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Yoga Medicine for the Vagus Nerve

December 06, 2021 3 min read

Yoga for the Vagus Nerve | Mukha Yoga

What is the vagus nerve and why does it matter in yoga?

The feeling I get when I practice yoga is something I’ve always struggled to put into words. It connects my body and my mind in a way that makes me feel present, aware and at ease. While there are multiple elements at play on the mat, one of the key factors facilitating this feeling is the vagus nerve.

Where is the vagus nerve and what does it do?

The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve in the body. It extends through the stomach, the diaphragm, the heart, the lungs, the throat, the inner ear and the facial muscles. It relays information between the brain, the nervous system, the respiratory and the digestive systems, directly influencing functioning in all of these areas.

What happens when the vagus nerve is stimulated?

The nervous system is made up of two complimentary but opposing forces - thesympathetic and theparasympatheticnervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body's “fight or flight” response, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with “rest and digest. The two systems alternate, each playing equally important roles in our daily lives. What’s essential is that both are able to function at the appropriate time. Being able to shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic ensures that we don’t stay on high alert all the time, and can relax and de-stress appropriately. Being able to shift from parasympathetic to sympathetic means quickly being able to shift from a state of relaxation and spring into action when required.

When stimulated, the vagus nerve has an inhibitory effect on the parasympathetic (fight or flight) system, therefore stimulating rest. The vagus nerve can decrease stress and anxiety, triggering a measurable sense of calm known as the “relaxation response”.

Why is the vagus nerve important in yoga?

Rest and relaxation are two of the primary goals in restorative and yin yoga practices. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, these forms of yoga practice can have a deeper impact on the practitioner, in both the body and the mind. Being able to stimulate the vagus nerve can also lead to a greater sense of ease when practicing meditation.

Yoga Practices to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

Conscious, mindful breathing - Slow deep breaths can help to trigger relaxation. To stimulate the vagus nerve through breathwork, pay particular attention to your exhales. Becoming aware of the length and depth of your breath, particularly on it’s way out, since it signals to your body that you are safe, and allows you to fall deeper into a state of calm.

Release tension in the neck - Your vagus nerve passes through the lungs, and is therefore impacted by the large muscle groups surrounding the neck. Yoga is a great way to release tension in the neck and throat to facilitate relaxation (Read 3 Poses to Lengthen the Neck). You can even practice self-massage in this area, focusing on tight spots around your neck, shoulders, jaw, forehead and facial muscles. Try using massage balls for hard-to-reach spots.

Yoga nidra - Often referred to as “bedtime yoga”, yoga nidra is the ultimate relaxation practice, with the primary goal being to prepare the mind and body for sleep. Through this practice, whether guided or self-led, you can take your awareness on a journey through the physical body. This type of practice can stimulate the vagus nerve and lower perceptions of emotional and physical stress.

Yoga to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve | Mukha Yoga

Victoria Maybee l Mukha Yoga

By Victoria Maybee; All Rights Reserved @2021

Victoria Maybee l Mukha YogaBy Victoria Maybee; All Rights Reserved @2021