Taking the Fear Out of Teaching the Parasympathetic Response

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How many of you have said to yourself—“self, what the heck is stimulating the para something or other for the bite release?” The Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® participant workbook on page 14 states that, when teaching the bite release “You may also want to use your finger in a vibrating motion to stimulate the person’s upper lip. This vibrating motion may result in a “parasympathetic response.”

Over my years of teaching I have heard people say—“this vibrating move stimulates the parasympathetic nerve that goes from one ear to the other.” I have also heard it described as, “this creates a tickling sensation that causes them to open their mouths.” Others have just chosen to ignore it and not teach it at all.

So let me try my Ms. Wizard impression by shedding some light on what “stimulating the parasympathetic response” actually accomplishes.

Many functions of our body are regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This would include, but not limited to, the heart, stomach and blood pressure. Most of the time we don’t even know what it is doing because for the most part it is involuntary.

The ANS is most important in two situations:

  1. The sympathetic response otherwise known as “fight or flight,” that goes into effect when that saber tooth tiger is chasing you down main street to get you to your Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® class or
  2. The parasympathetic response for non-emergencies that allow us to “rest” or “digest”

How this applies to the bite release is that when you use the vibrating motion on the individuals upper lip, you are stimulating the parasympathetic response. You are promoting a “rest” state or “relaxing the bite.”

For all you medical professionals out there who are saying to yourselves, “Self, that is a rather simplistic explanation of the parasympathetic response.” you are indeed quite right. Nonetheless, I do hope this has given you food for thought when feeding the bite.


  • Journal: Practical Procedures, Issue 5 (1995) Article 6, Dr. S. Bakewell, Addenbrook’s Hospital Cambridge
  • The Autonomic Nervous System, David L. Atkins, Prof. Of Biology, George Washington University
  • Merck Manual: Overview of the Autonomic Nervous System
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About the Author

“Every individual on this earth deserves to be treated with compassion, understanding, and the right to keep their dignity intact. This can be difficult to honor at times when someone loses control of their behavior, but that’s where Rational Detachment and not taking it personally really kicks in. What has helped me be able to do this well goes back to the first day I was introduced to Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. I was a participant before becoming a Certified Instructor (and before working for CPI), and over the years I have had so many opportunities to use what I learned way back then. Today, I live the skills automatically. It’s an honor to have been given those skills to live the philosophy of treating others the way I want to be treated.”

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