The first thing that Stig Severinsen tells us to do, is take a deep breath. And another. After a few deep breaths, you already feel much more at ease. You feel relaxed.

It is as easy as it sounds in practice. The mechanics behind it, however, are anything but. That is why science is only now able to find explanations for what ancient Indian and Chinese cultures have known for millennia.

Enter the Vagus Nerve

The key to relaxation and well-being is the vagus nerve, also known as the 10th cranial nerve. Our body has 12 cranial nerves in total of which the vagus nerve is the longest and most complex. This intricate network of nerves connect the brain with the various organs in our body and function as communications link.

To this day, scientists still find new parts of the body that are affected by the vagus nerve. Its activity has been linked to changes in the symptoms of migraines, depression, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and epilepsy.

As more information about the cranial nerve is unveiled, new ways to prevent people from suffering needlessly. The activation and deactivation of the vagus nerve is tied to a large amount of factors, including hormonal activity, level of inflammation and many other internal processes.

The bioelectrical and biochemical chain of events triggered by the vagus nerve is nearly impossible to outline. It is, however, certain that the cranial nerve governs the parasympathetic nerve system, which is responsible for our ability to relax. Therefore, an increase in activity in the vagus nerve will offset a stress response and activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

The Vagus Nerve on the scientific map

In 2016, Stephen Silberstein, professor of neurology, medical doctor and director of the Headache Center at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals has co-written an extensive review of the research on the vagus nerve. One of the key takeaways are that an increase in vagal activity results in a lower heart rate and reduction of inflammation due to the release of chemicals that calm the immune system.

Research also has shown that the vagus nerve can be stimulated through electrical pulses. This was done in the past through a surgical implant, but the FDA has approved new devices that are noninvasive and can stimulate the vagus nerve by being pressed against the skin of the neck to treat migraines and cluster headaches.

There is reason to believe that almost any ailment or condition that is worsened by inflammation or stress can be treated or have its symptoms reduced through activation of the vagus nerve. That’s great news, as electrical stimulation is not necessary to trigger the vagus nerve. A bear hug, strong handshake, massage, yoga and conscious breathing can do the same so keep breathing…

The original article can be read here: Medium

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