Do you know what combines washing with cold water, gentle belly breathing, and smiling? At first glance, these activities have nothing to do with each other. However, they all have a beneficial effect on the longest nerve in the human body: the Vagus nerve. And that would be the end of the story if this nerve does not have an exceptional role in the body, and it is wise to get to know it in more detail because our good/bad health depends on its tone in many cases.
The vagus nerve has relatively recently come to the forefront of various research projects, and an increasing number of researchers are focusing on it.
However, before we dive into the reasons why this nerve has captured the attention of scientists, let’s get to know it a little better. Below, you can find out more about it and how to stimulate it!
What’s The Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is part of the autonomic nervous system. It is the longest and most complex cranial nerve (head nerve). The name comes from the Latin word vagus, which means “wandering,” which describes its function – it connects the brain to major systems in the body and maintains mind-body communication. It begins in the brain stem and descends through the neck, larynx, esophagus, tongue, ears, lungs, heart, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and intestines before ending in the groin.
The Function Of The Vagus Nerve
Understanding the importance of the vagus nerve on physical and emotional health becomes much clearer when we examine its functions. It performs as much as 75% of the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system, which synchronizes the digestive and rest systems. Compared to other nerves of the head, the vagus differs in that it connects a large number of internal organs to the central nervous system.
And all is well as long as the vagus “works” well. Its proper functioning has a positive effect on the internal organs with which it is connected (which is almost all of them), and vagus nerve damage symptoms can be unpleasant. A few examples of the positive effects it has on the body include:
- the effect on the brain is manifested through the reduction of excessive brain activity and indirectly, if any, depression and anxiety;
- on the tongue – improves the sense of taste, saliva production, regulation of swallowing and speech;
- intestines – improves digestion and secretion of juices;
- heart – regulates blood pressure and heart rate;
- on the pancreas – it balances the sugar level;
- to the gallbladder – releases a sufficient amount of bile;
- on the spleen – reduces inflammation in the body;
- to the kidneys: releases sodium and increases blood flow;
- on the reproductive organs – affects fertility and orgasm in women because it connects the cervix, uterus, and vagina.
The most common symptoms of the disorder are:
- difficulty speaking, hoarseness, or loss of voice;
- difficulty swallowing;
- panic attacks and anxiety;
- lack of concentration and clarity in the head;
- ear pain;
- high or low blood pressure;
- lack of stomach acid;
- bloating or abdominal pain;
- nausea or vomiting;
- chronic inflammation;
- kidney dysfunction;
- muscle spasms – (usually muscle spasms are associated with a lack of magnesium or potassium in the body, however, damage to the vagus nerve can also be the cause);
- frequent urge to empty the bowels even though they have already been emptied…
Stimulation Of The Vagus Nerve
A promising medical treatment involving the surgical implantation of a device that stimulates the vagus nerve (of course, the one that has lost its tone, so the organs receive chaotic information) has been hotly debated and is currently only used to treat epilepsy. The possibility of using this method of stimulation for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease is being investigated.
However, the mentioned procedure is demanding, and one of the natural ways to stimulate the vagus nerve can be used instead. What is wanted is to stimulate the abdominal vagal plexus – also known as the social nervous system. It has a subtle inhibitory effect on the sympathetic nervous system, which protects us with a fight-or-flight response. The energy generated in this way can be used through physical movements or walking.
How To Naturally Stimulate The Vagus Nerve
Conscious belly breathing
Breathing is one of the fastest ways to affect the nervous system. To achieve this, it is necessary to breathe in a certain way. The first condition is belly breathing. Stimulation of the vagus nerve by breathing begins when the breath slows down to five to seven breaths per minute. If you are familiar with yoga breathing techniques, it is recommended that you use the so-called hold your breath.
Washing with cold water
The simplest way to stimulate the vagus nerve is to splash your face with cold water from the lips to the roots of the scalp. In this way, the diving reflex is stimulated, which relaxes the body, slows the heartbeat, and increases blood flow to the brain. Immersing the tongue in liquid also stimulates the diving reflex.
Soft smile (half smile)
A half-smile is the simplest way to instantly change your mood and achieve an altered state of calmness and serenity. By relaxing the facial muscles and smiling gently, the vagal tone can be strengthened. Smiling should be accompanied by relaxation of the jaw and the entire face to maximize the effect of this exercise. This helps engage the “social nervous system,” which is the most developed branch of the vagus nerve.
There is no universal advice that will have the same effect on everyone. It is necessary to research and experiment with what individually gives the best effect, to remain persistent in what is chosen, and to apply it as long as it helps.
The end of this story about the vagus nerve opens the door to new stories that will explain from a different angle and with even more detail the enormous influence and importance that this nerve has on our physical, mental, and emotional health. Of course, there is also an obligation to pay special attention to it because it can help prevent (and, if necessary, improve) a large number of disorders.