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.