Updated: May 22
The Vagus Nerve. The big guy that runs from the brain down to the diaphragm. This nerve governs our nervous responses, choosing whether we are under threat or at ease. Closely monitoring our breathing through the diaphragm, and deciding a nervous response based on the fluctuations of the breath, the Vagus is an important consideration within Yoga practice.
If you imagine a bellringer sat with two different bells in her hands, tentatively awaiting a signal from higher up on which one is the right one to ring. As soon as that signal arrives she starts furiously ringing one of the bells, alerting the other bellringers in neighbouring towns which bell is the right one.
Your vagus nerve is the bellringer. Listening intently for a signal from the diaphragm, eyes and skin, the vagus closely monitors your sensory input and breathing to check for threat. The two bells she can choose to ring are the 'sympathetic nervous response' (also known as fight or flight) OR the 'parasympathetic nervous response' (also known as rest & digest). The three main spots in the body that threat-level is monitored by the vagus nerve are;
- The diaphragm
- The eyes (occipital nerves)
- The skin
If no threat is found the 'rest & digest' bell is rung, alerting the body that it is safe to relax into the parasympathetic nervous response where all bodily systems are functioning normally and homeostasis (balance) is achieved.
In Yoga practice we primarily work with the parasympathetic nervous system. Encouraging the body to soften, release and find balance through the practice and repetition asana, pranayama and meditation. Through relaxation of the diaphragm and conditioning of the muscles within the respiratory system through Yogic breathing, we can have an active input on whether our nervous response is sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest and digest).
In simpler terms; take care of your breathing, and your body will take care of you!