What if your body is already designed to help you stay balanced and peaceful in this chaotic world?
Tapping into the power of your vagus nerve will assist in reducing stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the "relaxation response" of your parasympathetic nervous system.
The vagus nerve, also called the CNX cranial nerve or 10th nerve is the most extended and most complex of all of the cranial nerves. The vagus nerve runs from the brain through the face, thorax, and abdomen.Imagine the vagus nerve, which begins at your brain stem, and continues down to the abdomen, transmitting sensory messages of your ears, throat, lungs, heart, and digestive tract. This wandering vagus nerve encourages the calming of your autonomic nervous system. It provides communications to decrease your stress response, lowers your blood pressure, and slows your heart rate. It can relax your respiratory rate and reduce reflexes such as coughing and sneezing. Further, it plays a vital role in mediating digestive activity that is important to your mental and physical health.
The Vagus Nerve & Improving Your Digestion
The vagus nerve promotes calm in your body, bringing you into parasympathetic mode. In this state, you have increased digestive function. The vagus nerve is your brain-gut connection, picking up messages from your digestive tract's enteric nervous system (ENS). It modulates intestinal homeostasis and can impact your feelings of hunger or fullness. In addition to having an impact on the amount of food you eat, it also controls your rate of nutrient delivery, digestive function, and absorption throughout your body. Thus, having a healthy vagus nerve will assist in reducing inflammatory bowel disease, weight gain, indigestion, constipation, and poor nutrition. Improving the digestive function has shown to help with anxiety and depression and may impact vagus nerve activity. (3)
The gut is where we digest not only our nutrition but also our emotions.
The Vagus Nerve can Help Your Gut Immunity
Your gut-brain connection plays a crucial role in your immunity. Your gastrointestinal tract has a delicate balance of helpful bacteria that aid in digestion. The ENS must also decipher harmful pathogens and toxic food antigens that enter your digestive tract. The vagus nerve connects your brain to your intestinal immune system, coordinating an endocrine response, and driving the first line of defense against harmful invaders. This response can help reduce chronic inflammation, fighting your body’s consistent exposure to bacteria and toxins that can cause tissue injury. (3)
The tone of the vagus nerve is correlated with the capacity to regulate stress responses. It can be influenced by deep breathing, increased by awareness meditation, and yoga can contribute to resilience and the balancing of mood and anxiety symptoms.(3)
There are several easy methods to stimulate your vagus nerve that activate your parasympathetic nervous system to create a calming response.
Meditation and Chanting
Loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, and chanting can increase heart rate variability. Some scientists think that conscious, deep breathing that accompanies meditation and other contemplative practices might underlie this effect. One of my favorite meditations is called the Inner Smile.
Humming and Singing
Begin by taking a deep breath in, and exhale with a peaceful humming sound. Feel the vibration in your throat as anxiety melts away, and your parasympathetic nervous system takes you into a state of relaxation. Repeat for ten more breaths, noticing the calm spread throughout your body. The vagus nerve delivers you into this peaceful state by sending messages back and forth from your organs to your brain.
Silently repeating phrases like:
May I feel safe,
May I feel happy
May I feel healthy
May I live in radiance and ease
If you use these affirmations also to connect with others in a deep sense of compassion this will create an improvement to the vagal function, as seen by heart-rate variability.
Slow Rhythmic Breathing
The beneficial effects of slow yogic breathing called ujjayi. This breathing technique can increase the sensitivity of baroreceptors and vagal activation, which lowered blood pressure.
This type of slow breathing involves six breaths per minute, which would be about five seconds per inhale, and five to ten seconds per exhale. The longer the exhale, the deeper the relaxation.
Aromatherapy to Encourage Calm
Aromatherapy has shown in multiple human studies to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, thus lowering blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate. Here are a few studies to consider.
In a controlled study with 67 women aged 45-55 years, lavender aroma for 20 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks increased parasympathetic modulation and improved sleep. (5)
In a controlled study of 30 patients with chemotherapy related nausea, chamomile aromatherapy significantly reduced nausea vomiting, possibly related to a pathway mediated by the vagus nerve. (6)
In a randomized controlled study with 60 women who had premenstrual syndrome, clary sage essential oil aroma increased parasympathetic activity. The author concluded it improved vagus response to increase cardiac autonomic function. (7)
Aromatherapy Breath Awareness
Using essential oils can enhance meditative breathing exercises. This can easily be done using a room spray, nasal inhaler, or essential oil diffuser. While everyone has aromatic favorites and preferences, here are a few calming essential oils you could try.
Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana)
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
German chamomile (Chamomilla recutita)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Pine needle (Pinus sylvestris)
Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
Rose (Rosa damascena)
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Before beginning the awareness breathing exercise, choose an essential oil or blend that you find calming and relaxing. Review possible contraindications of each essential oil in a blend before use.
To begin, inhale slowly and focus on the aroma. Free your mind of all other thoughts, and focus on the aroma. Let the aroma take you to a peaceful and happy place. Then, enjoy a long, deep exhale. Continue this meditative aromatherapy breath exercise for about 10 minutes. With each inhale, focus more deeply on the details of your peaceful place. Pause in that place, and then slowly exhale.
The vagus nerve brings you into a parasympathetic state of relaxation, which is excellent for your health and well-being. Vocal and meditative exercises and positive thoughts can tone your vagus nerve, and aromatherapy can further enhance a calming effect.
Zen Garden Photo; https://pixabay.com/photos/zen-garden-meditation-monk-stones-2040340/; Retrieved March 14, 2020.
Bergland, Christopher; The Psychophysiology of Flow and Your Vagus Nerve; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/the-psychophysiology-flow-and-your-vagus-nerve; Retrieved March 13, 2020.
Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018); Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders; Frontiers in Psychiatry; 9, 44; Retrieved March 4, 2020.
Yazdi, Puya, M.D. (2020); 19 Factors that may Stimulate your Vagus Nerve Naturally. Self- Hacked; https://selfhacked.com/blog/32-ways-to-stimulate-your-vagus-nerve-and-all-you-need-to-know-about-it/ . Retrieved March 5, 2020.
Chien, L. W., Cheng, S. L., & Liu, C. F. (2012); The Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Autonomic Nervous System in Midlife Women with Insomnia; Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine; 2012; Retrieved March 4, 2020.
Putri, I. N., Amelia, R., & Rahayu, S.; (2019); The Chamomile Aromatherapy Reduce the Scale of Nausea; International Journal of Public Health; 8(3), 294-299; Retrieved March 4, 2020.
Geethanjali, S., Venugopal, V., Poonguzhali, S., & Maheshkumar, K. Effect of Clary Sage Oil as an Aromatherapy on Cardiac Autonomic Function Among Patients with Premenstrual Syndrome–A Randomized Controlled Study; Obesity Medicine; 2020; 100193; Retrieved March 4, 2020.