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Vagus nerve exercises: Unlocking your body’s natural healing power

Your complete guide to vagus nerve stimulation for better health and wellness

The vagus nerve is a critical part of our parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system. By stimulating this nerve, we can promote relaxation, reduce inflammation, and improve overall well-being. This article explores various vagus nerve exercises that you can incorporate into your daily routine to harness these benefits.

Understanding the vagus nerve

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, runs from the brainstem to the abdomen, connecting various organs along the way. It plays a pivotal role in regulating heart rate, digestion, and immune response.

The anatomy of the vagus nerve

The vagus nerve originates in the medulla oblongata of the brainstem and extends through the neck and thorax down to the abdomen. It branches out to form connections with the heart, lungs, digestive tract, and several other organs, which is why it influences numerous bodily functions.

The role of the vagus nerve in health

The vagus nerve helps control the body’s inflammatory response, promotes relaxation, and supports digestion. When functioning optimally, it can enhance mood, reduce anxiety, and improve resilience to stress.

How vagus nerve exercises work

Vagus nerve exercises are designed to stimulate this nerve, thereby activating the parasympathetic nervous system. These exercises can help improve heart rate variability (HRV), reduce stress levels, and enhance overall physiological function.

Deep breathing techniques

1. Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is a simple yet effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve. By focusing on deep, slow breaths, you can activate the nerve and promote relaxation.

How to perform:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest relatively still.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
  5. Repeat for 5-10 minutes daily.


  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Lowers heart rate
  • Enhances digestion

Cold exposure

2. Cold showers: Exposing your body to cold temperatures can also stimulate the vagus nerve. Cold showers, in particular, have been shown to increase vagal tone, which is associated with a variety of health benefits.

How to perform:

  1. Start with a warm shower.
  2. Gradually decrease the temperature until the water is cold.
  3. Stay under the cold water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  4. Gradually increase the duration as you become more accustomed to the cold.


  • Boosts immune function
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Improves circulation

Vocal exercises

3. Humming and singing: Humming, chanting, and singing can stimulate the vagus nerve through the activation of the vocal cords and the muscles at the back of the throat. Probably best to save this one for the privacy of your own home, as opposed to your commute in to work on the train.

How to perform:

  1. Choose a simple song or mantra.
  2. Hum or sing for 5-10 minutes daily.
  3. Focus on the vibration in your throat and chest.


  • Promotes relaxation
  • Enhances mood
  • Reduces anxiety

Yoga and meditation

4. Yoga: Certain yoga poses, particularly those that focus on deep breathing and relaxation, can effectively stimulate the vagus nerve.

Recommended poses:

  • Child’s Pose
  • Cat-Cow Pose
  • Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose


  • Reduces stress
  • Improves flexibility
  • Enhances mental clarity

5. Meditation: Mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing on the present moment and your breath, can also enhance vagal tone.

How to perform:

  1. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably.
  2. Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
  3. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
  4. Practice for 10-20 minutes daily.


  • Increases HRV
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves emotional regulation

Gut-brain connection

The vagus nerve plays a significant role in the gut-brain axis, influencing digestion and mental health. Probiotics, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can support this connection.

Probiotics and diet

6. Probiotics: Consuming probiotics can enhance vagal function by promoting a healthy gut microbiome.

Recommended sources:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi


  • Supports digestion
  • Enhances mood
  • Reduces inflammation

7. Healthy diet: A diet rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants supports vagal tone.

Recommended foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains


  • Improves digestion
  • Reduces stress
  • Enhances overall health

The science behind vagus nerve stimulation

Research has shown that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can have profound effects on health and wellness. Studies have linked high vagal tone to reduced risk of chronic diseases, improved mental health, and enhanced quality of life.

Clinical evidence

VNS in medical treatment: VNS is used in clinical settings to treat conditions such as epilepsy and depression. Non-invasive methods, like the exercises described above, offer similar benefits without the need for medical intervention.

Research findings:

  • Mental health: Studies indicate that VNS can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Inflammation: VNS has been shown to lower markers of inflammation in the body.
  • Heart health: Improved vagal tone is associated with better heart rate variability and cardiovascular health.

FAQs about vagus nerve exercises

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system, regulating various bodily functions including heart rate, digestion, and immune response.

How do vagus nerve exercises improve health?

Vagus nerve exercises stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation, reducing inflammation, and enhancing overall physiological function.

Can anyone perform vagus nerve exercises?

Yes, most vagus nerve exercises are safe for anyone to perform. However, individuals with certain medical conditions should consult a healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise regimen.

How often should I perform these exercises?

For optimal benefits, aim to incorporate vagus nerve exercises into your daily routine. Consistency is key to enhancing vagal tone and reaping the health benefits.


Vagus nerve exercises offer a natural and effective way to improve your health and wellness. By incorporating these practices into your daily routine, you can enhance your body’s ability to relax, reduce stress, and support overall well-being. Remember, the key to success with these exercises is consistency and mindfulness.

Photography Keegan Houser

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