Introducing your vagus nerve

Jun 24, 2019

Could a nerve you’ve probably never heard of be the key to boosting your mood and reducing anxiety? Say ‘hello’ to your vagus nerve.

What is it?

Vagus means ‘wandering’. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body, starting at your brain and connecting to a host of organs including your gut, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladders, kidneys, spleen and tongue.

What does it do?

Your vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you ‘rest and digest’. It helps to control body functions like your heart rate, digestion, breathing along with regulating your mood and emotions.

How fit is your vagus nerve?

Just like a muscle, when the vagus nerve is working well, it’s said to have good ‘tone’. Your heart speeds up a little when you inhale, slowing down a little when you exhale. The difference between those speeds is your HRV. A larger HRV indicates that your vagus nerve has good tone.

Tone your vagus nerve:

  • Singing
  • Laughing
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Humming
  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Listening to music you enjoy
  • Gentle to moderate exercise
  • Getting a massage
  • Eating probiotics
  • Gargling
  • Splashing your face with cold water

Practice: deep breathing

Set aside 5 minutes where you can be quiet without being disturbed.

Lie down on your back with your hands on your abdomen.

Bend your knees with your feet on the floor.

Relax your elbows on to the floor.

Close your eyes and notice your breathing without changing it on purpose.

Focus on your navel and imagine your breath is moving your hands.

Don’t push your breath to make your hands move.

Just stay relaxed and focused on your breathing as it is.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.