The Vagus Nerve: The Body’s Natural Muscle Relaxer

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Stress is one thing that we all are probably very familiar with, no matter what we do or where we are. Everyone has different ways of dealing with stress; some ways can wreak havoc on the body, and others offer a sweet sense of relief. 

Luckily, yoga is one of the best, natural forms of stress relief. Here’s how it works…

Yoga is much more than the physical asana that we bend and twist ourselves into. Pranayama (breath work) is a practice of guiding and controlling the breathe in order to awaken prana (life force) within the body. One of the most commonly used pranayama techniques is called Ujjayi breath, or victorious breath. Ujjayi breath begins to heat the body from the inside, and simulates the sound of the ocean in the top of the palette and the back of the throat. To practice this breath, you can slightly constrict the back of the throat and breath in and out of the nose. Imagine you are fogging up a car window with your breath making a “haaa” sound, but with the mouth closed.

 The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves. It connects from the cranium and passes down through the neck, all the way down into the throat, heart, lungs, and abdomen.The vagus nerve interacts with the respiratory, digestive, and nervous system, making it a very powerful tool for transformation. Since the Ujjayi breath stimulates the back of the throat, it reaches the vagus nerve and calms the body. This nerve sends signals to the autonomic system in the body and tells it to rest and relax.

Toning and stimulating the vagus nerve make us more resilient toward stress, and increase our general parasympathetic nervous system function. This means that we can more easily move in and out of situations that may cause a fight or flight reaction in the body. We can approach those situations with more ease and control; this includes more ease and control within our yoga asana practice!

People who may be experiencing high stress levels, digestive issues, or respiratory dis ease may benefit from yoga which stimulates and strengthens the vagus nerve. This is why chanting a breathing and pranayama are so important. The breath is what takes us beyond asana and into a state of bliss. Next time you are in class, see if you can stay with your Ujjayi breathe throughout your entire practice, and notice the stress begin to melt away. 

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