What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves in the body: it runs down the centre of the chest all the way from its roots in the brainstem, down the lowest viscera of the abdomen. It touches the heart and most of your major organs along the way.
In 1921, a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that if you stimulate the vagus nerve, a substance that was called Vagusstoff (or ‘vagus substance’) is released. This ‘vagusstoff’ reduces the heart rate. Later, this vagusstoff was identified as acetylcholine and was the first neurotransmitter that was ever identified. It is like a tranquiliser that you can administer to yourself, and it is as simple as taking a few deep breaths. It creates inner-calm as well as tames the inflammation reflex in the body.
There are a number of ways in which you can activate, stimulate and strengthen the effects of the vagus nerve. Below is just one method which I happen to like. Try it for a while, and see if it works for you.
Vagus Nerve Meditation
Here is a little meditation that I do every day – I hope it is as helpful to you as it was (and still is) for me!
- First, close your eyes and start to settle yourself into a comfortable position.
- Move your attention inward, and start focussing on the flow of your breath: what stands out the most? Is it a fragrance, or the sensation of the breath? Maybe the temperature change as you breathe in, and then out again? What other qualities do you notice about your breath?
- Now move to the centre of your chest, close to the heart area.
- Notice a shaft of energy that runs right down the centre of your chest. It is like a column that runs through the chest centre. This is the vagus nerve and is responsible for general wellbeing.
- As you breathe in and out, you notice that this area of your chest is radiating stronger and stronger.
- Stay here for a few breaths, growing the energy – you can visualise it, listen to its flow or feel how it tingles and pushes outwardly.
- If, at any time, your thoughts dwindle, you can just make a note to come back to those thoughts afterwards. Then bring the attention back to the flow of the breath into and out of the chest.
- After a while, when you feel relaxed, calm and a soothing sensation emanating from the whole chest, you can slowly start to bring your attention back to your whole body. Notice the sounds and sensations from outside your body.
Get ready to come back to the present moment, and count back from three to one, and open your eyes.