Vagus, meaning ‘wandering’ in Latin, is an apt term for the longest cranial nerve which runs from the pineal gland in the brain to the cervix in the lower abdomen. Its purpose is congruent with its nickname, “The Wanderer”, as it travels via many organs on its journey throughout the body. Its branches not only connect the heart, lungs, spleen and liver but also the kidneys, pancreas, reproductive organs and the mighty cervix too.
When toned and in good shape, the vagus nerve imbues us with a sense of calm, peace and safety. It is our gauge for how safe we feel in our world. It directly affects the parasympathetic nervous system, which impacts both our digestive system and our emotional state. This wandering nerve helps us to stay in touch with emotions and sensations. If we are feeling anxious, irritable, shutdown, depressed, hopeless or disconnected, then it’s a sure sign that our Vagus Nerve could use some attention.
Low vagal tone leads to many unwanted issues such as:
- Gut health problems
- Tension headaches
- Compromised immunity
- Eating disorders
- And a general feeling of disconnection.
When it comes to sexual encounters, many of us have had experiences which have taken us out of safety and relaxation. Learning how to look after our vagus nerve is a route to healing and spending quality time cultivating and reclaiming the safe space within ourselves.
Stimulating the vagus nerve strengthens the communication between the body and the brain. When the body can communicate in an efficient and unimpaired manner, the brain receives clear messages about any imbalances that exist in the body – and immediately sets about correcting them. Such is the wonder of the incredible self-healing mechanisms that are our physical bodies!
The best way to stimulate the vagus nerve is to increase the blood flow in the body which can be achieved in several different ways. Deep diaphragmatic breathing, exercise, prayer, meditation and cold water face-splashes all stimulate the vagus nerve and effectively calm the sympathetic nervous system. Away from “flight or fight” and towards “rest and digest.” Having a good laugh will also help our bodies shift into a parasympathetic state. Laughter is once again proving to be the best medicine and, when hanging out with the right crew, our social interactions add to our vagus nerve’s happiness!
Vagus Nerve Stimulation Routine
Here is a great little routine that you can do on a daily basis to help tone and stimulate your vagus nerve. It doesn’t take long and is also a great thing to remember to do if you are feeling particularly stressed or worked up about something.
- Deep, diaphragmatic breathing
Take a few deep, slow, calming breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe deeply into your abdomen, extending your diaphragm as you do so. Inhale for a count of 5, hold briefly and exhale for a count of 10 each time.
Humming stimulates the vagus nerve because it passes by the vocal cords and inner ear and the vibration of the humming is very effective at influencing the state of the nervous system. You can hum anything – your favourite tune will work perfectly! Or you can chant “OM” – also works a treat.
- Head to Belly
Sitting in a chair, place the index and middle fingers of your right hand above your belly button and press to the right and inward. Then press these same 2 fingers in above your belly button and then again to the left. Repeat again – press to the right, above and to the left of your belly button. At the same time, using the other hand, push the pads of 3 fingers into your scalp on the top back of your head; then the same 3 fingers to the middle of your scalp (right on top of your head) and then to the front of your head (just above the forehead).
Do these 2 exercises with each hand simultaneously and repeat 3 times. Check in to see if your body feels more relaxed –particularly your jaw, neck and shoulders. If you don’t feel any relaxation yet, repeat this exercise until you do. Finish by bringing your arms down to your sides, closing your eyes and taking 3 deep, calming breaths.
- Open Your Heart
Bring your hands to either side of your neck and lightly hold your shoulders. As you inhale, open your elbows wide and lift your chin. Exhale as you bring your elbows back in front of your heart again and tuck your chin in. Repeat several times and allow yourself to expand into your open heart on every inhale.
- Cat-Cow Stretch
This yoga asana is a super-effective and enlivening way to stimulate the vagus nerve. Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet about hip-width apart. Place your hands on your thighs, and as you exhale, round your spine like a scared cat, tucking your chin in towards your chest. Then inhale, opening your spine as you do so and pushing your heart forward whilst you draw your shoulder blades back. Inhale as you open your heart, exhale as you round forward and squeeze your core. This is a great one to do if you sit at a desk a lot – it really wakes you up and gets the energy moving!
- Calming Breathing
Finish with another few rounds of deep, diaphragmatic breathing, just as we started with. Inhale deeply for a count of 5, hold briefly and exhale for a count of 10.
Smile at yourself in the mirror and say, “I Am Calm. I Am Peaceful. I Am Safe”.
Now, go grab that beautiful day! 🙂