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Unlocking the Secret to Inner Peace: How the Vagus Nerve Can Help You Find Calm and Relaxation

The Vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves in the human body. It is the 10th cranial nerve and is the longest nerve, running from the brainstem, through the ears, down the throat, and into the chest and abdomen, It is responsible for a wide range of functions, including regulating heart rate, digestion, and breathing.


a simple image of how the vagus nerve travels through the body
Vagus Nerve Pathways

One of the most important functions of the Vagus nerve is its role in calming the body down during times of stress and trauma.


When the body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, which triggers the fight or flight response. This response prepares the body to respond to the threat by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Ideally, when the threat has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system activates, which triggers the rest and digest response. This response helps to calm the body down and return it to a state of relaxation.


The vagus nerve is the main nerve responsible for activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When the vagus nerve is activated, it sends signals to the brainstem, which then sends signals to the rest of the body to slow down and relax. This can be incredibly helpful during times of stress and trauma.


There are several ways to activate or stimulate the Vagus nerve to manage stress and trauma. Here are some of the most effective techniques:


1. Deep breathing: Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. When you take slow, deep breaths, you activate the diaphragm, which is connected to the vagus nerve. This can help to slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and promote relaxation. See my post on Breathing techniques to activate the Vagus nerve for more info.


An extended exhale, also increases cardiac compression. When we exhale for a longer duration than we inhale, the pressure in the chest cavity increases, which in turn increases cardiac compression. When we exhale, the diaphragm moves upwards, and this movement activates proprioceptors in the lungs and chest wall. Proprioceptors are specialized sensory receptors that detect changes in the position and movement of our body parts. These receptors send signals to the brain, which helps regulate our breathing rate and depth. The activation of these receptors can also promote relaxation and reduce stress levels.


2. Meditation: Meditation is another effective way to stimulate the Vagus nerve. When you meditate, you focus on your breath and become mindful of thoughts and sensations. This can help to keep you in the present moment, which generally, is not as stressful.

3. Yoga: Yoga is a great way to stimulate the Vagus nerve. Many yoga poses, such as child's pose and downward dog pose, help to stretch and stimulate the vagus nerve.


The Throat Lock, also known as Jalandhara Bandha, is a powerful technique used in yoga to activate the vagus nerve. To activate the Jalandhara Bandha, the chin is brought down towards the chest, creating a compression in the throat area. This compression stimulates the vagus nerve. The Throat Lock is often used in conjunction with other yoga techniques, such as pranayama (breathing exercises), to help calm the mind and body, improve digestion, and promote overall health and well-being.


4. Cold exposure: Cold exposure is another effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve. When you expose your body to cold temperatures, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the fight or flight response. However, when the cold exposure is over, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which triggers the rest and digest response. This can help to activate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. Splashing cold water on your face or applying cold to the sides of your neck are both effective ways to simulate this response.


5. Singing: Singing stimulates the vagus nerve. When you sing, you engage the muscles in your throat and chest, which are connected to the Vagus nerve. The resulting vibration will activate the Vagas nerve.

6. Laughter: Laughter stimulates the vagus nerve. When you laugh, you activate the muscles in your face and chest, which are connected to the Vagus nerve.

human anatomy of the head, neck and torso highlighting the vagus nerve
Anatomy of the head, neck and torso

To sum it up, the vagus nerve is a crucial nerve in the human body, responsible for regulating heart rate, digestion, and breathing. One of its most important functions is its role in calming the body down during times of stress and trauma. There are several ways to activate or stimulate the vagus nerve to manage stress and trauma, including deep breathing, meditation, yoga, cold exposure, singing, and laughter. By incorporating these techniques into your daily routine, you can activate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation, which can be incredibly helpful for managing stress and trauma.


© 2023 Ruth (Day) Elliott. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this content, but please provide proper attribution by including a link back to this post and giving credit to me.


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