Vagus, Baby: Why You Should Care About Your Vagus Nerve

Keeping your vagus nerve happy might be key to vibrant mind-body balance. Learn how to keep this nerve “toned” and why it matters according to Dr. Sarah Gottfried

This post is part of an ongoing collaboration with The Chalkboard Mag.

Vagus means “wanderer.” This nerve — the longest one in your body — wanders all through your body to important organs and areas such as the brain, neck, ears, tongue, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, spleen and reproductive organs in women. The vagus nerve contains motor and sensory fibers. It has wide distribution throughout the body as it passes through the neck and thorax to the abdomen. Think of it as the most important nerve in your parasympathetic nervous system.

So what happens when it’s whacked? An amped-up perception of stress causes lower vagal tone (or responsiveness), which means the vagus nerve is having performance issues and operating at a lower capacity. If the vagus nerve isn’t tended to, you won’t be healthy and you’re more likely to age faster.

High vagal tone is a marker of greater altruistic behavior and closeness to others. Lower vagal tone is linked to a variety of problems:

MIND: Stress; anxiety; weakened sense of connectivity

BODY: Low stomach-acid secretion; poor absorption of B12; low or slow bile acid production, so it’s harder to clear fats and toxins; poor blood flow to kidneys; higher blood pressure; poor glucose control; poor heart rate variability and greater risk of heart disease; high resting heart rate; frequent urination; limited or absent capacity for orgasms

BOTH: Poor satiety or sense of relaxation while eating; difficulty accessing mind-body connection and flow state


These actions may trigger your stress genes to turn off, bringing a greater sense of calmness.

One: Connect positively with others.
Two: Take a cold shower (try it, but if it stresses you out, you may have the same TH gene as me!).
Three: Schedule a reflexology (foot massage) session.
Four: Sleep on your right side.
Five: Sing!
Six: Get acupuncture, especially in the ear.
Seven: Book a craniosacral session.

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The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program. 


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I dunno if I can sleep on my right side – when I do, I always find myself flipping back to the left. I’ll try it again though!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

5 years ago

Great post!

5 years ago

Thanks for writing! I work as an occupational therapist in a chronic pain clinic, and I frequently work with clients to balance their vagus nerve. One more thing to add to your list of ways to “rehab” the vagus nerve: breath. We are learning more and more everyday how the mind-body connection works, but one of the most powerful ways we can help calm a stressed or over-stimulated body is by taking deep, slow, “belly” breaths.

Here’s an extra tip: during the exhale, press the air out of your lungs ~slowly~ while making a controlled “noisy” breath (you know the sound you make when you exhale sharply when your aggravated? That’s it!). This process stimulates the vagus nerve in the best way, and can add extra oomph to relaxing the mind and body : )