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The vagus nerve is integral to your health as it connects your brain to the other organs in your body and helps regulate all major bodily functions. The nerve wanders through your entire body and can therefore influence not only your physical health and wellbeing but also the emotional state of your mind.
The vagus nerve influences your breathing, heart rate and mental health so practicing vagus nerve exercises can have benefits to your whole body, including relaxation and stress reduction.
Stretching from the brain to the torso, the vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in the body and is the major component in the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system. The parasympathetic nervous system conserves energy by decreasing the pulse and calming the body in different situations. Various areas of the body communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve and studies have shown that exercises for the vagus nerve can help to support your body by easing headaches1 and bowel conditions2 as well as reducing the symptoms of depression,3 and also helping you to sleep better.4
As the vagus nerve is the largest component supporting the resting phases of the body, vagus nerve stimulation exercises can help to counteract stress and anxiety and mind-body exercises, like yoga and breathing techniques can support the nerve according to a study conducted by the Institute of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands.5
Additional studies have revealed that stimulation of the vagus nerve is involved in managing inflammation, pain regulation and mood.6 The vagus nerve can be stimulated physically and tonically, and in certain cases the vagus nerve can also be artificially supported and promoted with electrical impulses.7 Although daily use of your own exercises, such as breathing exercises, is usually more than enough.
The vagus nerve controls a large part of the nervous system and should be protected from stress and anxiety. Calming exercises for the vagus nerve can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, protecting against weaknesses and keeping your immune system strong. Best of all, they are quite simple to do! Try the following vagus nerve exercises for a quick boost
• Walking• Laughing• Yoga• Cold water face wash
Studies have shown that deep and slow breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce anxiety.8 Try to breathe in and out slowly to calm the nervous system, relaxing your belly to allow the air to flow freely. Relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders and inhale slowly through your nose for two counts, feeling your belly expand as you breathe in, then exhale slowly through your lips and repeat the process as you feel yourself calming.
The vagal nerve tone can describe the state of health of the nerve8 and is able to activate the whole parasympathetic nervous system.As the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal chords, exercises like singing, humming, or gargling can stimulate it. OM-Chanting is well-known in yoga and can be used to stimulate the vagus nerve too.9 To try OM-chanting, find a comfortable position but one where you are unlikely to fall asleep, such as sitting cross legged. Close your eyes and place your hands on your knees with your palms facing upwards and your thumb and index fingers touching. Take a deep breath as you relax your body and then begin chanting ‘OM’. You don’t need to do this loudly, you simply need to achieve a subtle inner vibration.
Eating foods that calm the body can also stimulate the vagus nerve; for example, various minerals can support the nerve and probiotics are a good way to support gut bacteria, which studies have shown can improve the function of the nervous system.8
Vagus nerve exercises can be easily integrated into everyday life and are a great way to become more attuned at looking after your wellbeing.
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