Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve With These 4 Yoga Poses and Practices
Article At A Glance
The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. Latin for “wandering,” this nerve travels far and wide across the body and is intimately related to the parasympathetic nervous system (or the “rest-and-digest” part of the autonomic nervous system). When stimulated and activated, the vagus nerve can help to shift your body into the rest-and-digest response. And luckily, there are vagus nerve yoga poses that can work to stimulate this precious nerve. While practicing yoga, in general, will often leave you in a parasympathetic nervous system dominant state once you’ve finished your practice, there are specific poses that you can practice to help target the vagus nerve directly.
The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. Latin for “wandering,” this nerve travels far and wide across the body and is intimately related to the parasympathetic nervous system (or the “rest-and-digest” part of the autonomic nervous system). When stimulated and activated, the vagus nerve can help to shift your body into the rest-and-digest response. And luckily, there are vagus nerve yoga poses that can work to stimulate this precious nerve.
While practicing yoga, in general, will often leave you in a parasympathetic nervous system dominant state once you’ve finished your practice, there are specific poses that you can practice to help target the vagus nerve directly.
1. Bhramari Breath: The Vagus Nerve and the Voice
The first two vagus nerve yoga poses on this list aren’t actually yoga “poses” at all. They’re yogic practices that specifically target the vagus nerve.
This first one, bhramari breath (or humming bee’s breath), targets the vagus nerve through its branches that innervate the pharynx, larynx, and diaphragm. Any stimulation of your voice in a soothing way will help to activate the vagus nerve, and humming is one of the best ways to do this!
- Find a comfortable seated position and soften your gaze or close your eyes—option to rest one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose.
- As you exhale, release a humming sound.
- Continue to breathe this way for a few minutes until you feel your rest-and-digest response start taking over in your body.
2. Shanmukhi Mudra: The Eyes and Ears Connection
This next yogic practice, shanmukhi mudra or closing of the seven gates gesture, stimulates your vagus nerve via its branches that connect the eyes and the ears. This practice gently massages the vagus nerve to help activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
- Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath through your nose.
- Hold your breath in as you take your hands toward your face.
- Place your index fingers over your eyelids and apply gentle pressure downward.
- Place your middle fingers over your nostrils and gently close off your nose.
- Place your ring fingers just above your lips and close your mouth.
- Place your pinky fingers just below your lips and gently draw your ring and pinky fingers toward each other to close off your mouth.
- Place your thumbs over your ears.
- Gently press into all of your fingers and slowly move your thumbs in a circular pattern to gently massage your ears.
- Hold for a few relaxing moments before releasing everything and exhaling deeply.
- Repeat a few times until you feel yourself move toward a parasympathetic state.
3. Neck Stretches and the Vagus Nerve
Some of the best vagus nerve yoga poses include the neck because the vagus nerve runs just behind the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and in just in front of the scalenes. These neck muscles tend to hold a lot of tension, so gently releasing them can help to free up the vagus nerve and offer some gentle release and stimulation to help activate your rest-and-digest response.
- Find a comfortable seated position and soften your gaze or close your eyes.
- As you inhale, lift your spine and lengthen up through the crown of your head to elongate the back of your neck.
- As you exhale, gently release your right ear toward your right shoulder.
- Soften both shoulders away from your ears and allow the weight of your arms to hang heavy toward the floor.
- Allow your head to become heavy as it releases down with the force of gravity.
- Option to stay as you are or the option to change the positioning of your stretch slightly by tilting your head to adjust the angle of your stretch. You could reach your chin closer toward your chest to look downward on an angle or reach your chin toward the sky to look upward on an angle. Play around with the positioning of your neck as much as you’d like to find a comfortable stretch for you. You may wish to stay at various angles of the stretch for certain periods of time.
- Hold for as long as you’d like before slowing releasing and switching sides.
4. Supported Fish Pose: Gentle Heart and Throat Opener
This vagus nerve yoga pose is excellent for shifting you into your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a restorative yoga posture, which already helps you rest and relax. Plus, it’s a gentle heart and throat opener, and the vagus nerve runs through these parts of your body, so it’s as if you’re giving it a gentle, loving massage.
- Grab something that you can lie over. You can roll up a towel or blanket, use a pillow or couch cushion, or use a yoga bolster or block.
- Place whatever prop you have down on the top of your mat so it’s parallel to the short edge of your mat. You may wish to have a second prop nearby to rest under your head when you lower into the pose.
- Come to sit in front of your prop and carefully lie down over it so that the prop rests directly below your shoulder blades. Let the prop gently open your heart and lift your chest toward the sky.
- Relax your head either onto another prop or rest on the floor as you gently soften the front of your neck and throat.
- Rest your arms and your legs in any comfortable position that you like.
- Option to soften your gaze or close your eyes as you relax into this gentle opening for about five to 10 minutes or as long as you’d like.
Use These Vagus Nerve Yoga Poses and Practices to Activate Your Rest-and-Digest Response
Use these postures and practices and any other gentle heart and throat openers, neck releases, and deep breathing techniques to stimulate your vagus nerve and soften and relax your nervous system.
Relaxation is key to initiating the parasympathetic nervous system. Be sure to allow yourself to relax and release as you practice these positions and techniques to stimulate your precious vagus nerve.