Can one nerve in your body be the key to better health? Yes, and you have a lot more control over that nerve than you might realize.
The vagus nerve, which starts at the brain stem and wanders through the body until it ends at the colon, is the longest nerve in the human body. It plays a critical role in regulating mood, digestion, heart rate, and respiration in addition to reflexes like coughing, sneezing, vomiting, and immune response. It also controls your ability to relax.
By learning how to activate the vagus nerve, you can send direct messages to your body to relax. It’s surprisingly simple: When you slow your breathing, especially your exhales, the vagus nerve pays attention and tells the heart rate to slow.
The ideal way to activate the vagus is to take six deep breaths in and out per minute, or take a five-second inhale, then follow it with a five-second exhale.
Activating the vagus nerve can benefit the body in a few ways, including:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Turning off the fight-or-flight response
- Helping with stress management
- Reducing depression
There are many ways to practice activating the vagus nerve, including yoga, meditation, prayer, and singing. Interestingly, the rosary prayer uses this ideal breathing rate.
When the vagus nerve is damaged, the effects can be wide-ranging. Neck injuries like whiplash can cause a patient to experience blood pressure and heart rate problems, digestion issues, anxiety, fainting, or loss of gag reflex.
The best way to repair vagus nerve damage is to practice deep, slow breathing throughout the day. Intermittent fasting can also allow your digestive system and vagus nerve to rest. If you’d like to know more about how to care for your vagus nerve, call my office to schedule a consultation.