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Mind your vagus!

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Vagus = “Here and there, far and wide”.

The 10th cranial nerve called vagus or vagal or pneumogastric nerve.

This is the name given to the longest nerve of the autonomous nervous system, the 10th cranial nerve; vagus or vagal from latin, or pneumogastric from greek as it connects the brain to all the abdominal organs (lungs, heart, diaphragm, digestive track, intestines, spleen, pancreas, urinary bladder, kidney and sexual organs). Far and wide, the vagus nerve also innervates organs that are implicated in social communication such as the pharynx, larynx, the tongue, lips and soft palate muscles (facial expression and vocalization) and the ear (listening).

The autonomous nervous system, defined as the nerves that function independently of conscious will, has an accelerator (sympathetic) and a brake (parasympathetic) branch. Our vagus nerve is part of the brake branch and is also defined as the rest and digest system, promoting relaxation, restorative sleep, healthy digestion and immunity.

Taking a break from all active activities, is taking a moment with thyself.

What’s the hassle about it?

Modern life’s accelerated rhythms dance continuously on the accelerator branch with few breaks and scarce inactivity moments. Inactivity is often related to laziness or boredom in people’s minds and is thus perpetualy avoided. Even during breaks, people need to maintain their minds occupied with doing something (very often on the smartphone) because there are so many things to do and not enough time that inactivity is conceived as a waist of time. However, homeostasis in our bodies relies on a balance between the sympathetic (accelarator) and parasympathetic (brake) branches. A healthy busy lifestyle demands moments of “inactivity” (relaxation or sleep, meditation, breathing) during the day, and relaxed moments of mental focus (knitting, drawing, painting, carving) to disconnect the mind from its racing thoughts and connect with our inner self. During such moments the vagus nerve is activated. An active vagus nerve will promote all functions related to the organs innervated by it. Namely, heart function, digestion, elimination of toxins, sexual function, immunity and social engagement.

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