The Vagus Nerve


The Vagus is arguably the most important and certainly the most complex nerve in the human body. It came into prominence in the therapeutic field in recent years largely because of the ground-breaking Poly Vagal Theory developed by Stephen Porges. This theory radically changed the understanding of how the body and mind work in conditions of safety, danger and life-threat. It forms the foundation of the contemporary comprehension of trauma and traumatization.

Known popularly for the Rest and Digest state instigated by Parasympathetic Nervous system, this wandering nerve has many more tricks up its many sleeves. The Vagus nerve controls everything from chewing muscles, the voice box, the throat, heart and breathing rate, digestion, instinctual behaviour and even blood flow to the brain. It’s central to emotion and emotional expression, voice intonation, attention spans, calm states and active states when there is no danger, our gut feelings, the workings of digestion, making it all the way down to the bladder and reproductive organs.

The vast human capacity for communication and cooperation evolved in conjunction with the development of the Vagus nerve, or more correctly, the dorsal and ventral vagal networks. Pre-verbal infants rely almost solely on this nerve to communicate their needs and regulate arousal. While people with exceptional vagal tone make the best negotiators in crisis situations.

There is a growing body of evidence which shows that common medical conditions from arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease are ameliorated by Vagus nerve stimulation. We also know that massage and yoga promote parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is vagal activity. Stimulation of pressure receptors buried beneath the surface of the skin increases vagal activity. The soothing tones of the human voice do the same as does extending the exhale when you breathe.

So if you work with touch, with breath or with the voice it’s worth getting to know the intricacies of this wonderous, wandering nerve.




© Katherine Ukleja 2014