Tiffany Wood Yoga

Meet Your Vagus Nerve

Why do you feel physically and psychologically better after a yoga practice? 

Meet your Vagus Nerve, the body’s main parasympathetic (rest and repair) system!

What does the Vagus Nerve do? As the primary pathway between the brain and the internal organs vast neural network, when the vagus nerve is toned and in good function it can:

  • Help you more quickly recover from life’s stressors by dampening the fight or flight activation.
  • Inhibit inflammation that keep rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain and other autoimmune disorders in check.
  • Decrease depression & anxiety, strengthen digestion, regulate the heart rate, and lower blood pressure.

Where is the vagus nerve?

The word vagus means “wanderer,” because it wanders all over the body to various important organs. This system of sensory and motor neurons is the superconductor communicating with:

The brain, ears, heart, lungs, tongue, esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter and female fertility organs!

How do asana, breathing, and chanting practices stimulate your vagus nerve—in a good way?

Based on the pathway of the vagus nerve, it may be easy to see that the breath and yoga postures easily correlate to increasing positive tone of the vagus nerve.

 The number one key to activating the vagus nerve is to mindfully engage the breath. Breath practice is widely embraced by most yogis! Yoga asana coupled with the breath stimulate electrical and mechanical activities throughout the various organs within the body.

How Specific Asana effect the Vagus Nerve~

Inversions like downward facing dog, supported bridge, legs up the wall or headstand where the head is below the heart help to reduce the effects of stress by toning the blood pressure. Please note, however, that headstand is to be embraced over time and hopefully with the guidance of an experience teacher~

 Backbends will help to alleviate sluggishness, dullness, and apathy by opening the flow of energy to the lungs and the heart. Gentle backbends can have huge impacts on your overall health; never underestimate the power of adding a backbend to Tadasana or your standing poses!

Flow sequences have many benefits. In order to truly use a flow sequence to tone the vagus nerve, focus on a sequence that will have a quieting effect on the nervous system. Slowing the flow can encourage a shift from Fight or Flight mode to Rest and Digest mode, a hallmark of an optimally functioning vagus nerve.

Here are some Movement Cues to use in your teaching practice or personal practice that will help activate the vagus nerve and create parasympathetic nervous system dominance:

  • Lengthen your exhalations and allow them to become slower, fuller and longer
  • Let the root of your tongue rest
  • Take a long “Mmmmmm” and hum a little bit
  • Release your jaw and soften the muscles at the base of your neck
  • Look left and right with your eyes to release tension in your head
  • Gently slide your jaw away from your ears

 

 

Sources:

  • Til Luchau, “Working with the Vagus Nerve,” Massage & Bodywork (2017) 94-95
  • Vagus Nerve Anatomy, emedicine.medscape.com/article/1875813-overview