Image of a woman's vagus nerve anatomy in a black and blue gradient background

Simple Vagus Nerve Exercises to Calm the Mind (Anyone Can Do This)

This article was written by Chris Marshall

Information regarding the health benefits of regular exercise is well-documented throughout the scientific literature. As part of your daily exercise routine, you might go for a run, cycle, or head to the gym for some resistance training.

Better mental health, more specifically a reduction in stress levels, is just one of the many well-known benefits of doing this consistently. What's less known is that there are other ways to reduce your stress levels, like daily vagus nerve exercises. 

There are two main parts of your nervous system which act in different ways following a stressful stimulus. Your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) governs your more well-known ‘fight or flight’ response, whilst your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is your ‘rest and digest’ part of which your vagus nerve is part of. 

As scientists continue to explore your PNS, research is increasingly showing that daily vagus nerve exercise can create significant changes in your nervous system function and stress levels.

 

What Is The Vagus Nerve?

 

The vagus nerve is 1 of 12 cranial nerves that connects your brain to your body, beginning at your brainstem and extending down to your abdomen. It forms a critical part of your parasympathetic nervous system, playing a leading role in many vital bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion.

When you eat food, your vagus nerve provides the signals that tell your stomach to start the digestive process. During times of stress, your vagus nerve helps to regulate your heart rate and blood pressure. Research has also suggested that the vagus nerve may help to reduce inflammation, a key risk factor in chronic disease.

In recent years, research looking into the vagus nerve has suggested that it plays a key role in social and emotional processing, impacting your state of relaxation. Factors you associate with a state of calmness such as breathing, meditation, and music elicit changes in your brain activity through the vagus nerve. 

When stimulated, the vagus nerve helps to calm your physiological stress response, improving your mental well being and health. Performing vagus nerve daily exercise can provide direct stimulation when done correctly. 

 

Benefits Of Vagus Nerve Stimulation

 

Stimulating your vagus nerve can provide many health benefits when performed regularly. We’ve summarized the main benefits of daily vagus nerve exercise below.

 

Stress And Anxiety

 

Your vagus nerve can be seen as an informational bridge connecting your brain to your organs. It runs in both directions, signaling your brain in regards to organ function and sending data from the brain to modulate organ function. This signaling has wide-ranging effects on your heart rate, breathing, and other automatic processes such as swallowing and sneezing which make up your PNS.

Stimulating your PNS via vagus nerve stimulation can relax your muscles, slow your heart rate, and reduce your breathing rate. These physiological changes seen when performing vagus nerve exercises can help your body to enter a state of calm and relaxation by forming a positive feedback loop to help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Research looking into electrical vagus stimulation has shown positive effects on chronic conditions such as depression and epilepsy. Vagus nerve exercises provide an alternative stimulation method that require no equipment and can be performed as needed.

 

Digestion

 

Your gut-brain axis is a communication network linking your central nervous system to your gastrointestinal tract. Once you ingest food, your stomach sends signals to your brain to tell it when you are full or hungry. 

The vagus nerve is a key component of your gut-brain axis. Receptors in your stomach wall use signals to inform your brain of how full your stomach is and when digestive processes need to take place. Once these signals are activated, your vagus nerve delivers these signals to your brain. 

Once processed, your brain then signals the smooth muscle in your gastrointestinal tract to modulate muscle movement and start the digestive process.

 

 

Heart Health

 

The link between your vagus nerve and heart rate variability is well-established throughout research, which includes the regulation of your heartbeat. Because your vagus nerve innervates parts of your heart, changes in vagus nerve stimulation will therefore influence heart health.

Stimulating your vagus nerve via exercise and electricity can help to regulate your heartbeat, also known as vagal tone. Research looking into the benefits of daily vagus nerve exercises has shown reductions in heart rate and blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension.

When combined with a healthy lifestyle, this can help to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of chronic cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease.

 

Inflammation

 

When a foreign pathogen invades your body, your immune system responds by producing cytokines and other immune cells to reduce inflammation and prevent the spread of infection. Following this release, your vagus nerve signals your brain to direct resources toward the site of infection. Once the infection has been dealt with, your vagus nerve signals your body to return back to a state of homeostasis, or balance. 

Because of this, the vagus nerve plays a key role in the immune response and intensity of inflammation in the body. Regular vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to reduce the symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease by reducing inflammation and pain.

 

How Often Should I Do Vagus Nerve Exercises?

 

As we navigate life, its almost impossible to avoid stress. It can come at any time of the day and be acute or chronic depending on the situation. When it comes to health and well-being, the way you react to the stressor is what determines your physiological state following it.

With this, vagus nerve stimulation exercises can be done as needed during times of stress or following stressful situations as a way to promote a state of relaxation and clam. Vagus nerve daily exercises can also be done as part of your daily health routine to promote optimal health.  The correct frequency depends on the individual.

 

Daily Vagus Nerve Exercises 

 

With all the benefits we’ve discussed above, let’s take a look at some of the daily vagus nerve exercises that we can perform to benefit our physical and mental health. There are many ways to stimulate our vagus nerve. The ones below are some of the most common and most popular ways.

 

Breathing Exercises

 
An image of two women doing breathing exercises.

As one of the main components involved in your parasympathetic nervous system response,  controlling your rate of breath via breathing exercises can help to stimulate your vagus nerve. This can be done via deep breathing and alternate nostril breathing. 

To perform deep breathing:

  1. Find a comfortable position away from noise at home or suitable public space. 
  2. Sit or stand with a straight spine, keeping your chest out and head facing forward.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Pause briefly then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat the same process for several minutes. 

To perform alternate nostril breathing: 

  1. Find a suitable space away from noise and movement. 
  2. Sit or stand comfortably. Ensure your spine is straight with your chest out and head facing forward.
  3. Start by putting your right thumb over your right nostril. Breath in deeply through your left nostril. 
  4. Pause briefly to hold the breath in. 
  5. Take your right thumb off your right nostril and exhale slowly through the same nostril. 
  6. Repeat the same process for several minutes, switching between both nostrils. 
 

Meditation

 
A woman meditating in front of the lake.

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Meditation is another great way to stimulate your vagus nerve, mainly due to the breathing changes that accompany it. When done correctly, it can help to lower rapid breathing, reduce your heart rate, and decrease your cortisol levels.

The key to successful meditation is being able to focus your mind and focus on deep breathing. 

How to meditate:

  1. Find a comfortable position away from noise and other people. This can be a private or public space as needed.
  2. Assume a seated position and close your eyes. Focus all of your attention on your breath or a particular word or sound. 
  3. Aim to meditate like this for at least five to ten minutes daily. If you lose focus, redirect it back to your breath or mantra and continue. 

Meditation can take many different forms. It can be performed as guided meditation with the help of a partner or using different movement patterns. 

 

Singing

 

Woman singing and playing a guitar at the same time.

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When you sing, you use the muscles in the back of your throat and vocal cords to produce different sounds. Naturally activating these muscles as you sign provides a direct way to stimulate your vagus nerve.

How to sing:

  1. Find a suitable space where you feel comfortable. This can be anywhere based on your personal preference and may be done individually or as a group. 
  2. Put on your favorite song and sing to your hearts content! 
 

Tapping

 

a woman tapping her forehead

 

Tapping involves applying repeated pressure to specific points on your body such as your forehead, temples, chin, and behind your ear. Doing this may help to manually stimulate your vagus nerve.

How to perform tapping:

  1. Find a suitable space and assume a standing or seated position. Ensure you are comfortable with no distractions whilst you perform the tapping. 
  2. Start by using your index fingers to tap on your temples. 
  3. Following this, tap on your forehead with your middle fingers. 
  4. Next, tap on your chin with your ring fingers.
  5. After this, use your pinky fingers to tap on your chest. 
  6. Tap on these points listed above for 5 to 10 minutes each day or when you feel it is needed. 
 

Yoga

 

Yoga has several well-proven benefits on your mental and physical health. Alongside helping to improve balance and mobility, it promotes a state of relaxation and calm using gentle stretching motions and breathwork. 

By placing  large emphasis on breathwork, yoga stimulates the vagus nerve that runs through your throat and vocal cords.

How to perform yoga:

  1. Start by finding a quiet place to practice with enough room to move around in. 
  2. Make sure you practice using a suitable yoga mat or soft floor space to limit stress on your joints.
  3. Perform a suitable yoga routine that’s appropriate for your mobility and ability level. As a beginner, you’ll likely need help from an experienced professional to start off. 
  4. Ensure you focus on your breathing throughout.
  5. Repeat daily or as needed. 
 

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Physical Activity 

 

Physical activity is a great way to stimulate your vagus nerve due to the resulting effects on your body. As you move, you need to work to control your breathing and heart rate throughout. Physical activity sends your body into a highly activated state which then stimulates your vagus nerve to maintain a state of calm.

How to exercise:

  1. Pick any exercise mode desired according to your preferences and ability level. 
  2. Perform it on your own or with friends and family. 
  3. Ensure you follow the exercise instructions and make sure to enjoy it! 
 

Cold Water Immersion 

 

Exposing your body to a cold stimulation such as taking a cold shower or splashing cold water on your face is a good way to stimulate your vagus nerve. As your body adapts to the new stimulus, sympathetic activity decreases whilst parasympathetic activity increases.

How to do cold water immersion via splashing cold water:

  1. Fill a large bowl with cold water. If needed, you can add ice cubes to make it colder. 
  2. Splash your face several times without moving. 
  3. Repeat as needed. 

How to do cold water immersion via a cold shower:

  1. Set up a shower as if you would be taking a normal one.
  2. Rotate the temperature gauge so it’s at the coldest setting. If you don’t have a temperature gauge, ensure your boiler or boiler switch is off.
  3. Let the water run over your face for at least 30 seconds. 
 

Incorporating Daily Vagus Nerve Exercise Into Your Routine

 

With all these different ways to stimulate your vagus nerve at your fingertips, how do you incorporate them into your daily routine? 

Start by building up gradually, trying one of the exercises above for a few days. If this fits into your daily routine, add  another and see how you adapt. 

Alternatively, start with shorter exercises and increase the length as you become more confident. 

When performing them, find a suitable time that works for you. Whether it’s in the morning, between work, or before going to bed, choose a suitable time according to your daily schedule.

Once you’ve started to hit the ground running, set daily or weekly goals for how often you’ll do each exercise. You can change the frequency as much or as little as you want depending on how you adapt. 

Get started and let us know how you get on!

 

For more articles on vagus nerve, read:

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6027933/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9902068/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539845/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5063949/ 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9301262/ 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4017164/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10811398/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6996447/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9714105/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/
Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall

Job Title: Health and Fitness Content Writer
Location: United Kingdom
Bio: Chris Marshall is an experienced health and fitness writer with a passion to empower others to achieve better health and well-being through meaningful lifestyle changes.

With a background in nutrition and fitness, Chris aims to deliver science-based, informative content to educate others.

Alongside health and fitness writing, he also works with private online clients to build positive lifestyle habits and improve their overall well-being.

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