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How a harmonica and or a simple straw can help your brain and gut!

Over the last 25 years I have had the unique experience of having access to a wide variety of knowledge in the healthcare field, (allopathic and alternative), and in the position of very little financial resources.

So as a mom of 5 kids with a variety of sensory processing, ADHD and Autism problems I try to find simple solutions that hit at the heart of the issues...THE BRAIN!

Over the last 18 years there have been numerous studies focusing on vagus nerve stimulation for bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD. I also found in my research that autistic children seem to have very weak toned vagus nerves.

Let me illuminate why this nerve is crucial to our well being. It is a cranial nerve and the longest autonomic nerve in our body.

The vagus nerve helps to regulate many critical aspects of human physiology, including the heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speaking. Involved in immunity it is also the main pathway between the gut and the brain.

The vagus gut brain connection is key For every one message the brain sends the gut via the vagus, nine messages leave the gut to "talk to the brain." Strengthening the vagus nerves helps with digestion, speech, and many other functions, and is part of the parasympathetic system.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother keenly aware and immersed in yoga, meditation and alternative therapies. In her early years, when she struggled with anxiety, drugs were the only answer given by western medicine.

After experiencing disastrous results, she came back to what she knew. One of that was yogic or diaphragmatic breathing.

It wasn't until I was older and struggling with my children's anxiety and suicidal thoughts that I took my mothers advice seriously, I looked deeper into the science behind diaphragmatic and learned that this kind of breathing was strengthening the vagus nerve.

In this breathing you extend your belly out when you take a breath in, then push or "suck in your gut" when you breath out. It is in the breath out and the diaphragmic pressure which helps to strengthen the nerve.

So with a bag of straws we added this next experiment into our "home lab".

We found it helped us to calm down, overcome anxiety, sleep better, digest and even poop better.

We saw an increase in my globally delayed Autistic son's desire to talk more and use longer sentences.

So if you have children (or even adults) struggling with anxiety, sleep issues, easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, trouble digesting food, speech problems let me show you some easy exercises to strengthen the Vagus nerve.

We use a straw because it forces them to exhale slower and use more force on the breath out.


1) place a straw in a glass half full of water (or milk for better bubbles). Have the child take a deep breath and blow into the water slowly making bubbles. Do this for about 2 min. Try this 2 to 3 times day or whenever you catch them getting anxious.

2) The child (or the adult lol) can place a cotton ball on the table and blow through the straw sending the ball down the table. You can even make a goal line and more than one child (or parent) can compete for who's ball will cross the finish line first.

3) Play a game where the child lies on a bed or the floor. Place a book on their belly, get them to take a big breath in and try to push the book up as they breath in. Then place the straw to their lips and blow out watching the book lower down as they breath out.

This is teaching them diaphragmatic breathing and working not just the vagus nerve but stimulating lymph drainage for the gut area. Lymph drainage can decrease inflammation, which can be a common problem in the digestive area in Autism. Do this for about 5 min at least once a day.

4) Get a simple harmonica and show them how to play, or you can watch a youtube video if you don't know how. The blowing with force is stimulating not just the vagus nerve but lighting up more parts of the brain at the same time. My sensory seeking kids liked the feel of the vibration on their lips, some other kids may not.

Not just hearing music but playing the instrument is having a positive affect on the brain. The vibration on the lips, we have found, in our family, helpful in calming food sensory issues.

Harmonica as brain therapy has been used by many, ie veterans in dealing with depression, PTSD, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

The following video shows how powerful music can be in brain healing

So have a bucket of straws in the house and give the gift of a harmonica for each person. And bear the noise with a smile because you know its brain and gut exercise time.

Tara Wood L.M.T.

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