Vagus nerve vector illustration. Labeled anatomical structure and location.

The vagus nerve is a long wandering nerve that exits from the brain and travels down through the digestive organs. The nerve is especially important to nervous system regulation. The vagus nerve regulates the internal organ functions like heart rate, respiration, and digestion. It also controls the reflex actions of gagging, swallowing, coughing, and vomiting.

The communication between the brain and the central nervous system is modulated by the vagus nerve. In fact, the vagus nerve helps activate the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. This system is the opposite of the  sympathetic, or “fight or flight” part of the nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is essential to healthy digestion, sleep and relaxation.

Here are 4 activities you can do at home, while quarantined!

1. BREATHING exercises with a long exhale:

Try starting with a 3:3:6 ration. Breath in for a count of 3, hold your breath for a count of 3, then exhale slowly for a count of six. The entire process should be slow and relaxed. You can work up to larger number if that is comfortable and relaxing.

If this is feeling good try 3:3:6:3 breathing. this would require you to hold you breath fro another 3 seconds after the inhale. Remember only do this if the whole process is relaxing.

Try to practice this for 1-5 minutes and see how relaxed you feel afterwards. This technique can aid in preparing for bed or when digesting a meal.

2. Meditation

Try using a simple technique to begin. Read our pearlier post on how to start a meditation practice by CLICKING HERE.

There are many simple techniques for beginning meditation. My favorite is called insight meditation.

To use this technique simply find a comfortably seated position, begin to breath smoothly and calm. Then allow your mind to examine your body slow from head to toe and then back up to your head. Whenever your mind wanders off (it will!) just return to where you left off and continue.

If you’re new to meditating try starting with 5-10 minutes 2x per day.

3.Gargling exercise

This technique activates the brain stem and improves the vagus nerve output to the heart and digestive organs. It requires the coordination of the vagus and the glossopharyngeal nerves.

This specific technique can be helpful for people who snore, have sleep apnea, and for issues involving the digestive organs such as IBS, acid reflux, or abdominal pain.

Simply practice by gargling for a short period of time like 15-30 seconds. Make sure to stay calm and remember too breath.

You can make the procedure more fun and more complicated for your brain by humming scales or changing the pitch of your gargling throughout the time.

By favoring the water bitter you can add additional activation of the nerve and improve the digestive function of your organs. Angustura bitter or citrus bitter work great. Just a few drops!

Try to practice 2-4 x per day.

4. Diving Reflex activation

The mammalian diving reflex is an ancient part of our nervous system that evolved when we spent more time in the oceans.

When our faces are submerged in cold water receptors are activated within the nasal and sinus cavities and on the face. Information that the face has encountered cold water is transmitted to the brain and the autonomic nervous system through the vagal nerve.

This results in a number of fascinating changes in our bodies:

  • Closure of the airway.

  • Reduction in our heart rate.

  • Capillaries in the extremities restrict.

  • Blood flow is directed towards the vital organs, which include the heart, lungs, and brain.

All of these changes support the function of the vagus nerve.

This reflex can be activated by simply holding your breath and splashing cold water on your face. Or by apply a cold wet washcloth to you face or by submerging your face in cold water.