I keep hearing about the Vagus Nerve more and more and it’s been popping up in the most unlikely places, so I decided to write about it. Which seems apt in these crazy, current times we live in. So what actually is your Vagus Nerve? It has gotten a lot of attention recently because of all the amazing things it can do.
What is the Vagus Nerve
The Vagus Nerve is the longest, cranial nerve in the body. It extends from the brain and then branches out in all different directions down the length of your body. The name comes from the Latin for “wandering”. It carries information between the brain and internal organs, and sends sensory signals back to the brain.
It also triggers your “fight or flight” signals in the brain, as this nerve is a major one in the parasympathetic nervous system, but what you really want is the “rest and digest”. Stimulating your vagus nerve helps to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. Along with practising deep breathing it can activate the vagus nerve so that it can help to slow down your stress responses. A low vagal tone is linked to inflammation, depression, negative moods, heart attacks and strokes. But a word of warning, if you over stimulate the vagus nerve you run the risk of fainting.
How to activate the Vagus Nerve
- Deep and Slow breathing- Taking a deep, slow breath in, and then exhaling slowly, think blowing birthday candles out. Inhale slowly for 4 seconds and exhale slowly for 4 seconds, you will begin to feel instantly calmer.
- Singing or Chanting- the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords and muscles at the back of the throat, so sing like no one is listening.
- Meditation works with the deep breathing and being in a state of relaxation.
- Laughter Therapy- laughter is the best medicine after all. If nothing else it is a great excuse to get together with friends to do your own version of laughter therapy.
- Yoga – the slow and deep breathing yoga sends signals to the brain, along with boosting you mood and helping with anxiety.
These are just a few ideas and can be easily practised in your own home. There is also the suggestion of trying a gluten free diet to stimulate the vagus nerve and to help reduce inflammation. Pro-biotics are a possible option too and exposure to the cold. Try turning your shower to cold for the last few seconds, or immerse your face into cold water. Oh and take you Omega 3’s as well.
We all know how important exercise is for us. A study has found that mild exercise can help to improve digestion, this is because of vagus stimulation. Acupuncture has also proven to be beneficial. There are so many different things to try. But remember if you any medical concerns please consult your GP.
Benefits of activating the Vagus Nerve
The benefits of activating this nerve are a decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduced stress in the body and improved digestion. All of this can have a big impact on your Psychological and Physical health. It can even help with migraines. It also reduces inflammation in the body. Inflammation which can lead to many diseases and chronic pain, and which is how the body responds to stress.
There has also been research were you have a small implanted device to stimulate the vagus nerve. This is supposed to help relieve the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is an inflammatory disease. This could pave the way for help with illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Crohn’s and Alzheimer’s. Fingers-crossed that this could one day be a success.
I don’t think many people are aware of the Vagus nerve and what it does. I have to admit my knowledge wasn’t that in-depth, I remember attending a workshop a few years ago about activating it so there was something in the back of head about it. So I decided to do some research into this amazing nerve and what it does, and I have been surprised that not that many people know about this very important nerve.
Know you body
We should all be tuning in to our bodies, how it feels under different situations, so start by paying attention to the different sensations in your body. Do you tense your shoulders when your stressed? When you pay attention to your mind and your body, you will learn how to re-act better. We are all missing social interaction at the moment and whilst Skype and Zoom calls are amazing, it isn’t quite the same is it?
Another thing to do that can help is to get out in nature, Go for a walk somewhere “green”, were there will be trees, birds singing and just immerse yourself in nature. This will “ground” you and relax you making you nervous system relax. When you feel safe in your surroundings, but your body feels threatened, grounding yourself can calm you down in these situations. When you realise your fear “isn’t real”, you can control you reactions and stop yourself going into “fight or flight”mode. If you are in real danger, for example a lion is chasing you, then your natural instinct is to run.
I have been practising many of the recommended techniques and methods that I have mentioned above and I have found them to be really helpful. I do feel much calmer too. In what has been a year to remember and hopefully one that won’t be repeated, I have found myself on a bit of a journey of self-discovery. And learning as well as re-discovering all about the vagus nerve I am fascinated about this wandering nerve that controls so much of our body.
I really hope you try out some of the methods and get in touch and in tune with your body and discover all these amazing benefits yourself.