The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It comes from the Latin word, vagus, for “wandering.” That’s because it wanders throughout your body, with wide distribution connecting the brainstem to the body. Only mammals have this nerve. It helps the immune system and inflammation response to disease.

It has four main functions:

  • sensory
  • special sensory
  • motor
  • parasympathetic

When we experience sudden, high stress, we activate our fight or flight response, getting the body ready to either flee the scene or fight. In our everyday experience of stress, there is no place to run or hide, and the stressful situation is not one that can easily be fought off. Most of us are not meeting tigers in the street! During periods of chronic high stress, the body stays in high gear, with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the body. This creates wear and tear on the body and mind, and over time can create a multitude of health problems such as chronic pain, anxiety, mood swings, gut inflammation and so many more.

Ways to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve

1) Breathwork: Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. As you breathe in, feel your stomach expand, and when you exhale, your stomach should go back down. This is also known as “belly breathing.”  This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.

2) Connection: Community and belonging help you to feel safe and secure. When you are connected, you are calmer and more positive.

3) Diving Reflex: To stimulate the diving reflex, you need cold exposure. You can splash cold water on your face or put ice cubes in a ziploc bag against it. “The diving reflex slows your heart rate, increases blood flow to your brain, reduces anger and relaxes your body.”

4) Humming, Singing or Gargling : Don’t you always feel better when you start to hum or sing? Your worries are swept away by a song. Well, that’s because it’s activating your vagus nerve! Simply sing to feel better or gargle if you prefer.

5) Omega 3 Fatty Acids: You can get these from fish oil, or if you’re a vegan, you can find them in chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seed oil and walnuts.

6) Mindfulness and Meditation: According to a study, Loving-Kindness-Meditation created a healthy vagal tone in participants. Check out this guide for how to do this mediation here, and know that mindfulness in general is a way to activate your vagus nerve as well. Being present centers you.

7) Yoga: Yoga is a parasympathetic activation exercise that helps with digestion, blood flow and more.

8) ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response): ASMR sends “tingles” from your scalp down your spine and helps calm your nervous system with the use of triggers or tools. This entails whispering, scratching, tapping and other noises that pull you into a trance. There are many on Youtube.

9) ‘OM’ Chanting: If you want to activate your vagus nerve, a great way to do it is by chanting “OM” over and over again. This is often used in yoga, mantras and different faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Whether you perceive it as a spiritual practice or just a meditation practice, it helps to calm you and create inner peace.

10) Positive Self-Talk: Researcher says he uses Cora Harris’s mantra to stimulate his vagus nerve, “The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly.”

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