What is the Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus Nerve is a vital part of our nervous system, it connects the brain stem to the digestive system and is key to bringing us out of the Fight Flight Response into Rest and Digest, where we can begin to relax, let go and chill out.
Stress, anxiety and trauma disorders are something a lot of us have to deal with and heal at some point in our lives. So much is now being discovered to help us find ways to release these issues in our bodies and looking into how to help reset the Vagus Nerve, is just one of many techniques that can have a powerful effect on how we feel, ultimately bringing us all to a place where we can feel better.
This nerve runs from the brain stem, down to the tongue, vocal chords in the back of the throat, through lungs, diagrhragm, liver, spleen, large intestine, small intestine, pancreas, kidneys, ending as a ball of nerve endings in the stomach.
On its way down through the organs, it picks up on signals from the body that can help it either encourage rest and digest responses or fight flight. For example, if we are breathing slow and deep, that will send a signal that we are relaxed and all is well, if the breathing is shallow and quick, the signal will be read very differently.
The vagus nerve regulates the internal organs function, digestion, heart and respiratory rate and more. Stimulating your vagus nerve can send a chemical message to your body that it’s time to destress and relax after periods of stress.
The vagus nerve is so important to our health and wellbeing. It sends signals to all our internal organs and if its functioning well and balanced, it can be intrinsic and encouraging our fight flight response to calm and allow us to deeply rest.
Life is stressful for the majority of us, in one way or another, stress triggers are a natural part of life, but its about being able to re-balance after an event or situation that caused our levels to increase. The vagal nerve needs to be well toned and functioning in order for us to be able return to our balance point each time we are set off into stress.
If you suffer with any kind of anxiety or trauma disorder, its very likely your vagus nerve will be struggling. With these types of conditions, such as Complex PTSD, PTSD, panic attacks etc, you can not get back to your balance point and remain in a ‘survival’, ’emergency’ nervous system stress state most of the time. For you, resetting the vagus nerve could bring powerful healing over time and be a part of your healing, recovery journey.
How can we help the Vagus Nerve reset?
Yoga really helps to reset this nerve, just by practising a good, all round yoga class will be helping you to relax and aid the balancing out of the nervous system, so vital to our health.
There are particular ways of practising poses and movements in yoga that can stimulate this more deeply though, these are poses that work particularly around the neck, throat, chest and heart as this is where the nerve runs past on its way from the brain to the gut.
Anything that stimulates the back of the throat, helps the vagus nerve. Slow deep breathing, Ujyayi breath, Brahmari (humming bee) breath are just a couple that can help.
Chanting & Singing
Stimulating the vocal chords brings balance to the vagus, in the same way as deep breathing, chanting OM repeatedly, its super simple to chant on your own or singing along to any tune, joining a choir or Kirtan group could help greatly. Singing loudly is the key!
The benefits of cold water are many, but the practice really helps to stimulate the vagus nerve. Check out Wim Hof to be inspired about the cold. Cold showers, sea swimming, ice baths (under supervision) or just splashing your face with cold water, all help to stimulate this nerve and bring greater to balance and wellbeing.
Other practices include, meditation, yoga nidra, Yin yoga and Restorative yoga, mindfulness and practicing mudra (hand gestures that are often part of a yoga practice)