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Stimulating the Vagus Nerve for Relaxation and Joy

By Emily Lindholm

Our nervous system is a complex system that in recent years has been increasingly explored by the general public.  Increased stress levels due to work and other life demands have led people to search for ways of finding inner peace and relaxation.  Perhaps it's time that everyone learns about a specific nerve in the body, the vagus nerve.

What is the vagus nerve? 

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and acts as the information superhighway that connects multiple organs to the brain.  This includes the intestines, stomach, heart, and lungs, to name a few.  

The vagus nerve helps to regulate the parasympathetic nervous system.  When the vagus nerve is healthy and stimulated, it can promote feelings of relaxation, improved digestion, and higher levels of intuition.   

The vagus nerve has a tone, called the vagal tone.  Vagal tone can be measured by measuring the person's heart rate variability.  

If the vagal tone is low, the person may experience lower levels of energy and possibly depression.  By stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing its tone, a person may experience feelings of relaxation and joy, even after stressful situations.  A higher vagal tone gives us the ability to bounce back from stress much quicker.  

Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

How can we stimulate the vagus nerve and increase our vagal tone?  There are many ways to do this, including exposure to cold, singing, meditation, exercise, and body work.  

Exposure to Cold

Exposure to cold is a quick way to stimulate the vagus nerve.  Cold showers in the morning are great for this purpose.  Many people often resist the idea of a cold shower, but I promise the benefits pay off!  Start off with a warm shower, and then at the end, turn it to cold for 10 seconds.  You can increase the number of seconds each time, but it is possible to feel the benefits even after just those initial 10 seconds!


This could be combined with the cold shower if you need it to be!  Singing, as well as humming and chanting, can stimulate the area of the vagus nerve connected to your vocal cords.  This could be the reason why people feel good after they sing!  Sing, hum, or chant any time of the day.  


Meditation, or anything that involves deep breathing, will help tone the vagus nerve.  Attend a yoga class, find a guided meditation online, or just sit and be with your thoughts for 10-15 minutes a day.  


We all know the many benefits of exercise.  When we move our bodies, part of the reason for the endorphin rush we get afterwards is from our vagus nerve being stimulated.  Exercise is more than about staying in shape.  It's about feeling good!  To stay consistent with exercise, find ways that you enjoy working out.  Find a rock climbing gym, go for a walk with some good music, or check out some new classes in your area.  Explore, and discover what keeps you coming back.  


Bodywork, such as massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic work, is excellent for resetting our systems and stimulating the vagus nerve.  I recommend finding a professional who is knowledgeable about the nervous system, and ask them about the vagus nerve.  Any time you adjust the alignment of your body, your vagal tone will increase.  

To learn more about health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in West Toledo, Ohio

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