What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is our friend. It is the longest cranial nerve in the body, running all the way from the brainstem to part of the colon. It's a major part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system in charge of turning off the fight-or-flight response. This helps us get into a more relaxed state by reducing the heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulation of the vagus nerve triggers the body's rest-and-digest response, helping us deal with difficult situations with a clearer, calmer mind.

Deep breathing is one of the easiest ways to stimulate the vagus nerve in order to calm ourselves. Typically, our breathing naturally slows down when we are relaxed, for instance, when we are about to go to sleep. Thankfully, it is a system that works both ways, so by intentionally slowing down our breathing, we can help our body calm down.

A decreased vagal tone is closely related to many health problems such as inflammation, depression, anxiety, panic attack and weight problems. On the other hand, a strong vagus response is critical to physical and mental health. It makes it easier to cope with stress and may facilitate a speedy recovery following illnesses and injuries.  

The balancing breath technique is the best way to stimulate the vagus nerve. 6 breaths per minute, or breathing in and out for 5 seconds, even if only for a minute, is known to have immense effects on our physical and psychological wellbeing.

You can find more on balancing breath here.