towel and place it behind your neck, holding the ends in your hands.

  • Slowly tilt your head backward so that you're looking up.

  • As your head rolls against the towel, apply gentle pressure on the towel, using it to support your neck.

  • Return to the starting position without holding the stretch.

  • Do 10 repetitions.

* The list provided above is adapted from

There are numerous videos on YouTube if you just search for vagus nerve stretches. There is a lengthy, but excellent explanation of the vagus nerve and a walkthrough of some key exercises available HERE. Remember, you can practice the stretches for the most effective intervention, but you can add some of the simpler suggestions to tune the vagus nerve to existing routines and behaviors. For example, gargle when brushing teeth, sing along to the music in the car, add humming or chanting to your meditation routine, turn the shower to cold for 30 seconds on your face before getting out, etc. Doing these various stretches and activities is not a magic bullet, but the more you use and the more often, the effects can stack and the benefits can become significant if you make it a routine to care for the vagus nerve.

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