Updated: Nov 7
For Tara Wood, a mother of five children, life has been a journey marked by unique challenges. Her children grapple with a variety of sensory processing, ADHD, and Autism issues, making their quest for effective solutions all the more crucial. In her pursuit of simple yet powerful remedies, Tara stumbled upon a key player in our well-being—the vagus nerve.
Over the past 18 years, research has increasingly emphasized the significance of vagus nerve stimulation in addressing conditions like bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. Furthermore, Tara's exploration led her to a noteworthy observation: many autistic children exhibit weakly toned vagus nerves.
To understand the importance of this cranial nerve, consider that the vagus nerve is not only the longest autonomic nerve in the human body but also a vital regulator of essential physiological functions. It influences heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speech. Moreover, the vagus nerve forms the crucial bridge between the gut and the brain, facilitating a two-way conversation.
The vagus gut-brain connection is pivotal, with nine messages leaving the gut for every one message sent from the brain via the vagus nerve. Strengthening the vagus nerve contributes to improved digestion, speech, and a range of other functions, playing a significant role in the parasympathetic nervous system.
Tara's journey into the world of vagus nerve stimulation was influenced by her upbringing, guided by her mother's deep knowledge of yoga, meditation, and alternative therapies. In her earlier years, Tara's mother had grappled with anxiety, and conventional Western medicine had offered only drug-based solutions. When these interventions yielded disastrous results, she returned to the wisdom of yoga and diaphragmatic breathing.
Tara initially overlooked her mother's advice, but it wasn't until she confronted her children's anxiety and even suicidal thoughts that she seriously delved into the science of diaphragmatic breathing. This style of breathing involves extending the belly while inhaling and contracting the abdominal muscles during exhalation. This method was found to strengthen the vagus nerve.
Armed with this newfound knowledge, Tara introduced diaphragmatic breathing exercises to her family's "home lab," using straws to refine the technique. The results were astounding, with noticeable improvements in calming anxiety, enhancing sleep, aiding digestion, and even encouraging speech development in her globally delayed autistic son.
To help others seeking similar benefits, Tara offers a set of easy exercises to strengthen the vagus nerve:
1. Bubble Breathing: Place a straw in a glass filled halfway with water or milk. Have the child take a deep breath and exhale slowly through the straw, creating bubbles in the liquid. This exercise can be repeated for about two minutes, two to three times a day, especially during anxious moments.
2. Cotton Ball Challenge: Challenge the child (or even an adult) to blow through a straw and send a cotton ball rolling down a table. You can make it a fun competition to see whose ball crosses the finish line first.
3. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Have the child lie down on a bed or floor and place a book on their belly. Inhale deeply, pushing the book upward, and then exhale through the straw, watching the book lower. This exercise not only stimulates the vagus nerve but also promotes lymph drainage in the gut area, helping reduce inflammation.
4. Harmonica Therapy: Teach the child to play a simple harmonica or watch instructional videos online if needed. Blowing forcefully into the harmonica stimulates the vagus nerve while engaging multiple areas of the brain. The vibration on the lips can also be soothing, making it an excellent tool for sensory-related issues.
Tara also suggests that playing the harmonica is not just a musical experience but an opportunity for brain therapy. The instrument's vibrations on the lips have proven helpful in addressing food sensory challenges and have been used as brain therapy for individuals dealing with depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.
So, consider keeping a stash of straws in your home and gifting each family member a harmonica. Embrace the noise with a smile, knowing that you're not just making music but also engaging in essential brain and gut exercises.
Tara's journey is a testament to the power of simplicity, where a humble straw and harmonica can be the keys to a brighter, healthier future.