The Vagus Nerve

A black and white medical drawing of the vagus nerve, which runs from the back of the skull, through the throat, lungs and chest, belly and pelvis.

In a Coffee & Musings video last week I talked about the breath, stress and anxiety, the parasympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve.

I first learned about the vagus nerve in a workshop I attended with Edinburgh Community Yoga (www.edinburghcommunityyoga.co.uk) called ‘Neuroscience, the stress response and yoga’ – it blew my mind and I started to use the knowledge in my own practice and teaching. I’ve revisited it recently during the ‘Yoga for Stress & Anxiety’ course with Chelsea at Bloom Studio (www.bloom-cheltenham.co.uk). The information below is gathered from my learning with them – I’d recommend both courses/workshops if you’d like to learn more and deepen your knowledge on this subject.

The vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as ‘rest and digest’) which is responsible for calming the body down – this is where we rest, recover, repair and digest!  The vagus nerve runs from the back of the skull all the way through the lungs and the chest through to the abdomen. Vagus means ‘wandering’ which makes sense considering how far reaching this nerve is!

A black and white medical drawing of the vagus nerve, which runs from the back of the skull, through the throat, lungs and chest, belly and pelvis.
A black and white medical drawing of the vagus nerve, which runs from the back of the skull, through the throat, lungs and chest, belly and pelvis.

When we extend our exhale and slow our breath (both during yoga and in everyday life) the vagus nerve picks this up and sends the message to our brain that we are safe – which then activates the parasympathetic nervous system!

The vagus nerve is something we can tone with practice, so by practicing these breathing exercises regularly, the calmer we feel overall.

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