What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system. Most people are constantly engaging their sympathetic nervous system – fight or flight mode, which is like having your foot on the gas all the time. Because of this we are having an adrenal fatigue epidemic in this country.
The Parasympathetic system should be dominant, like putting on the brakes to slow down, relax and go back to doing all our normal functions again, like digesting, resting, repairing, sleeping, etc. Activating the vagus nerve is important to bring the parasympathetic system back online.
The vagus nerve is a long meandering bundle of motor and sensory fibers that links the brain stem to the heart, lungs, and gut. It also branches out to touch and interact with the liver, spleen, gallbladder, ureter, female fertility organs, neck, ears, tongue, and kidneys. It powers up our involuntary nerve center — the parasympathetic nervous system – and controls unconscious body functions.
How it works:
~In the brain, the vagus helps control anxiety and depression, mental clarity.
~In the gut, it increases stomach acidity, supports digestive juices, and gut flow.
~In the heart, it controls heart rate variability, heart rate, and blood pressure. Vagus activation will lower the risk for heart disease and stroke.
~In the liver and pancreas, it helps controls blood glucose store and balance.
~In the gallbladder, it helps release bile, which can help you get rid of toxins and break down fat, and process fat soluble vitamins and hormones.
~In the reproductive organs it helps release testosterone and other sexual hormones.
When it’s not working right, it can cause brain fog, neurotransmitter imbalances, digestive disorders, hormone imbalances, insomnia, and much more.
Due to previous trauma’s, I see many people who have their sympathetic nervous system stuck ‘ON’ - Fight or flight, like it is not ok to relax, put their guard down. This is creating anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and a snow ball effect of many health challenges.
Here are a few excellent ideas to use regularly to stimulate the Vagus nerve and bring the parasympathetic back into balance:
Those who meditate show a significant rise in vagal tone, which is associated with increases in positive emotions. Also, “Om” chanting during such meditation stimulates the vagus nerve.
2) Breathing Techniques
Deep breathing is always relaxing to your body and instantly stimulates your vagus nerve. Place your hand on your heart, Inhale deeply, holding it for several seconds, then slowly releasing.
3) Relaxing Massage / Essential oils
A foot massage or a neck massage is great. Use Lavender Essential oil (which calms anxiety) directly under each ear and slide down the throat where the Vagus nerve is closest to the surface. Include the oil on the back of neck. Excellent before bed or when stressed.
4) Singing, chanting and humming.
Singing at the top of your lungs increases oxytocin, and activates the vagus nerve! Also try humming, mantra chanting, hymn singing, upbeat energetic singing, singing in unison.
When your body adjusts to cold, your stress response declines. Try drinking cold water or splashing cold water on your face, take cold showers, or take a swim in an unheated pool.
6) Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Doing Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong increases vagus nerve activity and your parasympathetic system in general. When you breathe and focus on one point, it calms the vagus nerve.
7) Laughter with Friends
Social connections lead to more opportunities for positive emotions, which stimulates the vagus nerve. Laughter makes you feel good and produces overall good health and well-being.
8) Prayer / Spirituality
The reading of even one cycle of the rosary increases HRV and therefore vagus function. Or create a practice of reading Spiritually inspiring and uplifting books, even a page or two a day.
Healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone. They promote vagal activity, due to its connection to the gut and digestive functions.
10) Fasting/reducing calorie intake (therapeutically)
When you’re fasting, or Intermittent fasting, it increases heart rate variability, which is how we measure vagal tone, and signals the brain to relax and use energy for other functions instead.
11) Plant Medicine. Cannabinoid plant medicine extracts (CBD Oil) activates the cannabinoid system directly, which calms. I also recommend using chewable Pharma GABA to relax anxiety and stress.
12) Light Therapy with Solfeggio Frequencies. This is an excellent way to immediately calm and relax the autonomic nervous system. These special tones are calming, grounding, liberate guilt and fear, repairs DNA, balances, enhances intuition, and expands conscious awareness.
13) Connecting with Nature. Spending time daily in nature, whether walking in the woods, walking barefoot, working in the garden or yard, hiking, or water sports, always calms the body.
14) Animals and Pets. Petting, stroking, playing with, or caring for animals is another great way to calm the nervous system. Also enjoying watching birds and fish.
15) Flower Essences. Flower essences hold the vibrational pattern to balance the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual body. Many people are familiar with Rescue remedy and other similar formulas. I use several for trauma and abuse, excess stress, fear and anxiety, etc.
Jane Smolnik is a Naturopathic Doctor and Iridologist with 30 years experience. She has a practice at the WNC Holistic Center in Asheville, NC, and also works with people by phone or web connections. For more information, please visit the website: UltimateHealing.com, or call 828-777-5263.