After my husband passed away, there was a time when my stress was sooo high that I was trying everything possible to reduce it––from nutritional remedies to energy healing. In a moment that I’ll never forget, an energy healer that I was seeing told me, “your central nervous system is fried and I’m really worried about you.”
Now this might seem a little “out there” and woo-woo to some, but this woman had helped me heal from so many of the issues I was dealing with, and for her to tell me that she was concerned about a part of my body that I had otherwise been completely unaware of was a big AHA moment for me. I had no idea that there was a nerve that was at the root of my central nervous system problems, and still today I find that few people know how to calm it or know how to properly stimulate it.
The vagus nerve (pronounced Vegas) controls so many important functions in your body from your breathing to your heartbeat and when it’s properly stimulated, it can serve essentially as a “hack” to your proper health. Problems with your central nervous system often go unnoticed, because you might not be able to directly feel them, or they may manifest themselves in different ways, like through your gut or your brain. That’s why this nerve is so important––by finding ways to keep it functioning properly, you can get on top of your health and fix any problems even before they start to manifest.
Here’s what this little-known and all about and how you can use it to benefit your health:
Why is the vagus nerve so important?
The vagus nerve is probably one of the most little-known, but also one of the most important nerves in your body. It plays a role in so many vital functions in our body, from the “rest and digest” responsibilities of our parasympathetic nervous system to the “fight or flight” response regulated by our sympathetic nervous system. The nerve spans from the brain through the neck and abdomen, all the way to the colon––which allows it to send sensory information throughout the body.
Not only is this nerve tied to our body’s regular daily functions like heart rate, breathing and processing memories, but it also plays an essential role in one of today’s most talked about wellness topics––the gut. Essentially, the vagus nerve can sense the microbiota in your gut and send sensory signals and information to the central nervous system, where the body then evokes a proper response. So what exactly does that mean? That your brain and gut really are connected, and the vagus nerve serves as the main point of contact between the two. So that’s why, when you’re stressed you might also have an upset stomach or some issues in the bathroom––stress inhibits the vagus nerve, which can throw off the gastrointestinal system and lead to issues like IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). But when the vagus nerve is stimulated, it’s anti-inflammatory properties can create a much-needed homeostasis in the gut.
How can you support your vagus nerve?
When your vagus nerve is stimulated and operating properly, it can do amazing things for your body. Studies have shown that stimulating the vagus nerve can have anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, gut-boosting, brain-boosting benefits… and so many more! But how do you profit from the health boosts that may come from a properly stimulated vagus nerve? Here are some of the ways:
- Deep breathing – A 2010 study showed that participants who practiced slow, abdominal had enhanced vagal nerve activity. Try laying down in a comfortable spot with a hand on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose, and hold it for a few seconds, feeling the air fill your abdomen and slowly release through your mouth. Repeat these steps for at least 10 minutes per day.
- Intermittent fasting – More than just a diet trend, studies show that intermittent fasting can stimulate the vagus nerve.
- Taking probiotics – We already discussed how we can thank the vagus nerve for the unique gut-brain connection, but certain bacterial and nutritional stimuli (like probiotics for example) can enhance the nerve and the signals it sends.
- Show compassion – Obviously this is something we should be doing all the time, but being nice and compassionate to others can also have some personal benefits, especially for this important nerve. Not only can showing compassion can stimulate the vagus nerve, by way of the brain, but also those with an active and stimulated vagus nerve are more likely to be altruistic and compassionate people––it’s a cycle that will leave you feeling great about yourself and others!
- Practice yoga – A regular yoga practice can stimulate your vagus nerve and enhance the output of your parasympathetic system, which can lead to boosted mood, energy and cardiac function.
If you’re feeling overloaded or overly frazzled, take note and incorporate as many of the practices above. Your body will thank you in many ways if you take care of it!