Over the last 25 years I have had the unique experience of having access to a wide variety of knowledge in the healthcare field, and in the position of very little financial resources. As always I am looking for the root of the key brain issues. 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 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 looked deeper into the science behind it and learned that this kind of breathing was strengthening the vagus 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.
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.
1) place a straw in a glass half full of water. 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.
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 and try to push the book up as they breath. 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 doing 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. Not just hearing music but playing. The vibration on the lips we have found 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 exercise time.
Tara Wood L.M.T.