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Vagus Nerve Nuance: Ventral vs Dorsal Vagus

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Have I told you about how vagus nerve stimulation isn't automatically “good?”


You know this witch loves nuance...


When the sympathetic nervous system is triggered and we go into fight or flight, we can interrupt this stress response and “reset the nervous system” by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system with vagus nerve.


But not so fast… there’s more than one route in the vagus nerve....


The parasympathetic nervous system has 2 paths in the vagus nerve - ventral vagus and dorsal vagus: ventral means front and dorsal means back.


The ventral vagus leads to a restored sense of safety, “presentness”, and social engagement.


The dorsal vagus leads to a sense of self-preservation, often a freeze-like state that can include isolation, numbness, dissociation, depreche mode, etc.

Going into both ventral and dorsal vagal mode will decrease heart rate and re-regulate body temperature, which can make this distinction physiologically deceptive.

Not to be repetitious, but here are seven things that stimulate the ventral vagal nerve:

  1. Cold therapy (or tepid/warm if you run cold)

  2. Vocal chord usage (especially singing and screaming)

  3. Laughing

  4. Music

  5. Massage

  6. Exercise/structured stimming

  7. Diaphragm breathing

PSSSST: Vagal also means “of the belly” so, you know, diaphragm breathing.... wink wink.


I'm going to follow this up with a post about some sneaky things that may contribute to vagal dorsal shutdown - from my own personal experience because... yeahhhhhh.

Stay regulated,

Shauna

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