Vagus Nerve Reset

The Vagus Nerve Reset

I gave a quick run-down of the Vagus Nerve Reset from Stanley Rosenberg’s book Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve in a post about staying out of emergency mode. I’ve gotten questions about how to get the most out of it, so I thought I’d give the vagus nerve reset its own post.

This simple exercise activates the branch of your vagus nerve that activates the relaxation response.  With each activation of this branch of the vagus nerve, the body wraps it in more myelin, a substance that acts as insulation around the nerve.  As a nerve is wrapped in myelin, it fires more reliably.  Fire it enough and it becomes your go-to response, the thing you do first.

But how do you activate a nerve responsible for relaxation?

It really does seem like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?  That’s why Rosenberg’s method is so genius:  It’s simple, subtle and indirect.

You aren’t trying to relax. You are not performing relaxation. You’re simply moving your eyes to one side without moving your head, a simple concrete task.  Doing this causes the branch of the vagus nerve that produces relaxation to fire and that causes myelination. It’s automatic.  

Bypassing those thoughts in your head is easy too:  Just count.  If your thoughts are racing quickly, count fast enough so there isn’t space enough for the thoughts to get a toehold in your mind.  Your mind can only do one thing at a time.  Don’t worry or obsess.  Count.

Vagus Nerve Reset Instructions

You can do this seated or lying down.  I recommend lying down in a comfortable position, head level and interlaced fingers behind your head.  Your legs can be straight or bent at the knees, whichever is most comfortable.

Look to one side with only your eyes, that is without moving your head, and count.  You can stop after a minute or after you sigh* or yawn, whichever comes first.

Then look to the other side with only your eyes, that is without moving your head, and count for up to a minute or until you sigh* or yawn.

(*By sigh, I mean naturally and effortlessly inhale a little deeper and exhale a little more fully.)

Do this at least once a day.  I do it first thing in the morning and again if I wake up at 3:00am; my partner does it at night, just before going to sleep.

The effects are cumulative.  After two weeks, I realized that I hadn’t been relaxed in years.  It was a delicious feeling.  After three months, I’m calmer.  I wonder what will happen for you?

You can let me know by writing a comment or dropping me a line.


The Art of the Pause

The Art of the Pause

2.5 minute read

In every workshop it was the same:  Some could incorporate the skills immediately. Some could not, no matter how hard they tried.   Then, weeks after the class, I’d get an email like this:  “OMG, Liz – it WORKED!  I paused and then I (insert skill here) and it totally WORKED.”  Which lead to the question I’ve been asking myself ever since:  Was it the skill or the pause that made the difference?

Until recently, I thought it was the pause. 

I wasn’t good at pausing.  I liked going fast and having rapid-fire conversations.  It was fun.   Except for the times when I could see a response die on someone’s lips, and by the time I’d reined myself in, the moment had passed.  Or the times I said yes when I wanted to say no and was left with an obligation I dreaded.  Or the times I got overwhelmed with what I’d taken on, and couldn’t pause long enough to realize I could ask for help.  Those were the opposite of fun.

When it first became safe in 2020 to get together with friends, we sat together in silence, spoke slowly, and felt our way with each other.  Our time together felt precious to me, vulnerable and rich with meaning.  Gone was the need to fill silences with chatter, however strained or inane.  We paused, then slowly talked about what was underneath, how we were, what we were feeling, which to a person was vulnerable.

I’m allergic to vulnerable.  Deeply allergic.  Epi-pen allergic. I can do surface vulnerable, but there is a vault with a thick steel door even I don’t open. Covid was a master class in vulnerability, and I did not like the homework. I did it anyway:  Embracing the pause instead of my usual speedy responses, and withstanding the waves of vulnerability that resulted.   I was able to admit I didn’t know how, because no one knew how.  I could accept the inevitable mistakes and feeling of powerlessness because we were all experiencing that.

I think vulnerability gives the pause its power.  That it’s not the pause that makes the difference, but the vulnerability that precedes it. The pause happens naturally when you are comfortable not knowing, not being in charge, willing to be wrong and doing it anyway.

When the toll of not knowing started coming out of my hide, I paused and asked for help.  It choked me at first, but slowly – very slowly – it’s getting easier to ask for and to receive help.   I started seeing how my refusal to be helped confused people who were freely offering or who wanted to.  Now I’m catching myself when I’m about to spend countless hours trying to figure out something I could simply ask for help with.

Vulnerability (achoo!) and the pause make it possible to say no.  Recently someone I don’t enjoy working with proposed working together again.   I was about to type “Sure, we can talk” I paused and took the time to ask myself “What do Iwant?”  The answer was clear and immediate:  Not this.  The polite “no, Thank you” email practically wrote itself.  A few days later, I was given an opportunity that wasn’t right for me, and my automatic response was “why not help out?” I paused and asked myself “what do I want?”  “Not this” was again the answer.

I thought it opening the vault would be the end of me, but it’s feeling more like the beginning. I hope you’ll take a moment to pause and ask yourself:  “what do I want?”


OPEN FOCUS FRIDAY meets weekly at noon, Pacific Time.  Drop in anytime, pay as you go or buy a package at a discount. Details and a sign-up are here.  Open Focus is a simple practice you can do anywhere that helps you stay relaxed, open and connected, even in the midst of stress. Open Focus enables the pause.

Open Focus Results #1: High Shoulders with Pain

As a certified Open Focus coach (COFC), I’m prevented from making claims for open focus sessions.  I’m not licensed to treat anything, and can’t claim to have done so.  Which is fine with me.  Instead, I will share what I see and hear from the people I work with.  Like today’s session.

An orchestral musician presented with tension and pain in the right upper arm, neck and shoulder.  As we were on Zoom, I could see the shoulder elevation, and infer the tension.  I could also see pinched features and lines around their eyes and mouth.

I aimed the session at maintaining a narrow focus while simultaneously connecting to space in a diffuse, broad way, which is what musician’s must do:  You can’t stop being narrowly focused on the instrument you’re playing, and at the same time you must also take in other musicians, the conductor, and the balance of sound in the room.  If you are using narrow, objective focus to switch between these views, you will tense up and that will affect the sound you are producing.  What’s needed is a simultaneous attention that shifts effortlessly as the need arises, but never loses touch with all these elements.

The only way to do this while staying relaxed is to open your focus.  It’s the easy and effortless way to pay attention to several things without being too narrowly focused on any one thing.  We went back and forth from the space in the body to the space in the room (narrow, diffuse, narrow, diffuse), and when we both opened our eyes 30 minutes later, the hunched shoulders were now sloping away from the neck and the eyes were sparkling in a relaxed face.  As we processed the session, their shoulders fell even more.  It was wild to see.

I love this work!  I love seeing the results and hearing “Wow,” after a session, which is the response I hear most often.  It’s feels like a miracle.  It isn’t, of course – it’s just me helping someone use their brain and nervous system the way it was designed:  Changing how you pay attention changes your brainwave pattern which changes your physiology.  That’s how we are designed.