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Yoga For The Vagus Nerve: Is It The Antidote To Stress?

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Yoga for the vagus nerve reduces anxiety and is profoundly relaxing. Regular practice lowers stress hormones, boosts the immune system and improves sleep. You will will look and feel happier and more radiant.

Love Your Vagus Nerve

Want to know how to get instant health benefits by activating your vagus nerve? Make sure you read to the end.

Knowing how to activate the vagus nerve was a life changer for me. I learned to use stress positively when engaged in difficult tasks. Equally important, I learned how to activate my own relaxation response.

Recent neuroscience research explains how yoga is so effective in creating physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

The vagus nerve is central to wellbeing as it regulates the vital functions of the body. It controls your breath, heart rate, digestion and even gut health. An inactive vagus nerve lead to chronic health problems. I hope, once you have read this post, you are inspired to get on your yoga mat and enjoy the life changing effects of yoga!

The research suggests that activating your vagus nerve is even linked to feelings of love and compassion. Being in a beautiful place (especially with someone you love) actually this helps tone your vagus nerve. And this helps you to connect deeply with each other.

Your vagus nerve is also connected to your chakras and kundalini energy. In a previous post the correlation between the location of the chakras, the poly vagal connections, and all major organs and endocrine glands. This also explains the surprisingly calming effect of Kundalini Yoga.

A Bridge Between Yoga And Neuroscience

Neuroscience uncovered a key element of the healing effect of yoga: the vagus nerve, a major pathway of nerves in the body. It explains yoga’s benefits such as vitality, mental peace, balance, improved immunity, and relief from anxiety and depression.

The vagus nerve, named after the Latin word for “wandering” (vaga, like vagabond), travels through your entire body, serving as a messenger between your body and brain. It connects your brain with all major organs, allowing the brain to monitor what is happening internally. This connection influences your overall well-being, affecting your emotions, behaviors, sleep, and focus.

The yogis, through postures, breath and meditations, tapped into something profound that has endured through time. Recent neuroscience research shows how these ancient practices activate the vagus nerve. This nerve is central for your emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

Sun Salutation | Yoga For The Vagus Nerve

Vagus Nerve: Key to Stress Control

The stress of a fast-paced career can really take a toll on your everyday well-being. It is crucial to control your nervous system when you face important deadlines, meetings, or presentations. Sometimes, you need to perform our best even when you feel at your worst. But what if there is a way to flip the script and regain control over your stress? This is exactly what Yoga Therapy for the vagus nerve can do for you.

Understanding how yoga practices can activate this vital nerve has not only deepened my personal practice but also given profound benefits to my students.

Activating your Vagus nerve, the central nerve connecting your body and mind, sets you in control over your stress response rather than the other way around. 

When the vagus nerve is active and toned, it helps balance your body and adapt to changes. It improves attention, emotional regulation, and resilience to challenges.

Forgotten Tantric Breath: Instant Release of Anxiety and Stress

Try this forgotten Tantric breath technique to quickly activate your vagus nerve.  I have used this to instantly alleviate stress and anxiety in clients:

  1.  Sit in a relaxed position with relaxed shoulders and a straight spine.

  2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

  3. Imagine your breath flowing into your heart as you inhale, filling it with calm and relaxation. Then re-inhale and imagine your heart expanding. 

  4. As you exhale, visualize the energy traveling up through the center of your body to the crown of your head. Then exale the last air and imagine the energy dispersing over  the crown of your head. 

  5. Repeat this process several times, focusing on the connection between your breath and your body.

Is Your Vagus Nerve Inactive?

Modern life puts us in many tough situations. When your body stays in a state of stress for a longer period of time, it takes a toll on your health. If stress continues unchecked, your “fight or flight” response may become overactive. This makes you less able to activate your vagus nerve and thereby your mode of relaxation. This is a big problem because your body, brain and organs need rest to recover from daily stress.

If your vagus nerve is inactive, you may notice various mental and physical issues. Mentally, you may experience fatigue, difficulty managing emotions, and feelings of anxiety or depression. This can also contribute to problems like obesity and eating disorders.

Physically, an inactive vagus nerve can lead to low immunity, dizziness, and brain fog. It may cause cardio-vascular problems such as irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, or hypertension. Digestive issues like IBS, heartburn, and constipation may also arise. An inactive vagus nerve can even lead to chronic inflammation, pain and autoimmune diseases. In severe cases it may even cause cancer. 

Chronic stress can also accelerate aging and negatively impact your overall well-being. It is time to reset your body-mind connection by stimulating your vagus nerve.

Sun Salutation Yoga for Vagus Nerve Activation

Toning The Vagus Nerve

Surprisingly, it is possible to activate the vagus nerve via a surgical operation that inserts a device which stimulates the vagus nerve using electrical brain signals. However, the healthy way is to control our vagus response ourselves. With its focus on physical postures and breath awareness, yoga is a particularly effective way to activate the vagus nerve.

Unlike fitness activities such as gym workouts or running that engage the sympathetic nervous system, yoga promotes relaxation and balance through breath awareness. Yoga designed to activate the vagus nerve offers immense benefits, as we will now investigate further.

After my vagus nerve yoga classes, my students leave with a deep sigh, having shed layers of stress hormones and exchanged them with a deep feeling of relaxation. Some even describe feeling euphoria.

1. Slow and mindful Asanas

Research tells us that. The fancy yoga poses and beautiful astanga yoga series you see online may look cool. But they are not particularly good for vagus activation. What works best if slow and simple, basic asanas. Hatha or Yin Yoga work the best to activate the vagus nerve. These slow-paced and still yoga practices give us a better breath awareness. It has the highest impact and enable us to manage our stress responses effectively. This activates the relaxing part of our nervous system, which promotes relaxation and balance. 

While we may instinctively believe that countering stress with high-energy exercises is beneficial, the opposite is more often the case. While Ashtanga and Hot yoga may activate the vagus nerve by inducing exhaustion, they potentially switch on the active nervous system and thereby maintain the stress response.

Hatha yoga practiced in the morning provides strength, calmness and focus throughout the day. Mindful and slow-paced yoga, where the inhalations and exhalations last at least five seconds is most effective. Asanas held for nine breaths or more, increases vagal activation, especially poses that twists the vagus nerve. This explains why the reverse triangle pose helps hypochondria. Until I learned about the vagus nerve this connection was always a mystery for me.

Twisting asanas, in particular, effectively tone the vagus nerve. Yin yoga, emphasizing mindfulness, breath, and prolonged poses, stands out as the most effective form of vagal stimulation because of the long duration of poses. This prevents anxiety, insomnia, and depression, and boosts immunity. Regular practice of  traditional asana yoga fosters balance, harmony, and surplus in everyday life because of the continuous activation of the vagus nerve.

2. Sun salutation

Sun salutation (Surya Namaskar) is in my experience a core practices for vagus toning, when practiced slowly with breath awareness. When you practice sun salutation you will experience that you feel both relaxed and energized at the same time. 

The reason it is so powerful is because it in turn elongates and compresses the spine, massaging the  nerve connections in the vagus pathway. It activates the relaxing nervous system, fostering calmness and focus. Additionally, sun salutation strengthens muscles, improves circulation, and enhances overall health.

My students love the sun salutation when they learn it as the deepest (and most vagus activating level). Learning it in a meditative flow state gives them and entirely different experience of the practice  (see blog on Sun Salutation). 

3. Chanting

There is a reason why singing and chanting makes you feel happy. Chanting serves a double purpose for vagus activation. It both slows down the breath and activates the vocal cords, amplifying the effect on the vagus nerve. ‘AUM’ chanting, in particular, vibrates the vocal cords, the thyroid gland and balances hormones. Chanting need not carry religious connotations. Practicing with chakra focus further enhances its effect.

4. Meditation

We now know why meditation makes you relaxed and peaceful. Mediation activates the vagus nerve by slowing down the breath and calming the mind. It clams the mind through and breath awareness, creating a relaxation response throughout the nervous system. Meditation even changes the brain structure. Individuals who find meditation too advanced may find that dynamic meditations give them higher benefit. It is a good step towards deeper forms of meditation.

5. Pranayamas

The vagus nerve solves the mystery of why some pranayamas are so relaxing that they even reduce out blood pressure. Pranayama literally means controlling your life energy. Energizing breaths like Kapal Bhati and Bhastrika are beneficial, but tend to activate the sympathetic nervous system. That is why individuals with high blood pressure should opt for slower and calming pranayamas. Nadi Shoaden and Bhramari are very efficient tools for toning the vagus nerve, and relaxing the body and mind.  

6. Laughter Yoga

Did you know why laughing is so healthy? The idea of laughter as a meditative practice traces back to the Buddha, often depicted laughing. It mixes breath, movement, and laughter. Laughter yoga is an efficient way to activate the vagus nerve at multiple points (brain, vocal cord, kidneys, belly). It fosters deep relaxation, and enables body and mind to rejuvenate. Laughter not only increases cognitive function is also a preventive measure against heart disease.

Laughter Yoga | Yoga For The Vagus Nerve

7. Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra has been know to immensely improve your sleep quality.  It activates the vagus nerve and induces a state of deep relaxation. Practiced before bedtime makes it an efficient antidote to stress and anxiety, and it requires very little effort (just lie still and enjoy the journey inside). Research show its efficacy in lowering heart rate, anger, and stress levels. Using visualizations during Yoga Nidra not only relaxes your mind. It has the power to heal unhealthy mind patterns, increase confidence, and renew energy levels. It is best practiced at night, after work, or when you wake up in the morning. 

8. Kundalini Yoga Kriyas

Science explains the deeply calming effect of Kundalini Yoga Kriyas, rooted in tantric tradition. These are a potent method for Vagus activation because of the close connection between the chakras’ locations, the organs, and the vagus nerve (see previous post). The intentional movement of Kundalini energy involves slow and mindful breathing, which activates both the Kundalini energy and the vagus nerve.

Benefits of Vagus nerve Yoga

Do you want to live and active career life and at the same time experience internal peace? Vagus nerve yoga is for you! Knowing how to activate your vagus nerve is crucial for handling your work and personal life challenges. When you learn to stimulate your vagus nerve, you naturally become calmer, more relaxed, and focused. These are all qualities essential for navigating life’s physical and emotional demands.

After my vagus nerve yoga classes, my students leave with a deep sigh, having shed layers of stress hormones and exchanged them with a deep feeling of relaxation. Some even describe feeling euphoria. These are the many benefit fo Vagus Nerve Yoga.

1. Improves Mental health

Research shows that meditative and mindful forms of yoga, such as Kundalini yoga and mindful asanas yoga (such as hatha or yin yoga) decreases stress, anxiety and depression while increasing well-being and self-efficacy.

Simply doing a mudra collecting the thumb, pointed and ring finger can provide an instant relaxation response. Studies indicate that physiological stress markers like heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels, migraines, headaches, and inflammation can be reduced by meditation and mindful yoga.

2. Increases Heart rate Variability

Vagal tone is linked to heart rate variability. A higher vagal tone indicates better adaptability of the heart rate to changes in blood flow, particularly during stress or relaxation. By promoting relaxation when needed, slow paced vagus nerve yoga increases heart rate variability.

3. Lowers Blood Pressure

The vagus nerve plays a crucial role in regulating heart function and blood pressure. It explains why pranayamas (breathwork) such as Nadi Shoaden lower blood pressure, benefiting individuals with HB and hypertension.

4. Improves Gut Health

As a communication channel between the brain and gut, the vagus nerve influences digestion and appetite regulation. Asanas that activate the gut, such as the bridge, bow and cobra are likely to also enhance gut microbiome diversity and function, improving gut health and overall well-being. This in turn improves the immune system.

5. Reduces Inflammation

Recent studies on vagal nerve stimulation show promising results in reducing inflammation associated with conditions like Crohn’s disease. By reducing inflammatory responses, slow and mindful yoga, such as restorative, yin and yoga nidra (sleep yoga), offers potential therapeutic benefits for autoimmune diseases and chronic pain.

6. Activates Digestive System

Relaxation induced by vagus nerve yoga, such as twists and upward and downward bends, optimizes digestive function and conserves energy for digestion during periods of relaxation. Laughter yoga is especially efficient in activating the kidneys.

7. Improves respiratory health

The vagus nerve works like a messenger from your lungs to your brain. It helps your lungs work well and protects them. When the vagus nerve is active, it makes your breathing better and tells your brain how your lungs are doing. This explains why pranayamas (breathwork) is so effective for respiratory issues, such as asthma.

8. Enhances Brain Health

Active vagal tone facilitates optimal brain function by inducing relaxation and improving neurological pathways. The result is enhanced focus, cognitive performance, and brain connections. Pranayamas are especially effective in improving brain function.

9. Improves Vocal Cord Function

The vagus nerve controls vocal cord movements, influencing breathing, speaking, and singing. Singing, chanting, and humming, common practices in yoga, stimulate the vagus nerve and help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety.

10. Reduces Insomnia

Calmness before sleep is essential for the quality of your sleep. Watching action series is a stressful beginning of your night. Pranayamas such as alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhan), Bhramari (the humming bee breath), and Ujjayi breath (the breath that sounds like waves) all activate the vagus nerve and promote mental calmness. Practicing Yoga Nidra daily, especially after work and before sleep, prevents and alleviates insomnia by activating the vagus nerve, providing a deeply restorative sleep. Finally, meditation may offer deeper rest than sleep, resulting in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.


We all aspire to the impossible. To live a powerful life with high career ambitions. And to be clam and peaceful while doing it. It might sound like a contradiction in terms. But there is a way forward: Yoga for the Vagus nerve. For me personally it has been a life changer.

Modern science recognizes that activating the vagus nerve is essential for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Vagus nerve yoga reduce stress, improve mental health, and boost your immune system. 

When the vagus nerve is active, your body is balanced, attention sharp, and you experience emotional resilience. In contrast, an inactive vagus nerve can lead to chronic stress, and mental and physical health problems.

This explains why a simply daily practice of yoga is an antidote to stress. It increases your  quality of life and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.


  1. Sullivan (2018). Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience. Hypothesis and Theory, Front. Hum. Neurosci., February 2018, vol 12. Sec. Brain Health and Clinical Neuroscience. 
  2. Grossman, P., and Kollai, M. (1993). Respiratory sinus arrhythmia, cardiac vagal tone, and respiration: within- and between-individual relations. Psychophysiology, 30, 486–495.
  3. Grossman, et al. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: a meta-analysis. J. Psychosom. Res., 57, 35–43.
  4. Pascoe, M. C., Thompson, D. R., Jenkins, Z. M., and Ski, C. F. (2017). Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: systematic review and meta-analysis. J. Psychiatric Res., 95, 156–178.
  5. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Hypothesis and Theory, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 09 October 2018, Sec. Cognitive Neuroscience. Volume 12 – 2018.
  6. Christine Somera, et al. (March 2024). The effect of yin yoga intervention on state and trait anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatry, Volume 15, Frontiers.
  7. CC Streeeter et al. (May 2012). Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical Hypotheses, Volume 78, Issue 5.
  8. Kaviraja Udupa, T. N. Sathyaprabha (2018). Influence of Yoga on the Autonomic Nervous System. From Research-Based Perspectives on the Psychophysiology of Yoga. [Link: https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/influence-of-yoga-on-the-autonomic-nervous-system/187467]
  9. Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity. August 2009. Volume 1172, Issue 1. Longevity, Regeneration, and Optimal Health Integrating Eastern and Western Perspectives.
Winnie Winnetu
dr. winnie bothe

Winnie has practiced yoga for more than 15 years and lead yoga teacher training retreats in India for 5 years. She is internationally certified in Kundalini, Hath and Yin Yoga and in Yoga Therapy.

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