You know about work-outs for your body. But how about how about working out the most important nerve of all – your VAGUS NERVE?!
Why should you care? Because simply put, stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression.1
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of your nervous system that handles things you don’t have to consciously think about: breathing, heartbeat, and digestion.
Your vagus nerve wanders from your brain stem down to your gut, branching out along the way to connect your throat and facial muscles, as well as other internal organs in your chest and abdomen.
What does your vagus nerve do?
In a nutshell, the vagus nerve connects your gut to your brain.
Around 80% of the neurons in the vagus nerve send information from the gut to the brain. They report on how your gut is doing, what’s in your diet, and what your gut microbes are getting up to. Your brain then sends back a response through another set of neurons. This constant back-and-forth flow of information, like a 2-way radio communication between your gut and your brain, is what’s known as the Gut-Brain Axis,2 and it’s part of the reason that your gut health impacts so heavily on your mood.
The vagus nerve is also essential for keeping your immune system in check. There is a close connection between chronic stress, immune functioning, and inflammation. In brief, short-term activation of your sympathetic nervous system releases the right amount of cortisol and helps keep your immune system at healthy levels.
These days the vagus nerve is taking centre stage as a potential “off-switch” for inflammation related diseases such as epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Vagus nerve stimulation has also been shown to reduce allergic reactions and tension headaches.3
How can you put your vagus nerve to work for you?
Scientists are looking at options to stimulate the vagus nerve with implants or electric shock. But there’s a simpler, more natural way to work your vagus nerve.
You can indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve to relieve keyed-up or shut- down nervous system states. Remember, your vagus nerve passes through your belly, diaphragm, lungs, throat, inner ear, and facial muscles. Therefore, practices that change or control the actions of these areas of the body can influence the functioning of the vagus nerve through the mind-body feedback loop. No surprise here, the Indian yogis figured this one out thousands of years ago!
Try this five-minute exercise to work out your vagus nerve from the comfort of your living room. Repeat daily for a week, and watch your mood lift!
Darth Vader breath!
The breath is one of the fastest ways to influence our nervous system states. The aim is to move the belly and diaphragm with the breath and to slow down your breathing. Vagus nerve stimulation occurs when the breath is slowed from our typical 10-14 breaths per minute to 5-7 breaths per minute. You can achieve this by counting the inhalation to 5, hold briefly, and exhale to a count of 10.
In Yoga this is called Ujjayim, or “Victorious” Breath. Breathe in and out of the nose with the lips sealed – no breath passes the lips. This also serves to build heat in the body. The lips gently close and although the breath is passing through the nostrils the emphasis is in your throat.
Create a constriction in the throat as if breathing in and out of a thin straw. Whilst maintaining a closed mouth position be mindful of held tension in the teeth, jaw, throat and/or neck – let it go. You can feel the breath stroke the back of your throat as you inhale and exhale. You will also hear a constant, steady sound that sounds like – you guessed it – Darth Vader!
The sound should be continuous and uninterrupted during your cycles of inhales and exhales. Continue for five minutes daily
You can find a free video tutorial on “Darth Vader breath” here.
How can you repair your gut microbiome?
Science has shown us that a diverse microbiome is associated with good mental health. It’s not just one strain of bacteria that swings the balance; instead, it appears to be the overall ratio of the different families of the microbes that matters, with the gut microbiomes of depressed and anxious people showing less overall diversity than individuals without mental health problems.5
Harvard recently published 13 studies confirming the gut as the root cause of mental deterioration, and studies have now provided population-scale evidence for microbiome links to mental health.6
Give yourself mental health first aid by boosting your gut microbiome health and diversity by drinking Chuckling Goat’s award-winning kefir, which has been tested by Atlas and shown to be the most diverse natural product on the market today. Feed those good gut bugs with our Complete Prebiotic, again the most diverse product available, with 18 different sources of gut-health fibres.
The simplest and most economic way to get this combo is our Pro Prebiotic Subscription package, which can be delivered to your door.