“Going to Vagus” to calm your nerves sounds like a oxymoron, doesn’t it? But I’m not referring to the Vegas of bright lights, tassel bras, money loss, and wafting cigarette smoke that makes your hair smell like a tavern. I’m talking about your vagus nerve, the magical, multi-functional nerve that activates your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS.)
The Vagus Nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves; the one that many believe to be the most important in our nervous system. The word “vagus” in Latin means vagabond or wanderer… and it is thought of as the “wandering nerve” due to its far-reaching capabilities.
It is the longest nerve in the body and it supplies the throat, thorax, abdominal muscles and other organs with nerves, as well as provides many other functions. Because it stretches all the way from your gut into your brainstem (medulla), it quite literally provides that mind-body connection that we hear so much about. It is the wiring between your head and your belly, and it acts as a highly intelligent communication device that tells your body how to react.
Why should you care about it? Because an activated vagus nerve is like the unsung super-hero of our body, capable of amazing feats. Science has proven that vagus nerve can help do the following:
- help keep a person breathing
- help regulate our heartbeat
- help lower our heart rate
- help control your flight or flight response
- engage your relaxation response
- transmit a variety of chemicals through the body
- boost immune function
- provide a sense of well-being
- help us sleep
- help control muscle movements
- help us combat depression
- help us bond with others via the release of oxytocin
- transmit information back to our brain about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it
- help us digest our food better
- help us lose weight
- help us fight inflammation
- help us combat the side effects of menopause
- help provide improved alertness, memory, mood, verbal
communication, and cognition
- help reduce seizures
- help regenerate your organs and cells by activating stem cells
…just to name a few benefits. It’s like the kick-ass jack-knife of nerves, only it wont set off alarms at the airport.
In this case, what happens in vagus, doesn’t stay in vagus…. it reaches every part of our body and aids us in so many beneficial ways.
So how do we honor our vagus nerve, and keep it healthy and activated? The fabulous news is that we can stimulate our vagus nerve, for free, by simply practicing deep belly breathing. Yes, that’s right. No fancy pharmaceuticals, Himalayan hikes or expensive supplements required. It feeds on air.
Here are some easy steps:
1. Take a deep breath and let the breath expand in your abdomen (this will also expand your diaphragm.)
2. Hold the breath in for at least 5 seconds.
3. Make a small hole in your mouth by pursing your lips, and slowly exhale….. (try to make the exhale longer than the inhale.)
4. Focus on the breath and on keeping this a slow process. Ideally, this deep abdomen breathing will slow down your breathing to about 5 breaths per minute vs. the average 12+ breaths per minute.
In addition to deep belly breathing, yoga, meditation, relaxation, massages, cuddling, hugging, Qi gong, loving kindness meditations, playing with beloved pets, all those practices have been proven to help activate the vagus nerve as well. Honoring it is one of the most beneficial things we can teach our ourselves, and our kids to do!
How will you thank your vagus nerve today? What daily practice can you add into your life to pay tribute to this beautifully talented, highly sensitive, internal traveler of yours? Are you willing to commit to blowing it a few kisses each day? Can you incorporate deeper, slower, more mindful breathing and movements into your walks or swims? Can you take a few moments to just breathe and float in the bath, ocean or pool?
The benefits of loving our vagus can be astounding.
Please let me know how you will honor yours in the comments below… xo
Breathe more slowly.
Breathe more deeply, from the belly.
Exhale longer than you inhale.
…and baby your Vagus!
To learn more about the benefits of the vagus nerve, check out these articles/references:
Walking meditation: http://taoism.about.com/od/meditation/ht/walking.htm