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  • Alainnah Knight

What Is The Vagus Nerve? What Does It Mean To "Activate" It?

What Is The Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, is one of the longest nerves in the body. It starts in the brainstem and travels down through the neck and into the abdomen, traveling through various organs along the way. The vagus nerve is a very important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating many involuntary bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. It plays a key role in the body's "rest and digest" response, helping to counterbalance the sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight" response. The vagus nerve is involved in the regulation of mood, inflammation, and immune response, making it a valuable component of healing through trauma and reconnecting with the body.

Seven Ways To Activate The Vagus Nerve

Activating the vagus nerve can have various beneficial effects on overall health and well-being. Here are seven ways to activate the vagus nerve:

Deep Breathing

Engaging in slow, deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or the 4-7-8 technique, can help activate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation.

4-7-8 Breathing:

Inhale through the nose for four seconds, hold the breath for a count of seven, and then exhale through the mouth for a count of 8.

Diaphragmatic Breathing:

Inhale deeply into your diaphragm, or your stomach, allowing the abdomen to rise and fall with each breath, maybe even placing a hand on your abdomen feeling the rise and fall of your breath. This can help increase oxygen intake!

Ice or Cold Compress

Exposure to cold temperatures on your vagus nerve, such as putting an ice compress on your chest, taking cold showers, or immersing your face in cold water, can activate the vagus nerve's "diving reflex," which slows down heart rate and induces a state of calmness.

Gargling Water

Just as exposure to cold temperatures on your vagus nerve can activate it, gargling with water, particularly with cold water, can stimulate the gag reflex and activate the vagus nerve.

Humming, Singing, or Laughing

Singing, chanting, humming, or laughing stimulates the muscles in the throat and activates the vagus nerve. These activities can also promote relaxation and improve mood in other ways!

Moving Your Body

Moving your body, such as stretching, walking, swimming, going for a bike ride, or even just jumping a few times can increase vagal tone and promote overall vagus nerve function


Certain types of massage, particularly those targeting the neck and throat area, can stimulate the vagus nerve through pressure on the vagus nerve. A massage can also offer lot's of other wonderful benefits for overall health and wellness!

Gut Health

Did you know that your gut health is connected to your mental health? Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through the consumption of probiotics and a balanced diet can indirectly support vagus nerve function. And avoid drinking caffeine on an empty stomach!


Activating the vagus nerve through various techniques can offer numerous benefits for overall health and well-being. Methods such as deep breathing, meditation, cold exposure, gargling, laughter, singing, physical activity, massage, promoting gut health can all activate the vagus nerve and promote relaxation. It is always important to note that everyone will have their individual experiences, incorporating these practices can create many positive impacts, however, it is so important to talk with a medical or mental health professional for individual treatment.


Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 44.

Howland R. H. (2014). Vagus Nerve Stimulation. Current behavioral neuroscience reports, 1(2), 64–73.

Kwan, H., Garzoni, L., Liu, H.L. et al. Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Treatment of Inflammation: Systematic Review of Animal Models and Clinical Studies. Bioelectron Med 3, 1–6 (2016).

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