What is the Vagus Nerve?
Here is a brief explanation to unveil some of the mystery behind the vagus nerve and help explain why it could be one of our biggest allies in our quest for well-being.
The vagus nerve takes its name from the Latin word Vagus meaning vagrant or wanderer. The vagus nerve wanders around the body and connects all major organs to the brain and sends messages in both directions.
The vagus nerve is the missing link as to why we experience strange sensations in our tummy when we feel nervous or why the heart rate increases when we are stressed, panicked or anxious, or why in times of meditation and relaxation the heart rate lowers and our breathing slows down.
Today the connection between the gut and brain is widely discussed, the term "gut brain connection" is a common term and we now know that both are intimately connected by the vagus nerve, which explains how our moods can affect the health of the digestive system and also why poor gut health influences our moods.
The vagus nerve helps to maintain the balance of our moods and activates the relaxation response (the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system – this is a whole article on its own).
The vagus nerve is stimulated through deep breathing this is because the vagus nerve passes through the diaphragm, so the rhythm and quality of our breathing will be detected by the vagus nerve. This helps to explain why slow controlled deep breathing encourages relaxation and fast breathing triggers the stress response.
Activities such as yoga, meditation, pranayama, relaxation and other mind body practices that promote relaxation and naturally slow down the rhythm of our breath, will therefore stimulate the vagus nerve and trigger the relaxation response
A healthy vagus nerve means that we can respond to stress healthily and work to achieve a healthy balance between stress and relaxation.
Here’s something we can all do to improve our the health of our vagus nerve, slowly inhale through your nose for 4 counts, retain the breath for 4 counts (2 is fine) and then slowly exhale through your mouth imagining you are blowing the breath out through a straw. Repeat this for at least ten complete breaths. You should feel instantly soothed.
Rolling out your yoga mat regularly is a great idea too!
In a nut shell when the vagus nerve is well toned we feel healthy, energised and are more resilient to life’s ups and downs.