I’m back after a little hiatus and wanting to discuss the vagus nerve. This was a requested topic -- but also a quite personal one, as I get into towards the end.
The vagus, or “wandering” nerve, has multiple branches and connects to virtually every major bodily function. It’s HUGE in the mind-body connection and gut-brain communication. Those “gut” feelings or those butterflies in the tummy — that’s the vagus nerve. It’s a grand communicator and it’s important to keep it activated so that we can receive clear messages from our bodies. The nerve wanders upstream (from the organs to the brain) and downstream (from the brain to the rest of the body) and downloads tons of updated info to and fro. So efficient.
“Visceral feelings and gut instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve. In previous studies, signals from the vagus nerve traveling from the gut to the brain have been linked to modulating mood and distinctive types of fear and anxiety.” (Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201405/how-does-the-vagus-nerve-convey-gut-instincts-the-brain)
This magical nerve is linked to fear conditioning in the brain, GABA production, and adrenaline. When we stimulate the vagus nerve, we are in essence re-conditioning our body-minds. We are allowing the flow of the wanderer inside of us to be smoother, clearer, and quicker. When the nerve is not working properly, we might experience any number of issues: Digestive problems, fatigue, and depression to name a few.
The wandering nerve is also tied to the ways in which we socialize and interact with one another, ourselves, and the world. Think eye contact, speech functions, emotional expression, and oxytocin release. OK — so, how do we stimulate this thing and make its wandering work a little easier? Here are a few ways:
Singing / Chanting!
Breath Work (Slow, intentional breath)
Exercise in general
I’ve been thinking a lot about simple ways to consistently keep my system charged and rejuvenated. The things listed above are practices, not one-time fixes. I recently read about something called the VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulator), which is essentially a pacemaker for the brain. It’s a device that is placed under the skin and is used in the control and prevention of seizures. The vagus nerve is part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls parts of the body not thought to be under voluntary control (breathing, heart rate, digestion), the VNS stimulates the nerve and thus helps to control those “uncontrollable” functions. I found this FASCINATING. As many of you know, I have epilepsy and have spent the past decade experimenting with healing methods and mind-body connectivity. I’m a super goal-oriented Virgo, and clear goals and timelines really help me. So, I have been known to set “no-seizure goals.” Over a year ago, I said to myself “I am not going to have a seizure for at least one year.” I implemented DAILY practices, some that I had been doing already, and some new additions, many of them vagus-nerve stimulating (yoga, meditation, probiotics), among other things. And I have been seizure-free since last May. I basically retrained my brain. At the time, I was experiencing grand-mal seizures every 1-3 months like clockwork. My brain was in a seizure loop. Weirdly, a neurologist has never once mentioned to me the vagus nerve and its connection to the brain and epilepsy. It seems like this would be an incredibly valuable thing to know about from the start — since the VNS device stimulates what we can actually stimulate ourselves — the various and complicated functions of the mind-body connection.