Vagus Nerve Exercises
What’s the Vagus Nerve?
• Turn on neurogenesis, helping our brains sprout new brain cells.
• Rapidly turn off the stress, hyper-arousal, and fight/flight via the relaxation response.
• Sharpen our memories.
• Fight inflammatory disease.
• Help you resist high blood pressure.
• Block the hormone cortisol and other oxidizing agents that age and deteriorate the brain
• Block systemic (body-wide) inflammation – a major factor behind aging and poor health.
• Help us overcome depression and anxiety.
• Help us sleep better.
• Raise levels of human growth hormone.
• Help us overcome insulin resistance.
• Turn down allergic responses.
• Lower chances of getting stress and tension headaches.
• Help spare and grow our mitochondria- this is a key to maintaining optimal energy levels and
not harming our DNA and RNA.
• Affect our overall ability to live longer, healthier, and more energetic lives.
How to Activate the Vagus Nerve on Your Own?
Vagus nerve stimulation can be turned on easily though a number of breathing and relaxation techniques:
•Deep/slow belly breathing.
•Cold water face immersion after exercise
•Filling the mouth with saliva and submerging your tongue to trigger a hyper-relaxing vagal
•Loud gargling with water
To practice deep breathing, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
•Breathe more slowly.
•Breathe more deeply, from the belly.
•Exhale longer than you inhale.
Using Breathing to Reduce Pain
You can learn to use breathing exercises to shift your focus away from pain. The human mind
processes one thing at a time. If you focus on the rhythm of your breathing, you’re not focused on
the pain. The moment we anticipate pain, most of us tend to stop breathing and hold our breath.
Breath holding activates the fight/flight/freeze response, it tends to increase the sensation of pain,
stiffness, anxiety, or fear.
You can proceed as follows: take a deep inhalation into your belly (i.e. expanding your diaphragm) to
the count of five, pause, and then exhale slowly through a small hole in your mouth. While at rest
most people take about 10 to 14 breaths per minute. To get into parasympathetic/ relaxation/
healing mode it is ideal to reduce your breath to 5 to 7 times per minute. Exhaling through your
mouth instead of nose makes your breathing more of a conscious process, and helps you to observe
your breath more easily.
As you reduce your breaths per minute and get into parasympathetic mode, your muscles will relax,
dropping your worries and anxieties. The oxygen supply to your body’s cells increases and this helps
produce endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones. Tibetan monks have been practicing ‘conscious
breathing’ for decades, but there is nothing mysterious about it. You can enhance your experience
by imagining that you inhale IN love, and exhale OUT gratitude. These ancient techniques also will
improve memory, fight depression, lower blood pressure, or heart rate, and boost your immune
systems — and it’s free!
An interesting study was performed by the International Journal of Yoga in 2011, where ‘OM’
chanting was compared with pronunciation of ‘SSS’ as well as a rest state to determine if chanting is
more stimulatory to the vagus nerve. The study found that the chanting actually was more effective
than either the ‘sss’ pronunciation or the rest state.
Effective ‘OM’ chanting is associated with the experience of a vibration sensation around the ears
and throughout the body. It is expected that such a sensation is also transmitted through the
auricular branch of the vagus nerve and will produce limbic (HPA axis) deactivation.fiii]
How to chant?
Hold the vowel (o) part of the ‘OM’ for 5 seconds then continue into the consonant (m) part for the
next 10 seconds. Continue chanting for 10 minutes. Conclude with some deep breathing and end
Physical exercise causes an increase in sympathetic activity (HPA axis – fight/flight, stress response),
along with parasympathetic withdrawal (resting, digesting, healing, immune system), resulting in
higher heart rates (HR). Studies have found that cold water face immersion appears to be a simple
and efficient means of immediately accelerating post-exercise parasympathetic reactivation via the
vagus nerve, stimulating the reduction of heart rate, motility of the intestines, and turns on the
immune system. It is also effective in a non-exercise environment to activate the vagus nerve.
In cold-water face immersion, subjects remained seated and bend their head forward into a basin of
cold water. The face is immersed so that the forehead, eyes, and at least two-thirds of both cheeks
were submerged. Water temperature was kept at 10-12°C.
The calmer the mind and the deeper the relaxation, the easier the stimulation of salivation is. When
the mouth is able to produce copious amounts of saliva, you know that the Vagus Nerve has been
stimulated and your body is in the parasympathetic mode.
To stimulate salivation, try relaxing and reclining in a chair and imagine a juicy lemon. As your mouth
fills with saliva, just rest your tongue in this bath (if this doesn’t happen, just fill your mouth with a
small amount of warm water and rest your tongue in this bath. Just the practice of relaxing will
stimulate the secretion of saliva). Now relax further, and feel your hands, feet, hips, back of the neck
and head all relaxing. Breathe deeply into this feeling and stay here as long as you can.