The Basic Exercise for Vagus Nerve Stimulation & Nervous System Regulation
The basic exercise, which was developed by Stanly Rosenberg, is a polyvagal exercise that helps calm the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve signals to your brain and body that you are safe and that you are not in a dangerous situation.
The idea behind this exercise is that if you were in a dangerous situation, you wouldn't be able to do this exercise (or other polyvagal exercises). Also, you will be stimulating the vagus nerve at the same time.
I want to take you through how to do this exercise because it’s something I use quite frequently. If I’m you’re feeling super anxious about something, this is a quick way to downregulate your nervous system and be in a little bit calmer space.
This exercise can look a bit weird, so some people prefer to do this during a bathroom break or in a private space. You can do it laying down or sitting. You’ll want to be sitting or laying down because it can make you feel off-center at first.
A note: For some people, the sensation afterward can be a bit anxiety-provoking, especially if your anxiety tends to be worse when you feel “too calm”. If this is the case for you, this may be an exercise that you want to work through with your therapist.
How to Do the Basic Exercise
- Internlock your fingers.
- Put your hands behind your head so that your thumbs touch the base of your neck. You want to be cradling your head in your palms. It’s not super important that your hands be in a specific place. But if you’re cradling your head in your palms, you’re going to be in the right spot.
- Look toward one of your elbows (without moving your head) for 1 minute or until your feel the need to sigh, yawn, or take a deep breath.
- Come back to the center and rest. You may need a minute to get your bearings.
- Repeat for the other elbow.
- Come back to the center and rest.
As you can see, this is a simple exercise that you can do to quickly feel calmer. You’ll probably notice that your breathing is slower, your heart rate has slowed down a little, and you feel less on-edge.