Try These Exercises That Activate the Vagus Nerve

Vagal stretching and breathing movements could bring calm.


Yoga, Calm, Sleep, Relax, Love
A woman sitting on a dock by a lake is doing a breathing exercise to help tone her vagus nerve.

(ArTono /

The vagus nerve, the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system, may hold a key to instilling calmness. Toning your vagus nerve is easy and could result in feelings of relaxation, a stabilized mood, and a strengthened immune system, according to a blog from breath coach Conni Biesalski.

Stretching from the brainstem behind the ear all the way down to the solar plexus, this wandering cranial nerve connects your brain to your ears, eyes, throat, lungs, heart, stomach, digestive tract, spleen, liver, and uterus, according to Living whole. Thousands of fibers run up and down this nerve, transmitting information to your brain.

The vagus nerve also oversees the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, sending messages of anxiety or calm to the brain. As a result, it is referred to as the “nerve of compassion,” as when it is toned, it sends feelings of warmth, love, and gratitude.

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If you have been feeling stressed out or anxious, tone your vagus nerve and you may transform messages of anxiety to messages of relaxation. The vagus nerve can be toned in various ways including gargling, doing a humming meditation, laughing, cardio exercises, massage, and even by socializing.

Here are a few easy and quick ways to stimulate the vagus nerve. These small movements take seconds to do, yet could make huge shifts in your mind and body. Do them at home while sitting in a chair or lying on a yoga mat. Relax and enjoy!

A long exhale is key to letting mind and body go

Simply breathing a longer exhale will stimulate your vagus nerve. In fact, a study from the International Journal of Psychophysiology showed that two minutes of deep and slow breathing increased the activity of the vagus nerve, thus producing a longer time between each heartbeat. In turn, this could result  in better decision-making skills!

Extending the exhaled breath sends a message to the brain via the vagus nerve that your body can calm down, according to mindful, leading to both physical and mental stillness, and may even induce sleep.

While lying down, breathe in and out inhaling for four counts, then exhaling for four counts. Gradually, inhale for four then exhale for five, working up to four inhales to eight exhales, or a ratio of 1:2. It may be so effective, you will be asleep before you know it!

Neck stretch to tone the vagus muscle

Pain relief specialist Sukie Baxter shows how to reduce anxiety using the vagus nerve in this YouTube video. She explains that sending messages of safety to the brain may induce positive emotions. Since many of us live in a state of constant tension, Baxter suggests this easy neck massage.

This also stretches the sternocleidomastoid, that thick muscle that runs along the side of your neck. People with migraines often tend to hold tension here, according to Baxter.

Simply place your right hand at the top of your head and gently lean your head and right ear towards your right shoulder. Look up and hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

A woman sits at her desk and does a neck stretch to tone her vagus muscle.

(Mladen Mitrinovic /

Torso stretch activates the vagus nerve

This exercise from Yoga U activates the vagus nerve in the torso by doing movement in the rib cage area  and settling the nervous system. While sitting on the floor or in a chair, come into a twist. Place your right hand on the outside of your left leg and place your left hand behind you. Gaze over your left shoulder. Lengthen your spine on your inhale, and on the exhale, deepen the twist. Then switch sides.

A man sits in a chair and twists, activating the vagus nerve in his torso.

(Koldunov /

Ear massage may reduce headaches

The ear connects to the upper part of the vagus nerve. Although this may seem like a small movement, this area can be impacted by tension. Baxter recommends movements to help calm your nervous system and release jaw and eye tension in this YouTube video. As the vagus nerve is also connected to the throat and chest, when toned, your neck may become relaxed, while breathing in your sinuses may be easier.

Gently place one finger above the ridge of your ear canal and move in gentle circles. Repeat on the other side. Then gently pull the ear from the skull and move it up and down. This may help alleviate temporomandibular joint pain as well as tension headaches.

Now massage the area behind the ear, moving your finger up and down, repeating on the other side. While you massage the area, you are sending messages of relaxation via the vagus nerve to the brain.

A woman at the gym pulls her ears in a vagus nerve toning exercise.

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