We don’t think much about the vagus nerve but we should. From the brain all the way to the colon, it is the communication superhighway for our parasympathetic nervous system and it’s fundamental to every aspect of our day-to-day physiological and emotional function.
There are so many ways to support the health of the vagus nerve, and movement and sound are key. If you think about a newborn, there is a lot of vagus nerve development happening with all that wriggling and all those vocalizations. The twisting, stretching, yelling and free expression of childhood keeps the communication flowing along the vagus nerve. That’s what we’re trying to recreate as adults when we do specific things to stimulate the vagus nerve. When function diminishes through illness or aging, it helps to create a daily practice of vagus nerve stimulation.
Have you ever listened to monks chanting? I wonder if they realize they are stimulating their vagus nerve. The Om chant actually has three parts, aaa, uuu, mmm. These are three natural sounds that babies make before they develop control of the tongue. The first vibrates deep in the belly, the second in the chest and throat, and the third in the head.
There’s a yoga exercise in which one exhales with what sounds a bit like a growl. This stimulation of the back of the throat tones the vagus nerve, especially when you add the stretching and alignment movements that go with it. Note that anything that strengthens your spine is going to support the optimum function of the vagus nerve.
Every time I brush my teeth I incorporate a gargle and a gag. For the gagging you can use your toothbrush and as you brush your tongue go a little further back until you stimulate your gag reflex. You want to do this enough to bring tears. Then you know you’re getting in touch with your vagus nerve. Over time I have become so used to this that it feels like a natural movement, and it touches deeper and deeper into the core of my body.
Then there are the musical methods of vagus nerve stimulation, humming and singing. Those can be shared a little more easily than gargling and gagging. Even the gentle hum and sigh of a yawn are good for the vagus nerve, especially if you give it a little extra volume. Facial and neck stretches, deep breathing, laughing, crying, all are good for the vagus nerve. Can you find a way to fit more growling into your day?
One final thing is worth mentioning. Simply speaking is good for the vagus nerve. But let’s look a little more deeply at this. It isn’t just the mechanical and physical stimulation of the vagus nerve that’s happening. When we are empowered to speak up, to own our words, to claim our voice, we are tuning in to the flow of life energy, asking our vagus nerve to join with the whole of our being. I think your vagus nerve loves that. Interestingly, everything you can do to stimulate your vagus nerve also makes you feel better overall. Perfect for creating lasting health.
Try this every day!
A full-on belly laugh might just be the absolute best thing for vagus nerve health. The convulsive whole-body movement, the tears, and the guffaws get the signaling energy flowing freely.