3 Easy Ways to Support Your Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve (the 10th cranial nerve), that runs from the base of the skull (the brainstem), down to many organs in the body. Its name ‘vagus’ means to wander, as this nerve travels throughout the body, influencing many tissues and organs throughout (like the lungs, the heart, and organs within the abdomen).
It’s a big part of our autonomic nervous system. More specifically, it’s a major player in our parasympathetic nervous system (which you might know as our rest-and-digest state) and controls things like digestion, immune responses, blood pressure, heart rate, and even plays roles in our mood, saliva production, and more.
The vagus nerve is often referred to as the ‘superhighway’ between the brain and the gut (AKA the gut-brain-axis), helping the brain and the gut to be in constant communication with each other. Needless to say, the brain and gut can impact the functioning of each other, thanks to the vagus nerve.
When the vagus nerve isn’t functioning optimally, we can see issues or symptoms arise in any of the organs or systems the vagus nerve has influence over — the digestive system included!
In this article, we’re going to cover ways to improve your vagal tone (the functioning of this nerve), for better digestive function and gut health:
How to Improve your Vagal Tone
1. Deep Belly Breathing
Breathwork — deep breathing using your diaphragm — is a great way to stimulate the vagus nerve, and improve your vagal tone. Our diaphragm (the largest one), is located right under the lungs. It’s a muscle that separates our chest (the thoracic cavity), from our abdomen. Breathwork that activated your diaphragm (versus breathing high into your chest), can activate the vagus nerve, improving its tone. When practicing diaphragmatic breathing, focus more on activating the diaphragm, and breathing into your belly, versus breathing shallowly into your chest. You can check out this video if you need some help with this!
2. Humming, gargling, laughing, singing — whatever your preference!
These actions, humming, gargling, laughing and singing, all activate the pallet at the back of your throat. The vagus nerve is actually connected to muscles in this area, and even our vocal chords (it really does infiltrate itself throughout our whole body). Using these practices as a tool on a daily basis can help to improve vagal tone. I recommend habit stacking if possible, to make the practice stick! I love to recommend to my clients to layer on 1-2 minutes of gargling, after brushing their teeth in the morning and at night.
3. Cold Water Therapy (Cold Showers)
Cold water therapy has a ton of benefits for our immune function, metabolic function, the potential to reduce pain and inflammation, and more. Another potential benefit of cold water therapy is its ability to improve vagal tone! When we expose ourselves to cold water, our vagus nerve can become stimulated to help bring our breathing and heart rate down. My tip for you here: work up to 30-60 seconds at the end of each shower, to stand under cool (ultimately cold) water. Breathwork can be helpful for tolerating the cold water, which is a double whammy for your vagus nerve!
As always, managing stress is another really great way to support the health and functioning of your vagus nerve. Stress management, in addition to the tools shared in this articled (taken action on, on a daily basis), can ultimately improve your vagal tone, which can then improve your digestive function and gut health.
To learn more about how to support good gut health through nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation, check out my “Beginners Guide to Gut Healing”