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Go to Vagus, Not Vegas, to Relieve Stress

December 27th, 2020 | 2 min. read

Go to Vagus, Not Vegas, to Relieve Stress

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By Sarah Graff - Personal Fitness Trainer

Specifically, go to your vagus nerve to calm down.


Your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects your brain to your heart, lungs and even your digestive system. It is the key player of your parasympathetic nervous system. By stimulating your vagus nerve, you can deliberately “tell” your body to calm down. There are lots of effective ways to stimulate this nerve; massage, exercise, meditation, good gut bacteria, even cold exposure. The most available way is through slow, deep breathing. The average person takes about 14 breaths per minute. If we can slow that down to closer to 6 breaths per minute, we can stimulate our vagus nerve to release “Vagusstoff” (thank you to the German language for that fun word!) This neurotransmitter then will spread across our heart and belly. It counteracts our stress response thereby slowing the heart rate, relaxing our muscles and allowing us to become calmer.

Below is a step by step way for you to try some Vagus stimulating breathing on your own.

Lie down anywhere that is comfortable, making sure your neck feels supported and not strained in any way. Place your hands on your belly. Close your eyes and see if you can feel your belly rise and fall with your breath. If you cannot, use this time to teach yourself belly breathing. As you inhale, intentionally fill the space beneath your hands with your belly.

As you exhale, allow your belly button to gently fall towards the earth. Continue this deep belly breathing for a few moments allowing fresh air to flow smoothly in through your nose to fill your belly and slowly out through your nose or mouth, whatever feels most natural to you. Now, begin to count the length of your inhales and exhales. Maybe inhaling to a count of 2, 3, 4 or 5, exhaling to a count of 5, 6, 7 or 8.

Eventually try to make your exhale twice as long as your inhale. It may make take many sessions of practice to get there. After several of these extended exhale breaths, pause for a moment at the bottom of the exhale. Not holding your breath, just pause and allow your inhale to come when it’s ready.

Allow your inhale to come naturally, in its own time. You will find a space there, between the exhale and inhale. It is a place where nothing is required of you, not even a breath. Continue this slow, extended exhale breath for 5, 10 or even 15 minutes more.