Vagus Nerve

The Function of the VN

Vagus Nerve (VN) is the longest cranial nerve in your body. One of ten paired cranial nerves it runs from the stem of your brain right down to your gut. It is one of the most essential parts of the body – most people don’t know the importance of the VN to our well-being until now.

The word “vagus” literally translates to “wanderer” in Latin – vagrant or vagabond.  The VN lives up to its name as the longest and most complex of all the cranial nerves:

Starting at the stem of the brain, behind the ears, it meanders down the sides of the neck, through the chest, and eventually ends in the abdomen linking the brain to the heart, lungs, throat and gut.

The VN controls important motor functions, but also sensory functions. It is also the driving force behind the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). An excerpt from an article in the Harvard Medical School explains the function of the PNS well:

The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake. It promotes the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.

 

 

Activation of the VN

There are a number of ways that we can induce the calming effect of the VN, this is called Vagal Tone.

Stimulating the Vagus Nerve:

  • Breathing – Ocean – 5 through nose / 5 out mouth (no pause top / bottom)
  • Eating mindfully whilst regulating breath
  • Working task by task; not task to task
  • Cold shower – regulating breath
  • Smile with eyes and mouth
  • Sighing, chanting or toning
  • Sound resonance stimulates VN motor fibres – see Binaural Beats
  • Gag (pharyngeal) reflex / gargle or tongue scrape

Resource pages: