Introducing what he calls a “Basic Exercise” in his 2017 book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, author Stanley Rosenberg says it’s so helpful that he’s using it with everybody he sees.
Start by lying down comfortably face-up. Interlace your hands behind your head. Resting your head on your hands, let your head gently rotate all the way to one side, back to center, then rotate to the other side. This is just to see how it feels before the exercise. Now take a minute to really let your head settle in the middle, just resting on your hands, eyes open. With your head staying in the center, let your eyes travel all the way to one side, and hang out there for 30 to 60 seconds. Let your eyes return to the center, rest. Repeat on the other side. That’s it.
When to Stop
How do you know it’s time to return your eyes to center? “You’ll feel a sigh, a yawn, or a swallow,” says Rosenberg. In my experience, trying this with everybody in the past few months, the shift can feel pretty subtle, with perhaps a deeper exhale. In any case, I suggest you don’t hang out forever just waiting for the sigh or swallow, that may not be the thing your body wants to do.
Noticing What's Different
Compare your notes about how you were feeling before. After just one practice, does your body feel differently? After several days of practice, what else is changing?
How It Helps
This deceptively simple exercise uses eye movement to engage suboccipital muscles in back of your head, drawing the first two vertebra into alignment -- a necessary condition for the state of "social engagement," says Rosenberg. This positive physiological state affects how we respond to our environment, as opposed to reacting in fight/flight/freeze mode. Social engagement is --Alas! not permanent. Nor does this easy exercise shift us permanently to a positive state. But this exercise is one way to improve, or "tone," our vagus nerve function.
Balance itself is defined by moving: back and forth, from balance to imbalance. With daily practices like this exercise, we are grooving the pathways between, clearing a way back from imbalance.
Please share in comments below how this "Basic Exercise" is for you, or any questions.