Image source: http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/rbm/kislak/index/ryan.html
Experts and doctors say that stimulating the vagus nerve – which originates in the brainstem and extends all the way down to the tongue, vocal chords, heart, lungs, and other internal organs – is a quick and easy way to relieve stress and anxiety.
Unless you’re a yoga master, you cannot directly and consciously stimulate your vagus nerve. However, you can indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. The best tool for this is the breath. A growing body of research shows that slow mindful breathing can tame the Sympathetic activity and balance out the nervous system by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
The PSN is most active during the exhalationphase of your breathing. (Brown & Gerbarg, 2005) Slowprolonged exaltation during deep breathing exercise produces a relative increase in your PNS Brake.
Ways to activate the vagus nerve:
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing
“The best practice is a complete breath which involves diaphragmatic breathing,” says Mladen Golubic, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine
The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic activity of the heart, lungs, diaphragm, and digestive organs. Thus, interfacing with breath means interfacing with the vagus nerve and therefore the parasympathetic nervous system.
“The best part of these techniques is that they are effective, have no side effects, and they are free,” says Dr. Golubic.
- Practicing Ujjayi breathing
Ujjayi breathing is the most understood pranayama in the neuroscientific literature.
Ujjayi breath (resistance breathing involving laryngeal contracture and partial closure of the glottis) increases intrathroracic pressure, baroreceptor stimulation, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and heart rate variability, while using breath holds with ujjayi breath increases PNS effects. Streeter (2012)
Ujjayi breath stimulation of the vagal efferent neurons induces a parasympathetic reduction in heart rate and most likely a withdrawal of sympathetic input to the heart. This restores energy in preparation for activity. A strong respiratory rhythm in the vagus nerve is set up (Brown 2014)
- Practicing Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama) which activates your palate, throat and ears — the pathway of the vagus nerve and a method of response inhibition - a key executive control processes (Rajesh 2014)
- Alternate nostril breathing
A 2013 study clearly suggest that the yogic exercise of Alternate Nostril Breathing influences the parasympathetic nervous system significantly Sinha, et al (2013)
Every moment of your day is an opportunity to breathe consciously and modulate your nervous system, so you can live in the calm yet alert state of parasympathetic dominance.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment", live in the breath.”
― Amit Ray