While stress seemingly weaves its way through our lives at every corner we turn, our bodies come with a built-in system that can quickly invoke the power of calm. The vagus nerve is an incredible internal network of nerves that can be called upon to work its magic - if only we know how.
In this post, we’ll venture through the body to locate the vagus nerve, discuss how it affects the body, and explore various ways to activate it in times of stress or when your spirit need extra peace.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is a network of nerve fibers traveling from the brain, through the neck, and into the abdomen. In Latin, “vagus” means “wandering,” which embodies the very nature of these nerves. This network is part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls all “unconscious” or automatic bodily functions, like breathing, heart rate, and digestion.
Vagus Nerve Function
As part of the autonomic nervous system, the vagus nerve is responsible for triggering the parasympathetic response, or “rest + digest.”
When activated, the vagus nerve signals to the brain that all is well and prompts the body to move out of the sympathetic state or stress response. The vagus nerve calms the body by regulating:
- Respiratory rate
- Heart rate
- Vasomotor activity (the dilation and constriction of blood vessels)
- Certain reflexes
These spindly fibers encourage a relaxing ripple effect throughout the body and mind by lowering blood pressure and slowing the heart rate after a stressful situation.
Vagus nerve health is measured by the rate at which the body can enter the parasympathetic state after experiencing a stressful situation. This measurement, called “vagal tone, " is analyzed through the body’s ability to self-regulate cardiovascular activity. If the body can quickly move from a “stressed” heart rate to a stable heart rate, this means the body is resilient to stress and has a healthy or high vagal tone.
An inspiring discovery revealed a harmonious connection exists between high vagal tone, uplifting emotions, and sound holistic health.
Activating the Vagus Nerve
Learning how to activate the vagus nerve can be a powerful tool for managing stress. It can condition the body to become more adaptive to stressful situations, which can encourage a stronger foundation for long-term holistic health. Below are some of our favorite ways we activate the vagus nerve for balanced, peaceful vibes.
Throughout the body, there are pressure points that are known to activate the vagus nerve. Numerous cultures, like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, have mapped out these points and use them to encourage harmonious energy flow throughout the body.
For instance, pressure points on the hands, feet, and face are thought to be connected to the vagus nerve via meridians or channels. Massaging these points activates the vagus nerve, soothes the system, and promotes the release of tension.
Easy ways to soothe the vagus nerve through massage include:
- Massaging your own pressure points
- Getting a facial
- Getting a foot, hand, or body massage
- Using a gua sha tool
Slow, deep, intentional breathing for an extended period stimulates the vagus nerve fibers in the airway, activating the parasympathetic (rest + digest) nervous system. Practicing deep breathing through meditation or simple rituals is a great way to learn how to remain centered during a stressful event. This restorative conditioning will improve vagal tone health and build natural resilience leaving you more time to shine.
Sensuality is a gift that we sometimes take for granted. When we employ our senses, we slow down. When we slow down, our breath follows, and we enter the present. Taking time to notice, smell, hear, and touch the things around us brings about a natural state of calm and can stimulate the vagus nerve.
Aromatherapy is also a wonderful way to activate the vagus nerve through smell. Certain essential oils, like lavender, chamomile, frankincense, and sandalwood, have been known to elicit a calming effect, triggering the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system and letting us know we’re in a safe space.
We love to use the Make & Mary Calm Aromatherapy Inhaler to invoke the power of calm throughout the day. Its relaxing fragrance of lavender, frankincense, and cedarwood gently guides us into the present and melts away tension, leaving stress in the past.
The vagus nerve can be used as a tool to nudge the body into a parasympathetic state, creating a higher resilience to stress. If you spend a small amount of time practicing vagal stimulation, you may find your soul shining brighter than ever with an unwavering balance.
If you’re feeling called to recenter and revitalize, we encourage you to join us for our Fall Equinox retreat: Release to Regenerate Yourself, Wise Woman Spirit, where we’ll be offering a healing soundbath experience, yoga movement & breathwork, morning meditations, and more to soothe the vagus nerve and encourage inner peace.
As always, we welcome you to reach out with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.