Vagal Nerve Stimulation all day long …

Vagal Nerve Stimulation – all day long 
Little Lifestyle habits that connect you to your Parasympathetic Nervous system and keep your vagus nerve toned.  Toning your vagus nerve all day long while you work and play.

Why?  Our vagus nerve, while have many different functions in the body ultimately calms us down, and allows us to rest and digest, relax and heal.  It is one of the ways we connect to the calming side of our nervous system which is the Parasympathetic Nervous System.  Our vagus nerve is 80% of our parasympathetic nervous system.  We want to spend most of our days “parasympathetic dominant” — meaning calm and not in the stressed state of the sympathetic nervous system.  Our vagus nerve is literally the brake on our stress response.

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 quicker.  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.

While we don’t want to be “sympathetic dominant” which means stressed out, we do want some of the energy we get from our sympathetic nervous system to help us throughout our days without setting off the stress response. And turns out we can do that!   We can train our vagus nerve to not just go from 100% PNS activity to 100% SNS activity ~ but 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 🙂

There are levels of tapping into a little SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System) activity while we remain predominantly PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System). 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 tone your vagus nerve all day long.  I say “tone” because we want a toned vagus nerve, where the lower fibers (dorsal vagal complex) relaxed so digestion happens, we want the upper fibers (ventral vagal complex) stimulated to keep us calm.  The middle portion of the vagus nerve is the sympathetic branch, which is always there 24/7 ready to kick into action at anytime we feel unsafe.  We need that for our protection, but we don’t need stress when we are not in danger.

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:

Upon waking

  • Do a morning stretch routine in bed (1-2 minutes) – wake up slowly (if you can!), bringing your attention to your breath first thing.  
    • Then stretch 🙂 Inhaling stretch through your right leg, making your right leg longer than your left and at the same time stretch your right arm overhead.  Hold for 5-8 breaths.  Repeat on your L
    • Hug your knees to your chest for a minute.  Then inhale slowly push your knees out with your hands, and exhale pull them in slowly 5-8x
    • End with a little moving and breathing spinal twisting; with knees bent and feet flat on mattress – exhale drop knees to the right, inhale center exhale left 5-8x
  • 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).  If you can gargle a little more than you want to -the longer and harder you gargle, the more effectively you stimulate your vagus nerve. 
    • Warm salt water is really nice to gargle with – and functional in viral threat and flu season, the salt can help kill viruses and bacteria that lead to colds and flus.
    • Hydrosols are lovely to gargle with – and medicinal too, however very gently medicinal.  I gargle with my Rose Geranium Hydrosol.
  • 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.  It is a practice that also stimulates your liver to detox.  It needs to be done on an empty stomach, 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.

And breathe with bandhas frequently throughout your day (more on that below too) — especially when standing to do dishes, running errands, etc.

And keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth broadening your palate (say the letter ‘N’ and keep your tongue there) — Vagal Nerve stimulation all day long with Jiva Bandha.  Whenever you are not speaking with someone or eating, make this jaw position your habit to fall back into – this goes very nicely with your nasal breathing:

  • Close your lips, ever so slightly part your teeth maintaining gentle contact between your upper and lower teeth.

Remember the cues I use in your yoga classes about softening your eyes and relaxing your jaw — this is especially important while you are on screens.

  • 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 via the vagus nerve — softening 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?
  • Smile softly.  Try to smile while you work, smile while you drive, and smile while you converse.

Can you walk around throughout your day smiling and breathing through your nose with jiva bandha whole relaxing your eyes and face?

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.  On busy days you only need enough practice to put your in your yoga state of mind and breath 🙂

Check in with yourself often – what are you thinking?  How’s your posture? Is your jaw relaxed?  Are you breathing through your nose?

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:

  • Cough
  • Breathe with more effort than normal with your bandhas – Another way to stimulate your vagus nerve with your abs.  When stressed take a quick forceful exhale pulling your navel inward and upward.  Then relax and several deep yogic breaths.  You can do 3 or 4x when under stress.
  • 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.
  • SMILE!

Pay attention to not breathe through your mouth!  What are you thinking?  Ask yourself this frequently.

In the Evening

Make a relaxing herbal tea.  Good options:  chamomile, rose, tulsi, lemon balm aka Melissa, mamaki – or any combination of the above.  Use organic whole dried or fresh herbs in a tea pot.  Tea bags are made with low quality herbs and many tea bags have plastics in them.

Take a bath with about 1 cup epsom salts, a little baking soda, an optional pinch of ginger powder (really nice in the wintertime), a 1/4 – 1/2 once of carrier oil such as sunflower, sesame, or olive oil  with 5-7 drops lavender essential oil.  Instead of oil in your tub you can also put the essential oils in milk, coconut milk, or honey and add those to your tub.

As you go off to sleep, set your nasal breath and jiva bandha — And try to fall asleep breathing through your nose.  It is important to establish the habit of nasal breathing during sleep.

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 …

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 relaxing the lower dorsal fibers of your vagus nerve while stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system in two places — both the vagus nerve (which is 80% of your parasympathetic nervous system) and your pelvic splanchnic nerve.

  • 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 (this is your uddiyana bandha). 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 lift.  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 and light, prana is your energy; a yogic energy that helps you feel awake and alive and energetic. Prana is intelligence at a cellular level, 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.

Follow up Information:


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 is where our sense of smell is.  Sniffing when we want to smell something is good but we don’t want to sniff when we breathe all day long.  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 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.

The olfactory region in our nose is our prana accumulator. Breathing with a balanced breath between the two streams that go down to the lungs and the stream that directs more oxygen upward over the olfactory nerve endings in our nose is the best way to breathe all day long to keep our bodies and our brain oxygenated.

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:

More on Jiva Bandha

  • 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 stretches the root of the tongue where our vagus nerve is monitoring, it 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.  

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!

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