Introducing the Vagus Nerve
You have probably heard of the sympathetic nervous system and its ability to invoke the fight, flight, or freeze responses. The parasympathetic nervous system is the sweet sister of the sympathetic nervous system. It takes us into the rest and digest mode. This is the path to deep rejuvenation for the body, mind, and soul. Relaxation is the yin to our yang.
Many yoga studios offer restorative yoga, which has proven to be a major ingredient in creating balance in our yoga proactive. The time has come to really take a look at what all this means. Why does relaxation help optimize fitness efforts? When the body goes into a relaxed state, your blood pressure is lower, your immune system functions at a higher level, your heart rate decreases, and you breathe at a slower rate. Sleep patterns improve, digestion function increases, and overall health becomes greater when these relaxation techniques are used.
It is not surprising that people do not incorporate relaxation routines into their lives. We are a workaholic, over-doing, stressed out culture that strongly rewards the type A behavior. There has been little value put into this other side of the fitness world until recently.
Regardless of the system of relaxation and parasympathetic nervous system activation, there is one component common to all of them: the VAGUS nerve. The Latin derivative of the word vagus is “wandering.” This is a characteristic of this nerve within the world of relaxation. It begins its journey below the base of the brain, runs down the throat along the esophagus, continues its journey near the lungs and heart, and innervates the digestive system.
Vagal nerve function has a strong relationship to the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for rest, digestion, and reproductive functions. It is also the key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This wandering nerve can help us distress and get healthy. However, most of our lives are spent in the fight or flight modes. When the sympathetic system is active, then stress hormones flood our body, creating a state of dis-ease within. Therefore, it is important we learn how to activate our vagus nerve.
Because of the pathway of the vagus nerve, long deep breathing is the number one key to activation the vagus nerve. Breathing can be involuntary (something the vagus nerve does for us when we aren’t paying attention), but it can also be something we do consciously. By bringing awareness to the breath, lengthening and deepening it, you turn on the vagus nerve, giving your body the opportunity to rejuvenate.
So, let’s stop and breathe with awareness for 5 minutes