Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve by Stanley Rosenburg

Approaching Infinity

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This one was published in 2017. Rosenburg is a craniosacral therapist and Rolfer, and a longtime friend of Stephen Porges (years ago Rosenburg fixed up a chronic problem with Porges's vertebral discs in mere seconds). His book explores how his practice has evolved and been informed by polyvagal theory. He includes a series of simple exercises he has developed to bring one into a state of ventral vagus nerve activation, and chapters focusing on some specific conditions he thinks are tied to vagal dysfunction, reporting success in his own practice with them, for example, COPD, hiatal hernia, shoulder/neck pain, migraines, forward head posture, anxiety/panic attacks, phobias, antisocial behavior and domestic violence, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and autism.

While he deals extensively with those specific conditions, he points out that vagal dysfunction involves a whole 'hydra' of symptoms and syndromes, from chronic physical tensions, emotional issues, heart and lung problems, visceral-organ dysfunctions, immune-system problems, behavioral problems, interpersonal issues, cognitive issues, etc. Getting out of states of dorsal vagal activity or spinal sympathetic activity alone is often enough to kill the hydra.

Before sharing some specifics, I'll highlight some of what I consider the pros and cons of the book. It is an easy-to-read introduction to polyvagal theory (much easier than Porges's book). But that might be a downside for others, because it is very repetitive. If you get it the first time, the repetitions might be annoying. (The book is 220 pages, but could probably be shorter.) But the explanations are all there, the exercises well described, and probably anyone reading will learn a thing or two from it, in addition to the exercises. So, getting into some of that...

Rosenburg points out that it's not just the vagus nerve that's important for health (physical, emotional and mental): it's intimately tied with other cranial nerves, and dysfunction in one often shows up in others. CN V, VII, IX, X (the vagus), and XI are all important and described in the book. He says he treats IX, X, and XI as if they were one nerve. Some of his exercises are designed to make use of those connections, i.e., stimulating one nerve has the effect of also stimulating ventral vagus activation.

A couple notes on dorsal vagal activation:

There are other commonly observable signs when we are in a state of shock or shutdown: The face loses its color and appears lifeless and unresponsive; the facial expression is unchanging and facial muscles sag. The voice also lacks prosody (melodic expressiveness); it is flat and without melody. The eyes appear dull and lifeless - there is no sparkle.

He argues that just as there is a physiological component to anxiety (spinal sympathetic activation), so too with depression: chronic dorsal vagal activation.

Rosenburg developed 2 basic tests to see if there is dysfunction in vagal nerve activation. One is to look at the uvula while saying "Ah, ah, ah" (short pulses of sound, not a long "Ahhhh" as you would do for a doctor). If the movement of the uvula and arches to either side is asymmetric, chances are you are not in a ventral state. (One arch will raise higher than the other, uvula will move more to one side as opposed to straight up.) He always tests this way before and after a treatment (in addition to making other observations, like of facial expressions, pulse during in- and outbreath, etc.). The other test is the relative tension in the upper trapezius. A gentle squeeze of this muscle above the shoulder on each side should show if one side is more tense than the other. He says he has found a 100% correlation between these two tests. The exercises should result in a symmetric uvula and trapezius, signs of ventral vagal activation.

For COPD, he often finds the breathing problems associated with a shortened esophagus caused by a hiatal hernia, in addition to ventral vagal dysfunction. He gives a self-massage exercise that can fix such a hernia (essentially a gentle push on the stomach that stimulates the esophagus to lengthen and the stomach to drop). In addition to the basic exercise (see below), this is often enough to fix symptoms, even if lung scans still show problems. (Hiatal hernias are often a hidden problem associated with ADHD in children, too.)

For shoulder/neck pain, the culprits are CN XI, the trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid muscles (or the levator scapulae, if the pain while turning the head is experienced on the same side you're turning it - in this case the treatment is massage of the supraspinatus). For the SCM, the exercise is to lie on your stomach, lift your upper body by supporting with your elbows/lower arms, arch your back so your head is straight up like a baby, then turn your head as far as you can to each side for 30-60 seconds.

For migraines he gives some diagrams of effective trigger points on the trapezius and SCM muscles, showing the four forms migraines tend to take and which trigger points apply to each pattern of migraine.

A few other random things I found interesting:

-"Light stroking of the face often calms us and helps us out of a state of stress." (Cranial nerves V and VII innervate the skin and muscles of the face.)
-Importance of body awareness: "Awareness of our body can help us avoid getting carried away by emotions that can lead to faulty neuroception." (i.e., our 'sixth sense' of the threat or safety of our environment.)
-raising our eyebrows, opening the eyes wide "improves our sensory intake and helps us be more present to what is happening around us."

If anyone has any questions, I can go into more detail - this is just a very basic summary. But probably the most important exercise is what he calls the "basic exercise." It's very simple and has the effect of activating the ventral vagus and aligning the atlas and axis vertebrae. Here's a video demonstration:


He gets all his clients to do this one and reports that it's quite effective on its own or combined with the other exercises (about 7 are included in Part Two of the book, with some variations) and massage/body work.

The book:

 
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aragorn

The Living Force
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Thanks, very interesting. The basic exercise looks to be utilizing eye movement, similar to EMDR therapy. I've recently started reading this book by Francine Shapiro, who apparently invented EMDR. If anyone's interested, here:

 

Anthony

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Thanks AI, I started reading the book yesterday and tried some of the exercises, will report back on effects after some more practice.
 

Ennio

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FOTCM Member
We had a chance to discuss some of the insights of this great book, and connect a few related dots, on the most recent MindMatters show:

MindMatters: First Sight, Polyvagal Theory, and Contemplative Practices

What does meditation or contemplation have to do with our physiology? And what is the possible connection between our autonomic nervous system and a coherent theory of psi? Today on MindMatters we bring together three topics: contemplative practice (see our interviews with Fr. Joseph Azize), first sight theory (see our interview with Dr. Jim Carpenter), and Stephen Porges's polyvagal theory, as discussed in a recent book by Stanley Rosenberg, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve.

Porges's work on the two branches of the vagus nerve, and the states of consciousness they are involved in, has important implications for physical and mental health. But the connections may go even further than that, into areas considered spiritual or even paranormal. The states facilitated by ventral vagus nerve activation have a lot in common with the conditions most conducive to eliciting psi, both in the lab and in everyday life. And together they may explain certain features of contemplative states and practices.


 

Trobar

Jedi
This one was published in 2017. Rosenburg is a craniosacral therapist and Rolfer, and a longtime friend of Stephen Porges (years ago Rosenburg fixed up a chronic problem with Porges's vertebral discs in mere seconds). His book explores how his practice has evolved and been informed by polyvagal theory. He includes a series of simple exercises he has developed to bring one into a state of ventral vagus nerve activation, and chapters focusing on some specific conditions he thinks are tied to vagal dysfunction, reporting success in his own practice with them, for example, COPD, hiatal hernia, shoulder/neck pain, migraines, forward head posture, anxiety/panic attacks, phobias, antisocial behavior and domestic violence, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and autism.

While he deals extensively with those specific conditions, he points out that vagal dysfunction involves a whole 'hydra' of symptoms and syndromes, from chronic physical tensions, emotional issues, heart and lung problems, visceral-organ dysfunctions, immune-system problems, behavioral problems, interpersonal issues, cognitive issues, etc. Getting out of states of dorsal vagal activity or spinal sympathetic activity alone is often enough to kill the hydra.

Before sharing some specifics, I'll highlight some of what I consider the pros and cons of the book. It is an easy-to-read introduction to polyvagal theory (much easier than Porges's book). But that might be a downside for others, because it is very repetitive. If you get it the first time, the repetitions might be annoying. (The book is 220 pages, but could probably be shorter.) But the explanations are all there, the exercises well described, and probably anyone reading will learn a thing or two from it, in addition to the exercises. So, getting into some of that...

Rosenburg points out that it's not just the vagus nerve that's important for health (physical, emotional and mental): it's intimately tied with other cranial nerves, and dysfunction in one often shows up in others. CN V, VII, IX, X (the vagus), and XI are all important and described in the book. He says he treats IX, X, and XI as if they were one nerve. Some of his exercises are designed to make use of those connections, i.e., stimulating one nerve has the effect of also stimulating ventral vagus activation.

A couple notes on dorsal vagal activation:



He argues that just as there is a physiological component to anxiety (spinal sympathetic activation), so too with depression: chronic dorsal vagal activation.

Rosenburg developed 2 basic tests to see if there is dysfunction in vagal nerve activation. One is to look at the uvula while saying "Ah, ah, ah" (short pulses of sound, not a long "Ahhhh" as you would do for a doctor). If the movement of the uvula and arches to either side is asymmetric, chances are you are not in a ventral state. (One arch will raise higher than the other, uvula will move more to one side as opposed to straight up.) He always tests this way before and after a treatment (in addition to making other observations, like of facial expressions, pulse during in- and outbreath, etc.). The other test is the relative tension in the upper trapezius. A gentle squeeze of this muscle above the shoulder on each side should show if one side is more tense than the other. He says he has found a 100% correlation between these two tests. The exercises should result in a symmetric uvula and trapezius, signs of ventral vagal activation.

For COPD, he often finds the breathing problems associated with a shortened esophagus caused by a hiatal hernia, in addition to ventral vagal dysfunction. He gives a self-massage exercise that can fix such a hernia (essentially a gentle push on the stomach that stimulates the esophagus to lengthen and the stomach to drop). In addition to the basic exercise (see below), this is often enough to fix symptoms, even if lung scans still show problems. (Hiatal hernias are often a hidden problem associated with ADHD in children, too.)

For shoulder/neck pain, the culprits are CN XI, the trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid muscles (or the levator scapulae, if the pain while turning the head is experienced on the same side you're turning it - in this case the treatment is massage of the supraspinatus). For the SCM, the exercise is to lie on your stomach, lift your upper body by supporting with your elbows/lower arms, arch your back so your head is straight up like a baby, then turn your head as far as you can to each side for 30-60 seconds.

For migraines he gives some diagrams of effective trigger points on the trapezius and SCM muscles, showing the four forms migraines tend to take and which trigger points apply to each pattern of migraine.

A few other random things I found interesting:

-"Light stroking of the face often calms us and helps us out of a state of stress." (Cranial nerves V and VII innervate the skin and muscles of the face.)
-Importance of body awareness: "Awareness of our body can help us avoid getting carried away by emotions that can lead to faulty neuroception." (i.e., our 'sixth sense' of the threat or safety of our environment.)
-raising our eyebrows, opening the eyes wide "improves our sensory intake and helps us be more present to what is happening around us."

If anyone has any questions, I can go into more detail - this is just a very basic summary. But probably the most important exercise is what he calls the "basic exercise." It's very simple and has the effect of activating the ventral vagus and aligning the atlas and axis vertebrae. Here's a video demonstration:


He gets all his clients to do this one and reports that it's quite effective on its own or combined with the other exercises (about 7 are included in Part Two of the book, with some variations) and massage/body work.

The book:


Greetings Approaching Infinity,
Thank you for sharing the information and the recommended book. The vagus nerve has always fascinated me and I will probably purchase the book. Thanks again!
 

SMM

The Living Force
Thank you, guys! I'm going to listen to the full show tomorrow.

This was on my reading list anyway as I added it after reading the sample on Kindle last year. That's kinda good to know - it seemed a worthwhile and interesting read 😀

What first came to mind while watching the video AI posted on the technique was the Nentatsu Ho Reiki technique which involves placing the dominant hand on the occipital ridge and the non-dominant by the hairline as explained here.
 

hally

The Force is Strong With This One
That was great info to listen to. The Autonomic nervous system is one of the most influential and critical systems in the body for well being. What's also interesting is how the Vagus nerve can be stimulated manually to stop pain straight away.
Gabi also has an article I'm sure on Nicotine influencing the parasympathetic nerve response to quieten or dampen any inflammation from any pulmonary infection or diseases like viruses.
Great podcast once again. The show that keeps giving!!!! 😄
This book is on the list, thanks again
 

Anthony

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Thanks for the show, that was a great example of how to do dot connecting. I also picked up The Tao of Natural Breathing recently, and noticed that there are a lot of connections with Rosenburg's book. For instance the emphasis on body awareness, posture, breathing, relaxation, etc., as a way of accessing the ventral vagus nerve.
 
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