The word “vagus” means wandering in Latin, which is very appropriate given that the vagus nerve wanders through your body and ‘collects’ information from various organs. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, and it’s part of your Parasympathetic Nervous Response, aka your rest & digest response. For many reasons, we usually get stuck in our Sympathetic Nervous Response, aka our Fly & Fight.
In short, the main function of your vagus nerve is to collect information from your organs and send it back to the brain. This then stimulates your bodily functions like digestion, heart rate, immune system and mood accordingly.
Stimulating your vagus nerve sends a message to your body that it’s time to relax and de-stress, which improves your mood, well-being and resilience.
Here are three simple practices to stimulate your vagus nerve and your parasympathetic nervous response.
Breathwork or Pranayama
Your vagus nerve connects to your diaphragm. Belly breathing or diaphragm breathing stimulates your vagus nerve by activating your parasympathetic response.
Here’s a simple exercise:
Lie on your back and place both hands on top of your lower belly. Start tuning in to the rhythm of your breath. After a couple of regular breaths, start directing your breath to the lower abdomen and observe your belly rising and falling with every inhale and exhale. Make your breaths long and slow, and take a few rounds trying to even out the length of your inhale and exhale.
Humming, chanting, singing
We hope you like singing in the shower! Because the vagus nerve also connects to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, humming and chanting will stimulate your vagus nerve.
This is one reason why ujjayi breath or ocean breath are such powerful tools in our yoga practice. That slight constriction at the back of the throat when you use this technique soothes your nervous system.
Try out humming breathing:
Find a comfortable position seated or lying on your back, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. If it helps, place your right hand on your chest and the left hand on your belly. Inhale through your nose, and on the exhale, let out a hum. Don’t focus on the quality of the hum. Just allow it to be natural. Repeat this for at least ten rounds, feeling the vibration in the palms of your hands. Finish by returning to a normal and natural breath. Blink your eyes open, give yourself a moment to take in your surroundings before welcoming your day again.
Meditation practice improves functional connectivity and improves stress resilience. It slows down the breath, reduces the heart rate and reduces stress. Because the vagus nerve collects information from our organs to activate the parasympathetic nervous response, meditation is an obvious exercise to try out if you want to help your body switch to that Rest & Digest response.
Here is a guided meditation for you:
We hope you find these practices helpful.
The vagus nerve is a crucial part of your parasympathetic nervous system and it’s influenced by your breathing, digestive function and heart rate. Daily soothing practices will stimulate your vagus nerve and have a massive impact on your health and well-being.
About Anna De Sousa
Anna is a London-based yoga teacher & Content Creator. After teaching yoga full-time for a couple of years, she joined the Digital Marketing team at MoreYoga to spread the word about wellness even further. Anna is fun and energetic, and she brings her warm personality to everything she does.