5 ways to stimulate the vagus nerve
Stimulating the vagus nerve plays an important role in regulating many different bodily functions and promoting overall well-being. Being a key component of the autonomic nervous system, the vagus nerve controls many involuntary processes in the body, such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and much more.
There are several ways to stimulate your vagus nerve and reap the health benefits.
Subjecting the body to cold temperatures can activate the body’s stress response, leading to many physiological changes, including increased heart rate variability and vagal tone.
If you’re just starting, try splashing cold water on your face. For more intense cold exposure, try taking a cold shower or immersing your body in a cold bath or ice bath. This can trigger a survival mechanism that slows the heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and redirects blood flow to essential organs.
If you would prefer not to be in cold water, try just taking a walk while it is cold outside or holding a piece of ice in your hand.
Gently applying pressure to specific areas of the body can activate the vagus nerve’s sensory fibers. The vagus nerve has branches that extend from the brainstem through the neck, chest, and even to the abdomen.
Try gently rubbing the sides and back of your neck, underneath and behind the ears, in a circular motion using your fingertips. Rubbing back and forth along your jawline to your ears, and down to your throat can also influence the vagus nerve.
A gentle abdominal massage can aid with the relaxation of the gut and stimulate the vagus nerve’s influence on digestion.
Breathing exercises are a widely recognized and effective method for stimulating the vagus nerve and promoting relaxation. Specific breathing techniques can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing vagal town.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a technique that involves breathing deeply into the diaphragm instead of into your chest. Sit comfortably and inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand as your lung fill with air. Try to exhale through your mouth slower than you inhaled. Long exhales are associated with vagal stimulation.
Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This involves inhaling for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of seven, then exhaling for a count of eight.
Resonant breathing is a breathing pattern believed to synchronize the body’s natural rhythms and enhance vagal activity. Inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of six. Repeat this cycle several times.
Engaging in genuine laughter and humor triggers the vagus nerve’s activity and promotes various physiological and psychological benefits. The positive effects on mood, stress reduction, and overall well-being can indirectly stimulate the vagus nerve.
While laughing, your heart rate and blood pressure may temporarily increase, followed by a period of relaxation. This response is thought to involve the activation of the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. Laughing also involves rhythmic and controlled breathing patterns, which are similar to breathing exercises that can stimulate the vagus nerve.
The key here is genuine and spontaneous laughter. Forced or fake laughter may not have the same physiological benefits.
The vagus nerve branches out into various muscles in the throat, tongue, and mouth, making oral stimulation a way to influence its activity.
Gargling water can stimulate the muscles in the back of the throat that are connected to the vagus nerve. Also, singing and humming involve the muscles that are known to stimulate the vagus nerve and contribute to its activation. Humming practices such as those found in meditation or yoga are known to be particularly effective.