Brainwaves, Issue 35, Self-Regulation from the Inside Out

By | February 23, 2020

Brainwaves is a newsletter/blog designed to create some “brainwaves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients.

My last newsletter focused on self-regulation vs self-control and discussed the importance of co-regulation in the development of self-regulation.  This newsletter will delve further into the power of the vagus nerve to self-regulate.

Fun Facts about the vagus nerve!  

  • “Vagus” means wandering Latin…this nerve wanders through many many parts of our body including the muscles of the ear, face, throat (swallowing), sensory aspects of the heart, lungs, and stomache (“gut feelings”).
  • It is the longest and most complicated cranial nerve.

and what does it have to do with self-regulation?

It has everything to do with self-regulation!  Dr. Stephen Porges, a brain scientist, has developed the “polyvagal theory” which has refined our current understanding of the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve system can be divided into two areas: sympathetic (stress system) and parasympathetic (calm down and rest system).

1) The sympathetic (SNS) or stress system increases alertness, energy, blood pressure,  heart rate and breathing rate.   It is the “fight or flight” system”.

2) The parasympathetic (PNS) or calm down and rest system decreases alertness, blood pressure, and heart rate, and helps relaxation, and digestion. As a result, the vagus nerve also helps with defecation, urination, and sexual arousal.


In today’s world, our stress response system is ON a lot of the time.  Information and situations that you experience can trigger thoughts and feelings of STRESS in your body and the release of stress hormones.  A little bit of stress is okay and can help you to do your best but ongoing chronic levels of stress are not good for you or your body!  That is when you need the PNS to kick in and help you to rest and digest!

How to support your “rest and digest” system? … here are a few…

  • Deep breathing: The vagus nerve communicates with the diaphragm. With slow, deep breaths, particularly extending the length of your out breathe, your brain receives the message that everything is okay and allows your body to relax.


  • Singing! Singing supports deeper breathing and generates rhythmic vibration (from our vocal cords) in our body.  So, put on your favorite tunes and break out your singing voice on the way to or home from work!  Strengthen your diaphragm muscle by “belting” out a tune.  Choral singing is even better as it combines synchronicity with other people! It’s good for your vagus nerve!


  • Talking to a supportive friend! Or be a supportive parent! The upper vagus (muscles of the heart, face, and inner ear) create the heart-face connection.  This connection explains why social engagement that includes a smiling face and soothing voice can regulate heart rate in our partners, children or ourselves.  This supports the idea of co-regulation and how calm begets calm.

  • Try the Safe and Sound Protocol is a 5 hour listening program for children or adults developed by Stephen Porges. It stimulates the vagus nerve via the muscles of the inner ear to support the rest and digest system.  See for more information.