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5 easy ways to keep your body in balance

5 exercises to stimulate your Vagus Nerve!

What is The Vagus nerve?! A lot of attention has been placed on this structure, and its role in regulating our body’s nervous system, and rightfully so!  The Vagus Nerve is our 10th cranial nerve, and is actually a set of nerves that traverse down into our abdomen, and is usually discussed or written as if it was only one nerve!  The Vagus Nerve has two components known as the dorsal and ventral vagus, each controlling various parts of our nervous system.  

From the way we self regulate, react, and engage with others in our environment, to regulating our heart rate, blood pressure, and digestive tract, this nerve is basically responsible for the internal balancing act of our body.  It lets our brain sense when we are hungry or full, as well as, initiate our gag reflex when needed. It supplies motor control to various muscles of the face and throat, and contributes to how we taste things, too! 

All in all, this nerve is a vital part of our overall wellbeing, so let’s dive in a bit more, and learn at least 5 ways to help improve the health of our Vagus Nerve and overall personal well being!

5 roles of The Vagus Nerve:

  1. Detects our SENSE OF SAFETY: The Vagus Nerve allows us to determine the level of threat or danger in any given situation through a process called neuroception.

  2. Regulates our HEART RATE:  The Vagus Nerve applies the “brakes” to our racing heart rate during stressful, dangerous, and/or triggering situations.

  3. Regulates our AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM: By regulating our heart rate, the autonomic nervous system disengages from entering the flight or fight state, and can recover back into the rest & digest state, ultimately making us able to react and respond in a more regulated manner.

  4. Sense of SAFETY & SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT: When we have a healthy tone to the Vagus Nerve we start to feel safer in social situations, and we see ourselves become more engaged and confident within the world around us.

  5. Controls our SENSE OF INTERNAL AWARENESS: The more toned our Vagus Nerve is will determine how clued in we are to our internal signals, such as the feeling of hunger and/or the feeling of being full, through a process called interoception. Another example is our ability to feel uneasy in a situation and/or noticing minor discrepancies in our normal internal rhythms such as heart rate or respiratory rate.  The more toned our Vagus Nerve, the more internal awareness, or interoception, a person will have.

5 exercise to support Vagus Nerve health:

  1. Humming/Singing/Gargling - The Vagus Nerve controls the muscles of our throat, so singing or humming a favorite song, or gargling some water in the morning is an easy way to tone up this amazing nerve!

  2. Diaphragmatic Breathing - Relaxing through the shoulders and focusing on diaphragmatic breathing is a quick way to tone up The Vagus Nerve and bring a sense of calm to our body.  Find a comfortable spot and take 5 rounds of breath: Inhale and fill the belly and lower rib cage with breath, pause very briefly, and then exhale fully while relaxing the neck and shoulders.  The exhale should take a little longer than the inhale!

  3. Exercise/Movement - Engaging in consistent exercise will help support all the healthy rhythms in our body!

  4. Cold Exposure - Dip your face in a bowl of ice water in the morning to stimulate The Vagus Nerve, or use a facial massage tool that has been chilling in the fridge! 

  5. Call a Friend - Connecting with other people is an important part in maintaining and supporting a  healthy social engagement center in our brain.

This nerve is one to appreciate and pay attention to in order to support your optimal wellbeing.  Integrating some routines to help support this system should be easy and simple! The important piece is to stick with it, and do something every single day to exercise your nervous system in a healthy and positive way!! 

Contributed by Becca Ellis, DPT, PYTc, ERYT

Co-owner Restorative Therapy Co.

Becca has been practicing as a Doctor of Physical Therapy since 2009 primarily specializing in orthopedic, post-surgical, and chronic pain management.  She integrates mindfulness and other yoga-based concepts into treatments to address all aspects of a patient’s health and wellbeing. She founded RTC in 2015 based off the idea that every patient deserves a safe, and welcoming space to get treatment during their physical therapy journey!

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