What happens in vagus…affects the whole body, especially the gut! The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body, running from your brain to your intestines, and all the way to the cervix in female bodies. This mighty nerve controls 80% of our unconscious processes, and has many important functions, including regulating mood, heart rate, and blood pressure, as well as digestion, and even speaking. This nerve also helps to stimulate the muscles of the small and large intestines. In order to have optimal digestion, we have to be in a calm and safe state. Think of this as our ‘rest and digest system.’
Factors like stress and age can cause the vagus nerve to lose its ability to switch back to the parasympathetic mode, or relaxed state. This is because the stress response slows or even shuts down the digestive system, so more energy is available for the “fight, flight, or freeze” response in the body. When the vagus nerve is impaired, we might experience uncomfortable stomach issues, like gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea. The good news is that there are many ways, both physically and psychologically, to activate the vagus nerve. Doing so helps to improve digestion, reduce inflammation, reduce depression and anxiety, and increase resilience to stress.
Here are three of the best ways to activate your vagus nerve right now:
1) Stretching and moving. Physical activity and gentle movement increases vagus nerve activity and lowers the stress response. Movement stimulates the gut and increases intestinal activity, increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, and calms the nervous system. Stretch, walk, dance, practice yoga, bike, hike, swim - any movement is good for your gut. Doesn’t have to be intense – a walk around the block can do wonders for our digestion!
2) Practice deep, slow belly breathing. Deep, slow, belly breathing prompts the body to start the relaxation response. Shallow, chest breathing, on the other hand, induces a stress response and digestion slows or even shuts down to prepare for the fight, flight, or freeze state. The average person takes between 10-15 breaths per min. Aim for 6 breaths per minute to fully relax your body.
Suggested exercise: Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Breathe deeply into your abdomen until you feel your belly rise up and down. Breathe through your nose for a count of 4, and then exhale through mouth for a count of 6. Repeat for at least 4 cycles and notice how you feel before and after.
3) Singing, humming, or gargling. The vagus nerve is connected to our vocal cords and the muscles in the back of our throats. Singing, humming, chanting, and even gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate the vagus nerve. Turn on your favorite music and sing your heart out!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below! If this post was helpful, please like, comment, and share. Thank you and be well!