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Stimulate your vagus nerve for more wellbeing

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

This week I invite you to delve into your anatomy and get to know the vagus nerve, which has played a few tricks on me in the past... ('vasovagal episode', anyone?) 😮‍💨

Are you familiar with the vagus nerve? Did you know that it plays an extremely important role in our health and well-being?

It is the longest nerve in the body. It starts at the base of the brain and runs through the body to the colon. Its innumerable branches make it a sprawling nerve that passes through the heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. It is like a transmission cable: 80% of the information transmitted between the brain and our organs passes through the vagus nerve.

This nerve occupies a central position: the vagus nerve is an integral part of the autonomic nervous system. This system, which is disconnected from our will, controls breathing, heart rate and hormone secretions all by itself. This nerve is linked to the nervous control centres and our memory. It is perceived as the transmission path for orders sent by the nervous network responsible for calming the body (the parasympathetic system). In fact, when the vagus nerve is in good working order, it ensures a steady heartbeat and a feeling of relaxation, leaving us feeling relaxed and calm 🧘🏼‍♀️

Emotions, stress: the close link with the vagus nerve

When we are calm and serene, we feel an inner peace: the activity of the vagus nerve is at its peak. But when we are stressed, anxious or upset, vagus nerve activity drops sharply. With the complementary action of the sympathetic system, the heart rate accelerates.

One of the major factors that disrupts this nerve is STRESS: stress inhibits the activity of the vagus nerve, preventing it from exerting its anti-inflammatory action.

Normally, once the stressful episode has passed, the vagus nerve goes back into action to ensure the body and mind recover. However, in cases of depression, anxiety or chronic stress, vagal activity collapses and cannot be fully reactivated 😴

Strengthening your vagus nerve to combat stress

With a little practice, you can stimulate your vagus nerve to combat the effects of stress. All stress-relieving methods have the potential to benefit vagus nerve activity.

One example is the technique of cardiac coherence. The aim is to increase the variability of the heartbeat to facilitate vagal tone. Yoga, pilates, mindfulness meditation, sophrology, etc. are all practices that stimulate this nerve to combat stress ✋🏼

Find out if your vagus nerve is working properly

  • You lack energy, your sleep doesn't allow you to recharge your batteries

  • You have trouble digesting, you suffer from bloating or gastric discomfort

  • You feel hungry all the time, you have difficulty feeling full

  • Your heart rate is high

  • After a stressful episode, you take a long time to breathe calmly again

  • You're often depressed

It's important to keep your vagus nerve healthy, i.e. toned, in order to prepare your body for 'danger' in a stressful situation. A supple vagus nerve (like a rubber band that has the ability to stretch, but relaxes when the pressure is released) allows us to be more resilient in the face of stress: we are then able to let go more quickly, relax and move on once the stressful episode is behind us, rather than remaining stuck in "constant alert" mode.

Exercises to stimulate your vagus nerve and relieve stress

Stress is so normalised in our culture that it can easily build up over time and go unnoticed. Personally, having lived in a constant state of stress for a very long time, I ended up becoming addicted to my own stress (yup!): I started to seek out stressful situations, crises or emotionally charged situations to feel 'alive'.

The good news is that you can release the stress hormones accumulated in your body through somatic exercises. Somatic exercises provoke an enormous emotional release that eliminates the stress and survival energy accumulated in your body.

You'll feel much lighter and more relaxed physically and emotionally. Suddenly you won't be in emergency mode, but will feel grounded and calm inside.

So this week I've prepared a short flow specially dedicated to the health of your vagus nerve. I hope it does you as much good as it did me!


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