The Vagus Nerve
Tapping into our body’s wisdom
What it is?
The Vagus Nerve is a communication device between your body and brain. It regulates the digestive system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system.
The word vagus means wandering in Latin. And the vagus nerve is a wandering nerve because it reaches from the brain into organs in the neck, chest, and abdomen. It transmits information from the brain to the organs, cells and tissues. It is the queen of your parasympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. your rest and digest and controls all involuntary bodily processes and reflexes.
Why does it matter?
This is our emotional management and processing unit. It is what causes physical and emotional reactions to highly emotive incidences. It causes sweaty palms, shallow breath, knots, and flutters in the stomach.
The parasympathetic nervous system restores the body back to a normal state. And the vagus nerve is largely responsible for the Mind-Body Connection. When people say I’m going with my gut, they are referring to their vagus nerve.
When we stimulate the vagus nerve, we lower our heart rate and this in turn, relaxes us and takes us out of a state of high-arousal. It is a gateway to understanding our reactions to situations and what triggers us. And when we know ways to help nurture it, the benefits can be seen across the body.
There are studies that show that breathing techniques are effective against anxiety and insomnia. These techniques influence physiological factors (the body) and psychological factors (the thoughts). And because these breathing techniques are safe and easy to use, more scientific validation means they are being recommended by more and more healthcare practitioners.
The word yoga means union. One of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Pranayama. This comes from two Sanskrit words – Prana (meaning life energy) and Ayama (meaning control). Pranayama breathing is life control, not breath control. As prana is a life force energy, we can see how it reaches into all parts of our being.
Buddhist meditation techniques use the breath as the anchor to focus on to also steady the mind.
How can I use this information?
One of the main ways to stimulate the vagus nerve is through deep, slow, belly breathing. If you find it difficult to take a deep breath, place one hand on your belly, one on your heart and try connect this way.
An easy pranayama technique to try is Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight
- Close the right nostril with your right thumb.
- Exhale completely via the left nostril, and slowly breathe in. At the top of this inhalation, release your right nostril, close your left nostril with you right middle finger and begin to exhale.
- Go back and forth, alternating nostrils for ten rounds, making sure you exhale and inhale completely before switching nostrils.
Porges, S.W. (2014).The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. WW Norton & Co: NY,US
Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain & Body in the Transformation of Trauma. Penguin: UK
Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. & McKay, M. (2008). The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. (6th edition) New Harbinger Pub: CA, USA