3 Secrets to Quickly Stop Anxiety - Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Date: November 9th, 2022
Author: Billie Bradshaw
We all know what to do to help a dog who is stressed, anxious, or panicking. What is it? Just give 'em a belly rub, and they call right now. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way we could do that for ourselves? Well, it turns out, there is!
In the video, he discusses what the vagus nerve is and exactly how it works. He also covers a few ways to check and see if you are in a sympathetic (fight or flight) state or a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. Once you've figured that out, you can move on to self-regulating.
With three simple techniques, shown in the video, we can stimulate our vagus nerve in a way that will help us to relax, and move from fight or flight to rest and digest.
Do you get stressed out and anxious? Do you find yourself just overthinking things that are totally
out of your control? You know when I was growing up, I had this dog named Zack and he was just as
anxious as me. He'd get all worked up and shake and tremble. But with my dog I could
just scratch on his belly and every single time within about a minute he would completely
calm down. And I thought wouldn't it be great if me and you, what if we had a technique like my
dog where we could just scratch our belly when we're feeling overwhelmed and stressed out and
calm ourselves down? Well, I later in life learned there is a technique and it's called
vagal nerve stimulation and I'll show you how to do it. Hey, my name is Lucas. I'm a yoga teacher
and in this short video I'll show you some ancient yoga techniques for stimulating your
vagus nerve to calm down, to de-stress, and to find more peace and balance in your life.
Just a quick disclaimer: if you're suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, clinical depression,
any serious mental illness, please check with your doctor. I'm a yoga teacher, I'll just be
sharing with you things that I've picked up over two decades of teaching and practicing
yoga. Let's talk about the vagus nerve. What is it? Well, your vagus nerve is your tenth cranial
nerve and the name vagus comes from the Latin "to wander" like a vagabond. Your vagus nerve wanders
throughout your thoracic cavity and your nervous system, of course. This is your body's electrical
signals. And the vagus nerve innervates and also gives signals to lots of the most important
functions of your body. Things like breathing, and heart rate, and blood pressure, and orgasm, so
many different things. For the sake of this video let's think about the vagus nerve in relation to
your parasympathetic nervous system response. In our body we have different nervous systems
but your autonomic nervous system this is, like the name suggests, usually automatic. And there
are two main branches to your autonomic nervous system. One is called your sympathetic nervous
system, that's your fight or flight response. This is for exercise, for busy work, through
physical exertion, through hunting. And then you have your parasympathetic nervous system response,
and this is rest and digest, peace and love, deep cognition, and those feelings of cool, calm,
and collectedness. The reason I'm sharing with you this is because our vagus nerve is largely
responsible for our parasympathetic nervous system response. Now our autonomic nervous system, in an
ideal world it's automatic, and we have periods of our day where we're fight-or-flight, go, go, go,
clean the house, do the laundry, empty the inbox. We have periods of our day when we're resting and
digesting, and problem solving, and thinking, and loving, and collected. In our modern life it's not
really like that. In our modern life you open up your phone and you're bombarded by crisis news.
You go to work and you're overwhelmed with more work than a person could really handle in a week,
and many of us are managing family and work and lifestyle stress that's really through the roof,
not to mention things like air pollution, noise pollution, processed food. It's a lot to take in.
And so our autonomic nervous system it gets dysregulated and many of us get stuck in a
fight-or-flight response. That's where at 11 o'clock at night you're feeling
completely physically exhausted, but you're mentally wired. You're wired,
but tired. I'm sure you know the feeling. Despite all of your best efforts, you just can't seem to
self-soothe, like my dog rubbing its belly. And this is where your vagus nerve can be really,
really important. Now many of you know the feeling of being wired but tired, but sometimes you're not
really sure what's going on. When we think about your vagus nerve in relation to the self-soothing,
we often talk about vagal nerve tone. The terminology can get a little bit confusing,
but if you think about this vagus nerve and you think about its role in your rest and digest
response, when you have high vagal tone that means your ability to self-soothe is really high.
That doesn't mean you don't get stressed out, that doesn't mean you don't get anxious or worried,
you will, but it does mean that you're able to respond rather than react. That means
when somebody cuts you off in traffic, rather than spinning out with anger for three hours,
within a couple of minutes you're able to respond and collect yourself. That doesn't mean you never
get worried or anxious about the future, but it does mean that you're able to let it go at night,
put your head on the pillow and go to bed. That would be indicative of high vagal tone.
Now the opposite is what a lot of us suffer from. Low vagal tone. We're not able to self-soothe.
What happens is somebody cuts you in line at the grocery store and you're angry and ruminating
about it for the rest of your day. What happens is you get an angry email from a vendor at work and
again you just can't let it go and it's 11 o'clock and you're spinning, and spinning, and spinning.
This is low vagal tone. To check in with your vagus nerve, to check in with your nervous system
in general, there's a few techniques that can be really helpful. The first one I'll share with you
is called the nasal cycle test. Some of you have done this with me before. It's a very simple test,
doesn't work for everyone, but it's pretty effective for most people. Take your index finger,
put it underneath your nose, and let's exhale three times through your nose.
What we're looking for is to identify which nostril, right or left, is dominant. Which nostril
is the air flowing through more freely? Your right nostril is indicative of a sympathetic nervous
system state. Your left nostril is indicative of a parasympathetic state. Let's check again.
Right nostril, fight-or-flight. Left nostril, rest and digest. Why is this relevant? Well it's not
that fight-or-flight is bad and rest and digest is good. There are times in our day when we'd
like to be stimulated with our sympathetic nervous system, we need blood flow to our muscles and our
heart and our lungs, we need to get things done. But there are other times when we need to be cool,
calm, and collected. So if it's 11 o'clock at night, like I mentioned before, and you're
wired but tired, and you're in your right nostril, that's indicative of low vagal tone. Let me give
you another test. Now this is a weird one. You need your phone. So hold up your phone and put
on a selfie video. Stick out your tongue and make a "ha" sound like this "haaaaa". And now
take a look at the video. What you're looking for is in the back of your throat there's this thing,
you've seen it before when you're brushing your teeth, it's called your uvula. Your uvula is
this little piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of your throat. And because your vagus
nerve innervates your soft palate, remember I told you this nerve wanders all over the place, it also
wanders up into the back of your mouth, your soft palate. When you have a vagal nerve dysregulation,
sometimes that uvula can actually be deviated, it can be off to the side. This test is really easy
to do with a selfie video or just in the mirror in the bathroom and it can give you an indication if
you're in an imbalanced state. The third technique is subjective but it works really well too. What
we're looking to do is cultivate interoception, understanding what's going on inside your body,
not just what's going on in the news, or in your environment. And a simple way to do that
is to close your eyes and check in. How are you feeling right now? Are you ruminating about things
that happened earlier today? Are you worried and anxious about things in the future? Do you feel
like there's a dark cloud of anxiety hovering over your head? Or are you able to let things
go? This simple check-in, again, can be indicative of high vagal tone if you can self-soothe,
or low vagal tone if you're out of balance. OK, now that we understand what the vagus nerve is,
its role in your parasympathetic nervous system, now that we have a few techniques for checking in
with our nervous system and checking in with our vagal tone status, let's take a look at three,
simple, weird techniques for stimulating your vagus nerve. Remember we're
looking to do what I used to do with my dog, scratch its belly to make it relax.
These techniques, there are lots of different techniques for stimulating your vagus nerve,
these are weird ones you probably haven't seen them before, but they're very, very effective and
they're pretty well researched. The first one is a yoga technique called Bhramari. It's a humming bee
technique, where we make a low resonant humming sound to oscillate and vibrate the back of our
throat. Your vagus nerve comes down either side of your neck and it's wrapped in a carotid sheath.
This is essentially like a plumbing tube that goes down the side of your throat and inside that tube
you have your jugular vein, you have your carotid artery, but you also have your vagus nerve.
And when we vibrate the back of your throat it can massage that biggest nerve
and stimulate it, like the dog, and help you to relax. Here's what it looks like.
Try to make a low, slow, resonant sound. It looks kind of funny, sounds kind of funny. If
you're embarrassed just go in the bathroom and close the door. Let me show you one more time.
I'd encourage you to do 10 rounds of Bhramari,
slow, low, oscillating exhales, that will massage your vagus nerve. It also,
as an added bonus, it helps to release nitric oxide in your perinasal sinuses,
which is a vasodilator and a bronchodilator. Really helpful for your cardiovascular health,
but also helps to relax you as well. The next practice is a pranayama practice, a yoga breathing
practice. Of all the different things you can do to stimulate your vagus nerve, breathing
is probably the most effective and consistent. This practice has a couple of important elements
and one of them is the chin lock. In yoga this is called jalandhara bandha and it looks like this.
We'll use the chin lock at the top of the breath to hold our breath, and when my chin is locked
in towards my chest it puts pressure on that carotid sheath where my vagus nerve is and
again will help to massage the vagus nerve. The second thing I'll do is I'll breathe very slowly
and deeply. In fact, I will exaggerate my diaphragmatic breathing. Your vagus nerve
passes through the opening of the diaphragm, so when you do exaggerated diaphragmatic breathing
it massages your vagus nerve. It can help to relax you as well,
so we get kind of a double whammy effect. It's called triangle breathing because we
breathe in to the count of four one side of the triangle, we'll lock and hold for four,
we'll release and exhale for four on the way down. Let me show you how it works.
I'll use a traditional pranayama mudra with my right hand to control my nose and I'll inhale.
Close my nose, lock and hold.
Lift my chin, exhale.
I'll show you one more time but without talking.
So that's triangle breathing. It's four on the way up, lock and hold, jalandhara bandha,
the chin lock for four, and then exhale for four. I'd encourage you to do ten rounds
and see how you feel. It's a very, very effective practice. This last one is perhaps
the most unusual, the most strange. If you take your index finger and your thumb and you make
kind of Pirates of the Caribbean earrings for yourself by placing your index finger inside your
ears. And let's massage by making small, gentle, circular motions forward, one, two, three, four,
five. And now backwards, five, four, three, two, one, very, very gentle. Let's go forward, one,
two, three, four, five, and now backwards, five, four, three, two, one. Remember I mentioned before
your vagus nerve is a vagabond, it goes all throughout your thoracic cavity, it also goes
up into your neck, it also goes up near your ears, your auricular branch, your ear branch
of the vagus nerve goes right up here. And so this massage technique, it doesn't work for everyone,
but for some people it works really well and the reason I'm sharing it with you is because you
can do this one while you're at work, you can do this one while you're driving, you can do this one
while you're on a plane, and no one will even know what's happening. What we're trying to do here,
what we're focusing on, is stimulating your vagus nerve to stimulate your parasympathetic
nervous system response to help you to manage and mitigate the stresses of your life in a more
adaptive and a less reactive way. Great to have you here. I hope you find that helpful. Here's
what we covered. We talked about how our modern lives just are a constant onslaught of stress,
mental, emotional, physical, all of the above. We talked about how very often we get stuck
in our fight-or-flight response and we lack the tools and the ability to automatically
self-soothe. So like my dog scratching its belly we can use these techniques like Bhramari,
like triangle breathing, and like this ear massage, to stimulate our vagus nerve. If you're
interested in learning more about the vagus nerve I'd really encourage you to check out
the work of Stephen Porges, also Deb Dana. Deb Dana also teaches polyvagal theory. She's been
a guest on the podcast, I'll link up down in the show notes. And lastly, Stanley Rosenberg's work
on the vagus nerve is very, very helpful. I'll include references to all of these down below. If
you'd like more science-based yoga videos please hit subscribe down below. Very helpful if you
hit that like button and if you have questions I answer all the comments down below. You can
find my teaching schedule at yogabody.com and I look forward to seeing you in the next video.