We all know how important it is to have a happy nervous system and an optimally-functioning gut.  But did you know that the two are connected via the vagus nerve?  It’s true.

Originating in the brain as one of the cranial nerves, the vagus nerve travels down both sides of your face, down through your neck, and into your torso, where it branches into several organs (such as the liver, heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, and the large and small intestines).  We talk about it as one nerve, but really it’s more like a super highway on both sides of your body – with one path traveling from your brain down your body, and the other pathway going from the lower regions back up to the brain.  It’s a pretty amazing nerve, and I think Cara Wheatley-McGrain, author of Calm Your Gut explained the ins and outs beautifully in our recent conversation.

Having a well-functioning and happy vagus nerve has so many health benefits.  Called the second brain, it helps to reduce inflammation in the body, improves vascular tone, decreases your heart rate, helps with swallowing, coughing, and tastes, lowers your blood pressure, regulates insulin and glucose, and reduces anxiety and depression.  From this brief overview alone, you can see why it’s important to keep your vagas nerve happy.

But how do we do that?  The answer is:  pretty easily.  And doing some mellow movements can get your vagus nerve singing its blissful song in just a few relaxing moments.

Let’s start with some traditional yoga poses commonly called cat/cows.  Whether you’re seated or on all fours, these gentle motions of arching and rounding of the back help to open the chest and stimulate the vagus nerve.

Several supported yoga poses are also great ways to optimize your vagus nerve.  Grab a few blankets, towels, and/or pillows, and get comfy in a supported child’s pose, happy baby pose, soft twist, or supported backbend.

Mindful neck stretches are another way to help stimulate the vagus nerve.  And that makes sense, right?  Because the VN runs down both sides of your neck, when your neck muscles are tight, things don’t always work the way they’re anatomically designed.  As always, be very aware of the sensations you feel while gently stretching your neck, and never force the range of motions.  Also, stay away from doing full neck circles (always), and instead you can do little semi-circular motions toward the front of your body.  

For example, begin by tilting your head to the right, like your right ear is trying to lay on your right shoulder.  Be sure to only tilt your head and not move any other part of your body.  From there, carefully rotate your head downward so that your chin is a bit closer to the center of your chest.  Then slowly rotate your head over to the left, so that the left ear is closer to the left shoulder.  You can do these movements a few times side to side, thinking of it like you’re drawing a smiley face with your nose.  

As with every movement, be sure it’s appropriate for your body’s needs and requirements.  If you feel any pain, tingling, or discomfort, discontinue the movements immediately.  And if your medical provider has given you specific instructions regarding your neck movements, including any restrictions, listen to their advice and ignore this movement option.

Eye exercises are also great to help stimulate the vagus nerve.  Using one of your hands, make a thumbs-up sign (thumb pointing up, fingers curling in towards your palm).  Put your thumb up at eye level about 4-6 inches away from your face.  Gaze at your thumb for about 30 seconds, and then move your gaze to a farther away point (at least 10 feet away).  After looking at that far place for about 30 seconds, go back to looking at your thumb, then far away, and keep doing this for several rounds, gazing for 30 seconds at each point each time.  Be sure to keep your head as neutral as possible, chin parallel to the ground, with your jaw muscles relaxed.

These actions all have a fantastic effect on your vagus nerve – as well as your whole glorious self.  Find the modalities that you vibe with the most and enjoy giving your vagus nerve some daily love.