Yoga and the Vagus Nerve

Finding poses that fit in a sequence for yoga and the vagus nerve isn’t difficult, but finding the right approach can be. As students come from a variety of backgrounds and abilities, directing them into poses that activate the vagus nerve can be tricky for multiple reasons. Triggering the vagus nerve can heighten a sense of discomfort or unease for students; they might feel lightheaded or experience nausea, in addition to emotional sensations. As a result, I like to note these sensations as they might arise in students, especially in poses that are most likely to cause them.

Vagus Nerve Yoga Poses

In a previous post about the vagus nerve, I noted a few ways in which people can stimulate it. Things like laughing, singing, cold exposure, and more can increase “vagal tone.”

The vagus nerve plays a central role in your emotional and physical health. The vagus nerve extends from the brainstem down into your stomach and intestines, enervating your heart and lungs, and connecting your throat and facial muscles. Therefore, any yoga practices that stimulate these areas of the body can have a profound influence on the tone of the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve yoga helps you reclaim balance of body and mind using tools of mindfulness, conscious breathing, and physical postures.

Dr. Arielle Schwarz

Increasing vagal tone has been shown to help reduce inflammation and positively affect many chronic illnesses. Building somatic awareness – a big part of yoga – is one way. Slowing breath (another key aspect to yoga practices) does, too. Here are a few poses that can target the vagus nerve function as well.

Camel pose

On your knees, place your hands on your low back. Drop your head back, and let your hands slide down to continue to support you as your walk your gaze across the ceiling. Keep your hands on your back, only reaching for ankles if it’s comfortable and not strenuous.

Seated Twist

Sitting cross-legged, plant your left hand behind you. With your right hand, reach for your left knee. Allow your gaze to move over the left shoulder, and work to square your chest to the left side of the room. Repeat on the other side.

Cat/Cow

Inhale into cow, dropping the belly and press the tailbone high as you lift your gaze to the ceiling. Exhale into cat, arching the spine as you tuck your tailbone, dropping your gaze to the floor.

Upward and Downward Facing Dog

Plant hands on the floor and step back. Gently come down to your knees, or keep your legs slightly elevated and press down through the tops of your feet. Straighten your arms and stretch your head to the sky, lengthening through the torso.
Flip your toes as you press your hips up and back, creating an upside down V shape into downward facing dog.

yoga poses to stimulate the vagus nerve
Yoga poses that affect the vagus nerve include camel pose, upward and downward facing dog, cat and cow, as well as seated twist amongst many others.

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