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Simple Exercises to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve –An Illustrated Guide to Help Beat Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Pain and Digestive Problems

by Lars Lienhard, Ulla Schmid-Fetzer with Dr Eric Cobb

listed in bodywork

[Image: Simple Exercises to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve –An Illustrated Guide to Help Beat Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Pain and Digestive Problems]


This book explores how many chronic health problems we face today, (such as digestive disorders, chronic pain, high blood pressure, breathing difficulties or circulatory problems), as well as emotional manifestations of stress, (anxiety or depression), often result from our inability to process and cope with the ever-increasing stimuli and demands of the modern world.  How our nervous system navigates and responds to these growing demands is often a crucial factor in our physical, emotional, and mental health. As we are all aware, due to the ongoing demands of life, work, and a  global pandemic, our nervous system is constantly fired up, this often comes at the expense of regeneration and recovery. This book gives an abundance of self-help exercises to reduce stress and improve your overall fitness and health, written in a step by step, accessible format.

With just 20-30 minutes every day you can make sustainable and effective changes to your life, your physical, emotional and mental health.

The vagus nerve and its therapeutic effects has significant influence on relaxation, recovery, and regeneration. Stimulating the vagus nerve is one of the most important tools we can use in regulating our nervous system. The latest neuroscientific findings show that our awareness of our body’s internal processes, also known as interoception, form the basis for resilience and the ability to combat stress. Proving the way in which we process information from within our body and from our surroundings, is the basis for a healthier nervous system and therefore holds the key to treating a variety of pathologies and stress symptoms.

This book shows how to take back control of your physical, emotional, and mental health by paying attention to the intricate workings of your brain and nervous system. Our physical well-being, fitness, health and behaviour are largely determined by the quality of information our brain and central nervous system receives from every single part of our body, this information is received from:

  • Memories
  • Movements
  • Internal bodily functions - interoception
  • Our surroundings, through eyes, ears and touch
  • Experiences

All this information is integrated, interpreted and evaluated each millisecond and used to determine potential danger: situations are evaluated as safe or unsafe. Insufficient information, including from within your own body, is interpreted by the brain as unpredictable and often as threatening. If this is the case the sympathetic nervous system responsible for making us vigilant in times of danger is activated. The counterpart of that is the parasympathetic nervous system which soothes us and supports recovery. There is constant interplay between these two systems. For these two essential elements of the nervous system to resume equilibrium a sort of “mediator” is required; this is where the insular cortex comes in. The insular cortex plays a significant role in our sensory world and interoceptive awareness. Most of these exercises stimulate the insular cortex and therefore the communication between sympathetic and parasympathetic states. They all help you access an optimum state of relaxation, recovery, and regeneration which is so often not accessible to us in our modern world and current climate.

The book is clearly laid out for the user, with excellent photo images to support the exercises.  After an introductory chapter summarized above, the following chapters offer a series of easy to follow, fun exercises to stimulate the vagus nerve, which improve its function and therefore your health.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to assessments

  • Assessments to test for lasting success, fall into the flowing categories:
    • Mobility
    • Pain level
    • Air hunger - the amount of time you can hold your breath
    • Muscular contraction
    • Balance

Chapter 3, lays the foundation for optimal vagus nerve training, it discusses the importance of interoceptive awareness during training by:

  • Upregulating the frontal lobe; exercises that train the frontal lobe are particularly effective in improving one’s ability to respond adequately to impulses;
  • Optimising the vestibular system through gentle movements of head and eyes;
  • Sensory system integration through taste and smell stimulation;
  • Preparing the Vegas nerve neuro-mechanically. One crucial factor that mustn’t be overlooked is the movement of the cervical spine; immobility here especially the upper cervical spine quickly causes problems with the Vegas nerve. Some simple mobilisations will prevent this.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to breathing and the pelvic floor. The importance of breath has long been acknowledged in many cultures around the world. Breathing is extremely important for the brain and central nervous system for the brain to survive in its glucose and oxygen. Insufficient supply of either has serious and far-reaching consequences for your health and function of brain and body. That also works the other way round, the health and functionality of your brain central nervous system and body affect how well you regulate your breath. Stress and breathing are intrinsically linked and we would need to dedicate 20 to 30 minutes per day to change our breathing habits and improve our body’s bio-chemical balance. This chapter looks at

  • The power of breath;
  • Improving the coordination of respiratory muscles by
    • Working with the diaphragm in different capacities
    • Improving rib cage mobility
    • Strengthening the respiratory muscles
  • Prolonged exhalation: the easiest way to alleviate many of the effects of stress on your breathing it has a significant impact on the parasympathetic nervous system;
  • “Air hunger” exercises that make you feel short of breath can raise the level of carbon dioxide in the blood ideal for activating all sections of the insular cortex therefore work well for anxiety, depressive moods and chronic pain as well as improving your general interoceptive awareness.

Chapter 5 is filled with accessible tongue & throat exercises. The tongue exercises stimulate interoceptive awareness, the tongue is important for the functionality of the brain and the nervous system, it’s potential for improving our general health is often overlooked.  There are plenty of simple and fun throat exercise to stimulate the pharyngeal branches of the Vagus nerve such as humming, gargling and swallowing tiny sips of water.

Chapter 6 is mostly about touch, sound and vision for better interoceptive awareness

  • The importance of all five senses is explored, sight, sound, taste, touch;
  • Perceiving temperature differences, by using hot and cold packs on merely rubbing your hands together vigorously;
  • Self-massage techniques, which explore lighter and deeper touch especially around the chest and abdominal areas;
  • Acoustic mapping, (a partner clicks their fingers in different positions, and you must identify where the sound comes from). It is a fun and informal way to identify localized sound. Interestingly, by simply changing the volume of the sound it makes it more difficult to identify the area - this improves focus and concentration;
  • Simple fun eye exercise to aid relaxation, a must for everyone.

Chapter 7 dedicated to body awareness and mindfulness, in order to activate key areas of the brain, improve focus & concentration. Constant attention and mindfulness are extremely important factors when improving the quality of your training; by focusing your attention on what you’re doing and what’s going on in your body you are already activating your frontal lobe and insular cortex. These exercises can be easily done at home:

  • Muscle contraction and relaxation techniques. By intermittently contracting and relaxing various areas of musculature, we can increase our body awareness. As we become more consciously aware when tension is creeping into our body, we are therefore better placed to do something about it;
  • Mindfulness training, the body scan is taught to help focus attention on one’s body, as sort of mental examination of the body, building awareness of areas of tension as well as areas of health. This is a great way to alleviate chronic pain; it is also good for people who struggle with anxiety and those who react emotionally to stress or experience intense mood swings. This is one of my favourite self-help exercises, and something that I have used for decades to help me in time of stress, it truly does work.

As I read and reviewed this book I worked systematically through the exercises, I can honestly say they impacted my vagus nerve. I felt reduced stress and an overall sense of well-being. I will certainly be integrating these into my clinical practice, teaching some of these exercise to my clients. My international teaching focuses on Fascia Informed Bodywork, for physical, emotional, and mental health and I will certainly integrate some of this information into my teaching.  The exercises are effective and simple to follow and some of them can be done standing waiting for a bus. So, there are no excuses, no need to say that you do not have time! Choose the exercises that suit you and do 20-30 minutes a day and notice the difference, it really is astonishing.

I would highly recommend this easy to follow, illustrated guide to help beat stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and digestive problems. Almost everyone I know would benefit from using this book and integrating the exercise into their everyday life.

About the Authors

Lars Lienhard, sports scientist and former performance athlete, works as a trainer and consultant in high-performance sport. He has been training world-class athletes in a range of sporting disciplines for many years.

Ulla Schmid-Fetzer, author and former dance performance athlete, completed the Z-Health training course to become a neuro-athletics trainer in record time and is now one of the few fully certified trainers in the whole of Europe.

Dr Eric Cobb, founder of Z-Health® Performance Solutions, is one of the world’s leading experts in innovative, neurologically-focused rehabilitation and sports performance programmes.

About the Reviewer

Emma Gilmore APNT iMFT BCMA Reg is Director & Senior Tutor School of Bodywork and specialist in Fascia Informed Bodywork for physical, emotional, and mental health.

Further Information

Available from Lotus Publishing  and

Emma Gilmore
Lotus Publishing
£14.99. $25.03
978 1 913088 17 0

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