The health columns are written by a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity at Bingham Farms. He is an author and has appeared on national television, including “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors Show.”
By Dr. Joel Kahn
Feel stressed? Sleep interrupted? Rising blood pressure? Digestion not optimal? The longest nerve in our body is called the vagus nerve and controls a powerful pathway called the parasympathetic nervous system.
Having more vagus nerve activity can decrease inflammation, blood pressure, anxiety, heart rate, and improve sleep and digestion. This is called the “rest and digest” nerve.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a pill to activate the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and the longest of the 12. In addition to being the longest, it is also the most complex. We know that by stimulating the vagus nerve, the brain and body can experience a wide range of benefits. Here are five ways to stimulate vagus nerve activity.
1) Cold therapy: For thousands of years, “cold therapy” has been talked about as a quick way to feel better and improve your health. A quick way to get started on this practice is to take a 30-second cold shower or splash ice water on your face.
2) Deep breathing: Slow, deep breaths signal to the body that it is time to relax. Parasympathetic activity may increase, which means the vagus nerve is stimulated. Try stretching each deep breath to about 10 seconds total (or 6 breaths per minute) and notice the relaxing effect it has on the body and mind.
3) Meditation: Finding a meditation practice that works for you can take some time. But it can also have positive effects on several areas of your life. In fact, studies show that meditation can boost vagal tone to help you reap the effects of vagus nerve stimulation.
4) Mood: On its way from the brain to the bladder, the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords. Humming is a way to stimulate the vagus nerve, as vibrations from your vocal cords can trigger the vagal response. Smell your favorite tune or just repeat “Om” to see how you feel. This is often done in a yoga class.
5) Music: Listening to your favorite music can help promote the vagal response and strengthen vagal tone, especially if it is relaxing. Studies have shown that classical music like Mozart can have profound health benefits via the vagus nerve, although you may find Motown tunes just as relaxing.
I use all of these techniques in my daily health practice. I also use a vagus nerve stimulator called Neuvana Life, which I combine with music and breathing to activate multiple vagus nerve pathways. Whichever way you decide to do it, becoming a vagus nerve expert can bring you health and relaxation.