Great news for Gen X women: new research shows we’re driving the “wellness travel trend,” heading off to far-flung places to decompress and destress. (And you thought that was just the plot of Girls Trip 2.)
Better news for those of us who don’t have the time or resources to travel: we can enjoy the same therapeutic benefits of, say, a yoga retreat in Bali, by developing a simple daily practice of vagus nerve stimulation.
Knowns as a “vagabond” for all the places in your body this 10th cranial nerve wanders — connecting your brain to your heart, immune system, gut, and other organs — this complex system of nerves also rules your body’s relaxation responses.
Best news of all: toning your vagus nerve is the kind of workout that’s easy to get behind. Breathe deeply, yawn, stretch, or hug it out with someone, and enjoy the stress release.
The vitality of the vagus nerve
I first learned about the vagus nerve from a TEDxBoulder talk given by my cousin, who is dealing with its atrophy thanks to early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. While her focus was on the nerve as a major route of disease progression, she recognized its implications for anyone who neglects their neurology.
Science shows a clear link between symptom changes in many common ailments, including depression, migraines, asthma, epilepsy, and acid reflux, and the vagus nerve:
“Pick almost any common medical condition that’s made worse by stress or inflammation — everything from arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease — and there’s research showing that vagus nerve stimulation can help treat it or relieve its symptoms.”
Stimulate stress relief
Bioelectric medicine, which uses devices, not drugs, to stimulate the vagus and other nerves to alleviate symptoms of many chronic diseases, holds a ton of promise. But you don’t need a fancy setup to enjoy the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation.
Got garden-variety stress, sadness, or anxiety? Take a yoga class, meditate, or get a deep tissue massage — all of which research shows promote parasympathetic nervous system activity.
My cousin also recommends vigorously rubbing your head for a couple of minutes each day, gargling with tap water, taking a cold shower, and deep diaphragmatic breathing while smiling. You might look a little silly, but that download of bliss chemistry will make you say Viva las Vagus!