Vagus nerve kickstarts the parasympathetic nervous system's magic

HAPPY PLACE: The vagus nerve rules your body's relaxation responses.
HAPPY PLACE: The vagus nerve rules your body's relaxation responses.

I'm bathing in good vibes right now. Can you tell?

Yes. I haven't seen that twinkle in your eye since they announced a second season of Bridgerton. What are you doing, and can I have some?

I'm stimulating my vagus nerve.

That must be the one with casinos, light shows, dancing fountains, Cirque du Soleil and the friendly ghost of white-jumpsuit Elvis.

Not Vegas. Vagus. Although it's true, they are both about the good times. The vagus nerve rules your body's relaxation responses. It's the boss of the parasympathetic nervous system - your internal happy place that tells you to 'rest and digest.'

So the vagus nerve really is your ticket to virtual Vegas.

Think more spa resort. We're talking chill, not thrill. The vagus nerve commands our brain to slow our heart rate and peace out.

But how can I make it do that? All I know about any of my nerves is that things and people get on them constantly.

It's astonishingly easy. To stimulate your vagus nerve, you just need to breathe right.

That's it?

That's it. No app, device or guru required. The vagus nerve takes its cues from the way we breathe. Inhaling and exhaling slow and deep - the way you naturally do when you're contented and calm - tells our vagus nerve to kickstart the parasympathetic nervous system's feel-good magic. Bring on the bliss.


What about breathing fast and shallow?

That'll transport you to the opposite place: the sympathetic nervous system. We're talking fight or flight, rapid heartbeat, and anxious thoughts. Basically, your standard day at the office.

I'd much rather be in vagus. Take me there now.

Build in brief periods of conscious breathing several times a day. There are heaps of easy tutorials online to get you started.

One popular technique is the 365 Method: at least three times a day, breathe at a rhythm of six cycles per minute (five seconds in, five seconds out) for five minutes - 365 days a year.

Or you can try US yoga teacher Lucas Rockwood's 'whisky breathing' technique: in for four seconds, out for eight. Studies have shown that a daily breathing practice like this can help improve your physical and mental wellbeing in all kinds of ways.

I'm preparing to exhale. Viva las vagus!

  • Amy Cooper is a journalist who embraces wellness, but has also used kale to garnish a cocktail.
This story How to trigger the body's relaxation responses first appeared on The Canberra Times.