Vagus nerve stimulation: Role of Yoga and Meditation in strengthening Cranial nerve, enhancing immunity

Pranayam is the power to control your breath to gain ccontrol over your emotions and also organ functions like heart rate etc

Pranayam is the power to control your breath to gain ccontrol over your emotions and also organ functions like heart rate etc  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images


  • Our nervous system is built around the balance and harmony of two opposing activities. The sympathetic nervous system handles the fight or flight response.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system takes care of relaxation, digestion, and regeneration. When the rhythm between the two is lost, the casualty is our physical and mental health.
  • Meditation and Pranayam can help restore and stimulate the Vagus Nerve that creates a rhythm between these two.

Our body is a complex system of several organs and organ systems. Apart from myriad other things, there is a network of nerves that criss-cross across our body.

There are nerves that take a sensation to the brain and there is a nerve system that takes the command to the organs to act.

There are 12 cranial nerves in the body. They come in pairs and help to link the brain with other areas of the body, such as the head, neck, and torso. With the help of these nerves, our brain gathers sensory information, including details about smells, sights, tastes, and sounds. Other cranial nerves control the movement of various muscles and the function of certain glands. These are known as motor functions.

What is the Vagus Nerve:
While some cranial nerves have either sensory or motor functions, others have both. The vagus nerve is such a nerve.
The vagus nerve – the longest cranial nerve – runs all the way from the brain stem to part of the colon.
Damage to the vagus nerve can have a range of symptoms because the nerve is so long and affects many areas.
It can create difficulty in speaking or loss of voice, one can lose the gag reflex, or have trouble drinking liquids, develop pain in the ears or suffer unusual heart rate or abnormal blood pressure, stomach and digestive issues.
Since this nerve also stimulates certain muscles in the heart that help to slow heart rate, its over-reaction can cause a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in fainting – medically called the vasovagal syncope.
It’s thought that vagus nerve stimulation could help to treat a range of other conditions in the future, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cluster headache.

US National Library of Medicine has published numerous papers on how the ancient breathing technique of Pranayam, Yog and meditation practices etc help stimulate the Vagus Nerve Complex. “Beneficial effects associated with these (Yoga and Meditation) practices have been found on physical health, mental health and cognitive performance,” it says.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is responsible for the fight/flight mode of organisms. It raises heart rate, blood pressure and indirectly respiration rate. It dampens currently irrelevant homeostatic processes but stimulates immediate availability of energy. The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) acts as an opposing force. It is the rest/digest system of the organism. It lowers heart rate, respiration rate and increases digestion. The Vagus Nerve (VN) is the main affector and effector of the PNS.
Another research paper by the US National Library of Medicine says: “Meditation research has begun to clarify the brain effects and mechanisms of contemplative practices while generating a range of typologies and explanatory models to guide further study.”

How to stimulate the Vagus Nerve through Sudarshan Yoga Kriya:
Another paper published by the US National Library of Medicine says: “Breathing techniques are regularly recommended for relaxation, stress management, control of psychophysiological states, and to improve organ function. Yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.”

Sudarshan kriya yoga (SKY) is a type of cyclical controlled breathing practice with roots in traditional yoga that provides relief for depression, and it is taught by the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation. It has four distinct components.[4] Detailed descriptions of the four main SKY breathing techniques are as follows.[5]

  1. Ujjayi or “Victorious Breath”: This involves experiencing the conscious sensation of the breath touching the throat. This slow breath technique (2–4 breaths per minute) increases airway resistance during inspiration and expiration and controls airflow so that each phase of the breath cycle can be prolonged to an exact count. The subjective experience is physical and mental calmness with alertness.
  2. During Bhastrika or “Bellows Breath,” air is rapidly inhaled and forcefully exhaled at a rate of 30 breaths per minute. It causes excitation followed by calmness.
  3. “Om” is chanted three times with very prolonged expiration.
  4. Sudarshan Kriya which is a Sanskrit term meaning “proper vision by purifying action” is an advanced form of rhythmic, cyclical breathing with slow, medium, and fast cycles.

It is also proposed that when control over the Vagus Nerve is achieved, the immunity is modulated in a way such that cytokine storms do not happen in case of infections. The body learns to fight inflammation in a well-modulated manner.
According to the Art of Living Foundation’s pages, there are many ways to help strengthen your vagus nerve, but the top 7 would be:

  1. Yoga and Mediation
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Mantra Chanting and Singing
  4. Laughter is the best medicine
  5. Cold bath or splashing cold water on the face
  6. Intermittent fasting
  7. Probiotics