The Vagus Nerve (VN) is a sensory nerve and the longest cranial nerve in the body. It starts at the base of the brain, travels down both sides of the neck and the heart, all throughout the stomach area, and into the intestines. The Vagus Nerve can be toned and strengthened, similar to muscle.
The Vagus Nerve (from Latin meaning “to wander”) flows throughout the body to perform the following tasks:
- Keeps the larynx open for breathing – feeds the lungs and diaphragm
- Slows/regulates the heartbeat
- Stimulates the secretion of saliva, release of bile, and peristalsis (contraction) of the bowels
- Contracts the bladder
- Sends messages to the brain to produce/release Oxytocin (feel-good/bonding hormone)
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Reduces stress and inflammation
- Increases immunity and longevity
Energetically, the Vagus Nerve can:
- Balance the nervous system – the sympathetic (fight/flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and repair) branches of the nervous system, with more emphasis on relaxation
- Balance the heart and brain, which creates harmony that supports higher states of awareness/consciousness
- Develop our compassion, telepathy, and empathy towards others
- Develop our intuition or “gut knowing”
- Develop our connection with others and the world (how we relate to each other)
- Enhance our evolution as a species
The Vagus Nerve can be overactive as well as underactive. Most people have an underactive Vagus, also known as lacking vagal tone, because we are often in stress response, whether from internal stress (fighting infections, stressful thoughts) or external stress (traffic jams, news, arguments). If the VN is overactive, we may become overly sensitive and emotional. The nerve can be damaged or underdeveloped through trauma or insufficient production of oxytocin, which is first produced through bonding with our caregivers as an infant.
There are many ways to enhance, stimulate it, and repair the VN using various energy medicine modalities (read next: “7th Pillar – Frequency”). Those with an underactive VN appear to be serious and non-animated with little trust or compassion, but it can be healed and enhanced. Simple, physical exercises can stimulate the VN.
Here are a few exercises and some other tips to help tone the VN:
- Alternate-Nostril Breathing will balance the left and right Vagus – sit up straight with a lifted spine. Using your thumb and pinky finger, close off one nostril with your thumb and inhale/exhale through the open nostril for one complete breath. Then use your pinky finger to close off the other nostril and inhale/exhale through the open nostril for another complete breath. Alternate left and right nostrils for a total of 9 complete breaths.
- Find the place a couple inches out from your collarbones. Use the back of the fingernails to “rake” the nerve downward. This is where the VN comes closest to the skin.
- Deep, diaphragmatic breathing (inhale through the nose for a count of 4, exhale through the mouth for a count of 8). Try and expand the belly like a balloon, as opposed to shallow, chest breathing. Aim for 9 complete breaths, especially before meals and bedtime.
- Apply a cold compress to the face and back of the neck to stimulate the VN.
- Practicing Yoga and Meditation is a natural way to stimulate the VN without even focusing on it directly.
- Try stretching the neck by doing head rolls: Start slowly. Bring your chin to chest, then roll your head in a complete circle 3-5 times. Reverse the direction of the circle to balance left and right Vagus.
- Connecting with nature, exposing your skin to sunlight, eating a whole-foods diet, regularly moving the body, and practicing gratitude each and every day are sure ways to keep the Vagus Nerve toned, stress and inflammation reduced, and our cosmic connection enhanced.
- Smile often! Smiling activates our own VN and also the VN of those around us. When we meet people, it is our Vagus Nerves that registers the connection and reads the energy of that person. You can affect the energy around you by creating a frequency of joy with your facial expressions