When Mahesh Jayaraman, co-founder of Sepalika and Acupressure Therapist, studied a 2000-year old acupressure technique called Varmam in South India nearly a decade ago, his teacher would extol the virtues of washing one’s face with cold water first thing in the morning. It seemed intuitively right to Mahesh then, because it made him feel fresh and ready to take on a new day. Little did he know that the science behind this was far more astounding. Years later, when Mahesh was studying about a rather interesting nerve in the human body, called the Vagus nerve, he came to understand that washing your face with cold water was a way of directly stimulating this nerve. It is the single most important nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us calm down and relax. He could clearly see why cultures across the world used it, especially as a way of relaxing a person’s mind before they entered a temple or place of worship.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The word Vagus means “wanderer,” because it wanders all over the body to various important organs. It begins near the anus and connects to the gut, the reproductive organs, kidneys, ureter, liver, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, lungs, spleen, heart, entire neck area, the face, tongue, ears and finally enters the brain.
Functions of the Vagus Nerve
It powers up our involuntary nerve center—the parasympathetic nervous system—and controls unconscious body functions, as well as everything from keeping our heart rate constant and food digestion to breathing and sweating. It also helps regulate blood pressure and blood glucose balance, promotes general kidney function, helps release bile and testosterone, stimulates the secretion of saliva, assists in controlling taste and releasing tears, and plays a major role in fertility issues and orgasms in women.
The Vagus nerve has fibres that innervate virtually all of our internal organs. The management and processing of emotions happens via the vagal nerve between the heart, brain and gut, which is why we have a strong gut reaction to intense mental and emotional states.
10 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
There are anywhere up to 30-40 ways to stimulate the Vagus nerve, but for now, let’s look the top 10 ways to stimulate this nerve to receive multiple health benefits – both on chronic diseases you may already have and on overall health and prevention.
Wash your face with cold water.
It can literally cool your nerves and give you a sense of freshness and relaxation
Have a cold-water bath, even in the winter.
The Vagus nerve helps your body warm up in response and you get that relaxed feeling. Naturopaths use alternating cold and hot baths to improve circulation and influence health through the Vagus nerve
Chant a mantra or sing.
The Vagus nerve runs right through the voice box and one of the reasons why chanting and singing calms us is may be due to the vibration of the Vagus nerve.
Gargle or use a tongue cleaner
When you gargle or use a tongue cleaner, you gently stimulate the Vagus nerve.
When you breathe deeply, through the nose, the Vagus nerve is stimulated. Pranayama or any other deep breathing technique may well produce deep relaxation and associated health benefits due to this.
Is this why laughter clubs are springing up around the world and we all love comedy? It stimulates the Vagus nerve and helps us get into a ‘rest and digest’ state
Observe a fast
As you rest the digestive system, the Vagus nerve understands and allows for a deep cleansing. It also helps your body switch to burning fat and removing toxins.
Get a Massage
As the most important nerve in your parasympathetic nervous system, your Vagus nerve helps you relax and detox with every massage.
Do some Yoga
Yoga has system wide benefits and now science is finding that several of these could be working through the Vagus nerve.
Since the gut and the brain are linked on two ends of the Vagus nerve, having a diet that is rich in probiotics stimulates the Vagus nerve and helps you heal.
There are many more methods to stimulate the Vagus nerve. But you could begin this health-boosting exercise with these 10 tips, to begin with.