How to stimulate your vagus nerve and why you should try it.

Updated: January 20, 2024

If you keep up with the literature
and the scientific research
on self-regulation, healing
and homeostasis, then you've
probably heard of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is part of
the parasympathetic nervous system and is the longest
and most important nerve in the parasympathetic
nervous system. It controls many involuntary
functions, including heartrate,
breathing, digestion
and immune response. So the vagus nerve has been considered the healing nerve of the body. The sympathetic
nervous system is responsible for the fight
and flight response. The parasympathetic
nervous system for the rest,
rejuvenate, renew and healing
response.

These are part
of our autonomic nervous system. In yogic traditions, the autonomic
nervous system would be considered the neural correlate of the
subconscious mind and into the
subconscious mind is memory and karma and desire and all
the experiences we've had
in the past and not only how we've had these experiences
in the past, but how we interpreted these
experiences in the past. And so the vagus nerve is the longest
nerve in our body. It travels
from the midbrain and in turn
is influenced by eye movements
because it interacts with the ocular
motor nerve. It influences
and is influenced by facial muscles. It influences
and is influenced by tone of voice. It influences
and is influenced by breathing,
by heart rate variability
influences and is influenced. And it is also the nerve
that goes through the diaphragm, interacts
with all the whole organs of the body, all the solid
organs of the body, and ultimately
also influences the activity
of the microbiome, bringing it
to self-regulation and removing
inflammation or dysbiosis. The vagus nerve has bilateral traffic so we can activate
healing by Vagal activation.

So let's see
some of the methods by which you
can activate the vagus nerve. First is eye movements. When we move
our eyes, we are stimulating
the vagus nerve. This stimulation
can help to calm the body
and the mind and reduce
stress and anxiety. And there are
a number of eye movements
and eye exercises that have been shown to be effective in simulating
the vagus nerve. So here are
some of them. One is called
the ocular cardiac reflex, OCR. This is a reflex
that causes the heart
rate to slow down when our eyes move in different
directions.

To stimulate
the OCR, or what
we call the ocular cardiac reflex, what you can do is you can gently press on your closed eyes for a few seconds. So that's one way. There's
something called Divergent Gaze. This is an exercise where you focus
your eyes on a distant object and then slowly move them
to the sides. This exercise
can help to relax the muscles in the eyes
and neck, which can also,
in turn, stimulate
the Vagus Nerve. Then there's
something called bilateral eye
movement therapy. This is a more
structured eye movement exercise
that is often used to treat trauma and
anxiety disorders. Bilateral
eye movement therapy involves
rapid rhythmic eye movements
from side to side. Okay, takes
a little practice. But if you've ever
seen Bharat anatyam dancing,
you see those dance moves
with mudras and breathing and chanting
and eye movements. All of them
stimulate the Vagus Nerve.

Slow, deep breathing
is a powerful way to also stimulate
the vagus nerve, calm body and mind. Every yoga
asana stimulates a particular branch
of the vagus nerve. Singing and chanting and humming or just
saying, "Mmmm… Ohm" stimulates
the vagus nerve. Probiotics are live
bacteria that can help
improve gut health. A healthy
gut is important for maintaining
a healthy vagus nerve. What else? Kriyas,
Bandhas, Mudras, contracting
and expanding the sphincters, all stimulate
the vagus nerve. But one of the
best ways to stimulate
the vagus nerve is just
smiling. Smiling can activate
the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is,
as I said, the longest nerve in the body. And it is also stimulated
by smiling.

When we smile,
the muscles in our face activate
the vagus nerve. We send signals
to the brain that we are happy
and relaxed. This can lead
to a decrease in heart rate
and blood pressure and change
your heart rate variability
and increase feelings
of well-being. There was
a study published in the journal, Psychological
Science, that found that when people were asked to smile
for 2 minutes, they did increase
vagal tone compared to those
who were asked to keep a neutral
expression. The study
also found that the more genuine
the smile, the greater the increase in vagal tone. Another study
published in the journal, Neurology, found
that people who had a stroke
and lost the ability to smile still had increased
vagal tone when they were shown
pictures of people smiling.

This suggests that
the act of smiling, even if it is not
genuine, can activate
the vagus nerve and have beneficial effects on the body. So next time you are
feeling stressed, anxious, try smiling
for a few minutes. It may just help to calm your body
and mind. Okay. Is there
anything else I've left out? Deep breathing
exercises, singing, humming,
gargling. When you gargle,
in Ayurveda we use warm sesame
oil to gargle, it stimulates
the vagus nerve. Massage stimulates
the vagus nerve. Meditation
stimulates vagus nerve. Spending
time in nature stimulates the vagus
nerve. Laughter stimulates
the vagus nerve. So by incorporating
these activities in your daily
routine, you can help to
improve vagal tone and your overall
health and well-being.

Try one or all
of these techniques. Much better
than taking a sleeping pill
or a tranquilizer or a pharmaceutical,
especially for disorders
that are related to anxiety
and stress. Which, by the way, is 95% of all
chronic illness is sympathetic
overdrive, stress, insulin resistance, and metabolic
syndrome. Directly or indirectly, stress
is connected to cardiovascular
disease, immune… compromise of
the immune system, frequent infections,
frequent colds, but also things like insomnia
and anxiety. All of it
is interconnected. So try these non-pharmacological
approaches for self-regulation, healing
and homeostasis. Even one of these procedures will make
a big difference. But if you make it
part of your lifestyle,
you will be likely to enjoy
very good health, longevity and health
span. Now, this has been
known in yogic and
Ayurvedic traditions for thousands
of years, but science
is catching up..

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