The vagus nerve, aka, the body’s super highway, is a long crucial nerve that extends from both sides of the brainstem just behind the ears, down the neck, across the chest, and through the abdomen.

It’s the MAIN pathway of communication between the brain, the nervous system and the GUT.

This rest-and-digest system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.

The Vagus Nerve controls the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The ANS operates below the level of the conscious mind (this is the side that just happens without you thinking about it or controlling it) and is vital for keeping our body healthy.

When the body is NOT under stress, the vagus nerve sends command that slow heart rate and breathing rates and increase digestion.

In times of stress, it control shifts to the sympathetic nervous system, which produces the opposite effect.

When we experience chronic stress our vagal tone becomes weak.

A weak vagal tone is linked to a multitude of health problems including chronic pain, anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, GUT inflammation, digestive issues, and cardiovascular issues.

The good news is that there are ways that we can STRENGTHEN it as we age.

Ways to Strengthen our Vagal Nerve

  1. BREATHING – recommended to do EVERY day, multiple times a day.
  • Do a cycle of 10 on waking and before lying to bed.
  • After every 2 hours, do a cycle of 5 Deep Inspiration through your nose (count of 7) by expanding the ribcage on sides and front to back.
  • And 5 Deep Expiration though your mouth (count of 7) by stitching up/zipping up the rib cage.

Set a few reminders on your phone throughout the day to remind you until you get into this routine.

2. COLD EXPOSURE – You can experiment with cold exposure by taking cold showers, ice baths, or even splashing your face in cold water.

3. MEDITATION – This has been shown to increase vagal activity, reduce sympathetic activity, and increase vagal modulation. Check out meditation apps like Calm and Headspace.

4. PROBIOTICS – Certain strains of probiotics, like lactobacillus, have shown to increase GABA via stimulation of the vagus nerve.

5. YOGA + BREATHING EXERCISES – Yoga increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in your brain, by stimulating vagal afferents which increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system. You may try:

  • Pranayama, the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises, increase vagal tone.
  • Ujjayi (ocean-sounding breath) increase heart rate variability.
  • Breathing in through your nose for a count of 4, and slowly exhaling through your nose while constricting the back of your throat – creating an ocean-like sound – for a count of 6.

6. SINGING AND CHANTING – Singing at the top of your lungs increases oxytocin and works the muscles in the back of the throat, connected to the vagus nerve, to activate the vagus nerve. Don’t stop singing in the shower!

Any component of our body part is essential for our overall health. May this help in guiding you how to take care of the vagus nerve inside our body.

Katherine Knott

Katherine is a certified naturopath and the founding director of Acorn and Oak.   She began studying Naturopathy when she was 18 years old and has practiced in both Melbourne and rural Victoria.  She has also studied 2 1/2 years of nursing and midwifery, but decided that she was happier to work with women as […]

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