10 Simple and Inexpensive Ways to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve TodayLuke Coutinho
Every human being is born with certain powers. Yet, most of us don’t even use these today. One such incredible intelligence within you is your ability to stimulate the vagus nerve.
What is the vagus nerve?
Vagus means wanderer in Latin, which describes how this nerve wanders over your body and reaches various organs.
The vagus nerve has been studied for the longest time. Why? For its connection with almost every single function in the human body. It is the 10th cranial nerve and the longest of the 12 cranial nerves. It starts at the base of your brain, travels down your neck, chest, and abdomen, and touches almost every single organ in the human body.
I encourage you to look it up and read more about it. It is a beautiful piece of anatomy and looks like branches of a tree touch almost every part of the human body – eyes, cheek, face, heart, liver, kidney, and so on.
So while we focus on superfoods, exercise, cellular nutrition, sleep, and emotional wellness, we also need to tap into this existing intelligence in your human body that can protect you, prevent the onset of disease, and aid healing and recovery.
Your vagus nerve plays a role in the gut-brain axis
We all already know that your gut and the brain are connected. There’s constant communication happening through the gut-brain axis. It explains why when you have gut issues like bloating, acidity, or constipation, you may also experience brain fog, lethargy, and exertion. Similarly, if you have an issue involving your brain, for instance, you are grappling with depression, are sad all the time, or are hooked onto things that are not going well in your life, it affects your gut health too.
A classic example of this is if you are overly anxious about terrible news, deadlines at work, studies, exams, upcoming public speaking events, and so on, you may also be vulnerable to IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. It is where the moment you get anxious, you need to run to the toilet to pass a motion. It shows us how the gut and the brain work on an axis.
What role does the vagus nerve play here?
When your vagus nerve is active and stimulated, it improves the communication between your brain and your gut. You have microbes in your gut that control the way that you feel. Most people on hearing the word serotonin, think of the brain. But did you know that 90% of your serotonin is made in your gut? This is why when you are treating depression or emotional disorders, assessing your gut health is important. If your recovery plan does not address your gut, it is incomplete. Antidepressants may help you symptomatically, but they come with their share of side effects. The whole point of human living is addressing the root cause and holistically healing.
Understand the working of the neuroendocrine system
Many of you may have heard or read about neuroendocrine cancers and endocrine disorders. The neuroendocrine system is an axis that communicates with the brain and regulates hormones. It’s not enough to load up on thyroxine because you don’t produce enough. Similarly, it is not enough to pump yourself with insulin because your blood sugar levels are all over the place. There is much more you can do to balance your hormones. Your medicines may serve as a crutch, but stimulating the vagus nerve can help you in a big way because it has everything to do with the neuroendocrine axis.
The vagus nerve:
- Regulates your breathing
- Regulates heartbeat/heart rate, influences cardiovascular activities
- Regulates the way you feel your emotions
- Regulates muscle function and contraction
- Promotes relaxation, reduces blood pressure
- Regulates your digestion or digestive enzymes
- Aids blood circulation
- Decreases inflammation
- Controls certain muscles that you use to swallow and speak (vocal cords)
- Controls reflexes like coughing, sneezing, gagging, puking, etc.
- Is now being studied medically and scientifically for its role in controlling seizures and epilepsy.
There are 2 systems you need to understand if you want to stimulate the vagus nerve.
The sympathetic nervous system: This is your fight and flight response. Whenever you face a stressor, your body puts you into the sympathetic nervous system where your heart rate goes up, blood sugar levels rise, and adrenaline and cortisol spike to prepare you for the stress right in front of you. It is a coping mechanism and a good thing. Once the stressor is over, you move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, regulated by the vagus nerve.
The parasympathetic nervous system: This is where we should ideally be most of our day and night in. It is the mode in which you rest, digest, relax, grow, rejuvenate, produce growth hormones, and repair, boost or train the immune system. Your body is not designed to sleep when you are in the sympathetic nervous system because it will keep you awake, alert, and ready for fight or flight. You need to move into the parasympathetic system by stimulating the vagus nerve.
How to activate or stimulate the vagus nerve? Here are 10 inexpensive ways.
While science and medicines continue to explore electrical impulse treatments and light therapies to stimulate the vagus nerve, there are simple lifestyle hacks you can start right now that do not cost you a penny.
Slow down your breath
One of the most powerful things you can do to stimulate your vagus nerve is to make your inhales long and exhales even longer. If you inhale for 4 seconds, you need to exhale comfortably for 6 to 8 seconds.
Start practicing deep breathing or pranayama to build strong lung capacity, inhale long and deep, and exhale even longer and deeper. Change the way you breathe to stimulate the vagus nerve. You can be in control of your breath. It will ensure even when the world outside you is under stress, your body is in the parasympathetic nervous system to give you mental clarity and find solutions. It will keep your heart rate, breathing, and hormones in balance. Deep breathing is one way to regulate your vagus nerve.
Whether you chant a mantra or prayer, the vibrations stimulate your vagus nerve. Even chanting Aum or OM is scientifically proven to stimulate the vagus nerve and several other nerves in your body. Know more about its benefits here.
If you do not chant, you can sing. Even singing with different rhythms and different frequencies can stimulate your vagus nerve. Some of you may be able to hit a high or low note. When you do this, it creates a vibration. Singing is a beautiful way of stimulating the vagus nerve. Even if you think you do not sing well, sing your heart out. Don’t want others to hear you? Sing in the bathroom. Yes, bathroom singing is beneficial to stimulate the vagus nerve. Get those vibrations in your vocal cords going for you.
Yes, gargling can help. It works in the same manner that singing does to stimulate the vagus nerve through vibrating muscles at the back of the mouth in the throat area.
Some yoga asanas can help us to stimulate the vagus system. It involves your movement, blood circulation, and nervous system to work in coordination with your breath. Try meditation with deep diaphragmatic breathing, Balasana (Child’s Pose), Virabhadrasana (Warrior’s Pose), Chakravakasana (Cat-Cow Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), Savasana (Corpse Pose) and so on.
Deep reflection or sitting in silence
If you can’t meditate, try deep reflection. Cannot practice deep reflection? Just sit in silence. These are beautiful ways to get you into the parasympathetic nervous system and allow the vagus nerve to work for the various involuntary functions of your autonomic nervous system that you have no control over. These may include regulating your heart rate, breathing, digestion, secretion of stomach acids, regulating hunger hormones, and so on.
Yes, laughing your heart out is a beautiful way to stimulate the vagus nerve. How to do this?
- Have good conversations with your family and friends
- Watching some stand-up comedy
- Read jokes
- Reminisce funny incidents
Whatever it is that gets you to laugh, do it. It explains why people feel so relaxed when they laugh. They feel ecstatic, joyful, and happy when they laugh because it helps them immediately move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. Do this well.
Make light of the situation
Sometimes even making light of your situation (without harming someone’s sentiments) can help. You may be in a difficult situation. The moment you realize it is out of your control, a good coping mechanism can be to make light of it. It doesn’t mean you stop taking action or forget its severity. If there’s something you can’t change, just laugh it out or laugh through it because you want your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system to work in full force in this situation.
Yes, cold showers help stimulate the vagus nerve. If you cannot have cold showers, even splashing yourself with cold water in the morning or before you sleep at night can help. I like to use ice cubes and rub them all over my face when I wake up or once during the day if I am stressed. I also like to take a cold shower. Choose what works for you and suits you.
I do not mean turning fasting into a fad but following smart fasting. You are a bio-individual. No one in the world can tell you how many hours you can fast other than your own body. Whether it is 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, or 20 hours – find your niche. Do what works for you. Fasting is scientifically proven to stimulate the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Build your gut health
Pay attention to your gut health. If you struggle with constant gut issues, get to the root cause of it. Get in touch with an integrative expert if you must. Here are some simple lifestyle tips to build good gut health.
Did you know that your vagus nerve is also responsible for fat loss?
We produce more body fat when constantly stressed, especially in our abdominal our midriff areas. You already know the impact of chronic cortisol production, adrenaline, excess estrogen, and low testosterone on stomach or belly fat. You can be lean all over your body but hold abdominal fat, stubborn belly fat or have love handles that could be related to chronic stress. The more you move into the parasympathetic nervous system, the higher your chances of burning that fat. You cannot punish belly fat off your body with exercise. You can use nutrition to some extent, but it will not work if you are stressed out because what you have is a different kind of hormonal-induced fat.
The bottom line
If most of your day is in the sympathetic nervous system in a state of fight or flight, you need to start making lifestyle changes today. No medicines will help. You have to do it yourself. Harness the vagus nerve activity by adopting the simple and inexpensive changes we discussed. Do this well. Tell me how it worked for you.
ALSO WATCH: A Simple One-Minute Exercise To Tap Into Your Vagus Nerve
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