• Robyn Taaffe

Meet Your Vagus 'Relaxation' Nerve

Updated: Jul 3

“By developing an understanding of the workings of your vagus nerve, you may find it possible to work with your nervous system rather than feel trapped when it works against you.” — Dr. Arielle Schwartz, Clinical Psychologist

The vagus nerve is a Huge nerve that runs the whole way through your body. A key player in your parasympathetic nervous system (also known as rest and digest mode), it looks over crucial body functions like your mood, immune system, digestion and heart rate.

It's also the biggest connection between your organs and brain always sending signals about how they're getting on. Some studies show that the vagus nerve is promising in helping with depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTDS), IBS and IBD as part of a treatment plan. Vagus means 'wandering' in Latin which is why the Nerve is also known as 'The Wanderer'. It wanders throughout your body and organs.

'The vagus nerve is one of the most important parts of your mind-body connection. It is central in the communication between the two. It allows your mind to influence your body, and your body to influence your mind'.

Vagal Tone

What you really need to pay special attention to is the "tone" of your vagus nerve. Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.

Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress. This basically means that the more time you spend relaxing, the easier it will be for you to respond to stressful situations.

Your vagal tone can be measured by tracking certain biological processes such as your heart rate, your breathing rate, and your heart rate variability (HRV).

If your vagal tone is low, you can increase it by stimulating your vagus nerve. This will allow you to more effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of stress.

“The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, all those things that happen when we are relaxed.” — Dr. Mladen Golubic, MD, Medical Director of the Cleveland Clinic

Tools to increase Vagal tone and Relaxation

Loving Kindness Meditation also know as Metta , Helps generate positive feels towards others which in turn can increase vagal tone. Check out this guided loving kindness meditation here.

Yoga - The lovely Yoga with Maura and Conscious Corner hold regular yoga classes.

Alternatively, Yoga with Adrienne has a Youtube channel with 100's of free videos.

Mindful walking - Get outdoors and make a conscious effort to be present. Focus on your feet hitting the ground and your surroundings. Being present will reduce your minds activity and create relaxation.

Singing, Humming or Chanting: The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, humming, chanting and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve.

Deep and Slow Breathing exercise (3 minutes):

  • Set a 1 minute timer and count your how many breaths you take. Breathe normally and comfortably.

  • Now, set another one minute timer and this time, don't count but consciously make each inhale and exhale longer. Breathe deeply and into your diaphragm.

  • Finally, set another one minute timer and this time count your breaths. Just breathing normally and comfortably. There's no need to make them any longer or shorter.

Now, compare your breaths per minute in round 1 and round 3.

Ideally, your breathing rate should slow resulting in a lower number. This shows that conscious breathing for just 60 seconds can slow down your body and mind down considerably.

By stimulating the vagus nerve, you can send a message to your body that it’s time to relax and de-stress, which leads to long-term improvements in your mood and wellbeing.

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