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“Brainstem 10” Tune-Up


Autumn, 2021

Prime Your System for Success

Body idling. . . What is the quality?

Ragged? Smooth? Surging? Sluggish? Flooded?

Be curious and compassionate with your body. Get in touch with your “Inner Governor/Governess.” Does it need a tune-up?

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) could be thought of as an “Inner Governor” just as an engine has a governor to regulate its many functions automatically. Getting in tune with its wisdom can help the body perform more smoothly.

The Vagus nerve is a cranial nerve which enters and exits the brainstem (where much of the body’s automation is regulated) along with its 11 other “colleague” cranial nerves who network and collaborate to get a feel for the environment, both internally and externally. The vagus, or wanderer, nerves are paired and cover a lot of ground, that is from throat to heart/lungs to gut, and are overwhelmingly sensory (feeling in nature). It is the primary nerve of the parasympathetic branch of the ANS which is paraphrased as “rest & digest.”

If danger is sensed, the counterpart ANS branch, called Sympathetic Nervous System (paraphrased “fight or flight”), comes to the rescue by getting us out of harm's way. Becoming more aware of danger signals and deciphering whether they are real or imagined goes a long way in improving overall function in the body.

Tuning the vagus nerve and it’s collaborative network of cranial nerves is a good start and can bring about a grounding calm focus if done respectfully.

Brainstem 10” Tune-Up:

  1. Face Time: Rub clean hands together vigorously for warmth. Gently touch the face as called to do. Lightly massage the brow, cheek, and jaw bones. (Trigeminal nerve)

  2. Eyeball Abduction: Rub hands again before cupping them over the eyes. Enjoy the brief sensory deprivation before looking slowly to one side then the other. (Ocular, Oculomotor, and Trochlear nerves)

  3. Face Cycling: Either with the cupped hands over the eyes or not, begin to cycle the face into expansion and contraction with the axis of motion at the tip of the nose. (Facial nerve)

  4. Inner Hearing: Rub hands together for warmth, gently cup the hands over the ears. Listen for inner sound, perhaps ocean waves, chirping, high pitch buzz, etc.

  5. Ear Love: Massage the outer ear and lobes including the adjacent regions of the scalp and jaw. (Trigeminal nerve)

  6. Guppy Breathing: Gently open the mouth and jaw slightly while inhaling and close the mouth and jaw while exhaling for a few cycles. (Vagus, Trigeminal, and Glossopharyngeal nerves)

  7. Ghosting: Make an OOOOO sound. Where do you feel it in your body? Start with a monotone and progress if desired to a multi-tonal sound “like a ghost.” (Vagus and Glossopharyngeal nerves)

  8. Siren’s Call: Make an AHHH sound. Where do you feel it in your body? Progress to alternating the OOOO and AHHHH sound “like a siren.” (Vagus and Glossopharyngeal)

  9. Twist & Shout: Lift one shoulder while dropping the other and repeat in a rhythmic pattern. See if your head wants to participate, i.e. move naturally in the opposite direction, for a “Mop Top” effect. (Spinal Accessory Nerve)

  10. Mmm Mmm Song: Humm with the lips closed. Where do you feel it in your body? Use monotone and/or multi-tone expression. (Vagus and Trigeminal nerves)

Vary the speed, depth, tone, volume, intensity, etc for effect, but always start out small and don’t move too fast. Sighing and yawning are signs of neurological re-setting; make positive notation when this naturally happens. Enjoy!

Brightest Blessings,

Rachel Bixby PT, DPT, E-RYT 500, PSEP

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