The vagus nerve is a long, important nerve that runs from the brain down through the neck and into the chest and abdomen. It’s part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions we don’t consciously think about, like heartbeat, digestion, and breathing.
The vagus nerve has a two-way function. It carries signals from the brain to different organs in the body, instructing them how to work. For example, it tells your heart to beat at a certain rate and your lungs to breathe in and out. But it also carries signals from those organs back to the brain, giving feedback and helping the brain understand what’s happening in the body.
Through the vagus nerve, we can actually influence and manipulate our nervous system. One way is through breath control. Taking slow, deep breaths stimulates the vagus nerve, sending signals to the brain that it’s time to relax. This can slow down our heart rate and calm our body, helping us feel less stressed.
Another way is through cold water submersion. When we immerse our bodies in cold water, it activates the vagus nerve’s “diving reflex.” This reflex helps conserve oxygen and redirect blood flow to vital organs. It can also enhance the body’s ability to handle stress and promote relaxation.
Interestingly, the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in our body, and its name comes from the Latin word for “wandering” because it has many branches that reach different parts of the body. It’s involved in regulating digestion, influencing mood, and even plays a role in our immune system.