Activating the Vagus Nerve and Why it Matters

Amisha Klawonn, PT, DPT

Surefire ways of activating the Vagus nerve

Do you know what your vagus nerve does?  

Vagus is Latin for wandering and this cranial nerve starts at the brain stem and goes down into the stomach and intestines, innervates the heart and lungs, and affects the throat, ears and tongue. .  

The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system which is considered your “rest and digest” system. Your other system is the sympathetic nervous system which is considered your “fight or flight “ system.  

Activation of this nerve keeps your immune system in check and promotes decreased anxiety and feelings of relaxation.  

Here are 5 Ways to activate your Vagus nerve:  

1. Conscious deep breathing.  

 *Taking in a deep breath through the nose, holding for 5-6 seconds, and then exhaling it out for a count of 10. Try this for 6-10 breaths and notice how you feel.  

2. Cold 

* Decreases your sympathetic (fight or flight) system, and increases your parasympathetic (rest and digest) system response. Cold exposure activates the vagus nerve. Ways to gradually increase your cold exposure: *Splash cold water on your face a few times a day shower 💦 * Take cold showers 1-3x per day 🚿 * Try a cold plunge  

3. Meditation

*There are many types of meditation available, however some types are more activating to the vagus nerve than others. Mindfulness meditation is attention to the present moment. Being aware of the what you are doing at this precise moment and bringing your breath and awareness to it as you are doing it. This means single tasking

Focusing on what you are doing at the moment and taking breaks for your mind and body. When you find yourself looking ahead to what’s coming up in your day, take a deep breath and bring yourself back to the moment. This will take practice and won’t happen overnight. 

Tip to try: Try setting a chime alarm on your phone each hour and notice what you are doing when it goes off. Bring yourself back to the moment each time.  

4. Yoga 

*activates the vagus nerve and can assist in turning on your parasympathetic system (the rest and calm system) 😴

It’s not any kind of yoga, it’s specifically taking deeper inhales and longer exhales. 

Try restorative yoga, breath work in your yoga practice and taking time in-between moves. Breathe through the transitions, that’s part of the work. It’s not getting to the end pose, it’s HOW you get there. 🤔  

5. Laughter! 😀  

Laughing has been shown to increase stimulation of the vagus nerve 🤣  

It also has many other health benefits such as brain function, cardiovascular health and increases endorphins. ❤️ Laughing has occasionally been associated with passing out (also related to vagal nerve stimulation). Go have a great laugh today! ✅  

Tips to Try: 

Watch a funny kitten video. 🐱 Listen to a comedian. 😁 Go out with friends. 👫  

I'd love to hear what you do and how it works for you!  

Want personalized help with your yoga and meditation routine?  

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About the Author

Amisha Klawonn is a Board Certified Physical Therapist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and a Fellow in the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. She is professionally trained in yoga and Pilates and Barre. She is an avid lover of movement and the teaching others the way to experience body wisdom.