What is the Vagus Nerve and how does it work?

Aug 15, 2022 | Blog

You may have noticed all the talk recently about the Vagus Nerve. So what is it, how does it work and why is it so important when it comes to breathing?

The Vagus Nerve arises in the brain and and travels extensively throughout the body. Essentially it is responsible for nerve impulses to all the major organs in the body. Therefore it supplies the respiratory system which is of course concerned with breathing!

We now know that the Vagus Nerve influences not only physical health but mental health and also cognition.

At a rudimentary level, the tone of the Vagus Nerve is a reflection of the state of the autonomic nervous system. This system of course comprises the Sympathetic response (fight or flight) and the Parasympathetic response (rest and digest). Balance of these two responses is essential for health and vitality.

Modern living is often characterized by prolonged periods of stress and this leads to autonomic imbalance which in turn increases the risk of inflammation and disease in the body. Neuroscience has already established a clear connection between the nervous system and the immune system. Read more about this here.

Aside from all the lifestyle advice we are urged to follow, is there something simple we can do to help to balance the autonomic nervous system?

Yes! It’s as simple as paying attention to how we breathe and modifying this with techniques which assist in improving Vagal Tone.

Breathing exercises which are designed to increase CO2 have a positive impact on the Vagus Nerve. This is due to the direct effect of the gas on the nuclei of the Vagus Nerve.

Light Breathing Exercises assist in decreasing the body’s sensitivity to CO2 thereby increasing tolerance.

Similarly, slow breathing, especially at a rate of 6 breaths per minute, with prolonged exhalation help decrease sensitivity to CO2 and thereby stimulates the Vagus Nerve.

Including these exercises in your daily routine can make a huge difference to your health!

For more about how well this works, check out the health improvements shared in the testimonials of some of my clients here.