32 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

32 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

In people with fatigue, food sensitivities, anxiety, gut problems, brain fog, and depersonalization, the vagus nerve is almost always at play. These people have lower vagal tone, which means a lower ability to perform its functions.

The only question is which aspect of the vagus nerve is malfunctioning and to what extent it is the problem vs. other aspects of your biology.

The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, referred to as the rest-and-digest system. It’s not the only nerve in the parasympathetic system, but it’s by far the most important one because it has the most far-reaching effects.

The word vagus means “wanderer,” because it wanders all over the body to various important organs.

The vagus nerve reaches the brain, gut (intestines, stomach), heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, reproductive organs (female), neck (pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), ears, and tongue.

Given the importance of the vagus nerve to the gut (and other organs), when it’s not working properly, it will cause digestive disorders including dyspepsia, gastroparesis, esophageal reflux, ulcerative colitis, anorexia, and bulimia, to name a few.

1) Cold

Studies show that when your body adjusts to cold, your fight-or-flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) system increases, which is mediated by the vagus nerve [R].

Any kind of acute cold exposure will increase vagus nerve activation [R].

You can dip your face in cold water to start.

I’ve graduated and now take fully cold showers, expose myself to cold, and drink cold water.

2) Singing or Chanting

Singing increases Heart Rate Variability (HRV) [R].

Humming, mantra chanting, hymn singing, and upbeat energetic singing all increase HRV in slightly different ways [R].

I do Om chanting in my infrared sauna.

Singing initiates the work of a vagal pump, sending relaxing waves through the choir [R].

Singing at the top of your lungs works the muscles in the back of the throat to activate the vagus.

Energetic singing activates your sympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve and conducts towards getting into a flow state [R].

Singing in unison, which is often done in churches and synagogues, also increases HRV and vagus function [R].

Singing has been found to increase oxytocin [R].

3) Yoga

Yoga increases vagus nerve and parasympathetic system activity in general [R, R].

A 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a control group who did walking exercises. The study found increased thalamic GABA levels, which are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety [R].

4) Meditation

There are two types of meditation that can stimulate the vagus nerve.

Loving-kindness meditation increases vagal tone, as measured by heart rate variability.

Also, Om chanting stimulates the vagus nerve [R].

5) Positive Social Relationships

In a study, participants were instructed to sit and think compassionately about others by silently repeating phrases like “May you feel safe, may you feel happy, may you feel healthy, may you live with ease,” and keep returning to these thoughts when their minds wandered.

Compared to the controls, the meditators showed an overall increase in positive emotions, like joy, interest, amusement, serenity, and hope after the class. These emotional and psychological changes were correlated with a greater sense of connectedness to others and to an improvement in vagal function, as seen by heart-rate variability.

Simply meditating, however, didn’t always result in a more toned vagus nerve. The change only occurred in meditators who became happier and felt more socially connected. Those who meditated just as much but didn’t report feeling any closer to others showed no change in the tone of the vagus nerve.

6) Breathe Deeply and Slowly

Deep and slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve.

Your heart and neck contain neurons that have receptors called “baroreceptors.”

These specialized neurons detect your blood pressure and transmit the neuronal signal to your brain (NTS), which goes on to activate your vagus nerve that connects to your heart to lower blood pressure and heart rate. The result is a lower fight-or-flight activation (sympathetic) and more rest-and-digest (parasympathetic).

Baroreceptors can be variably sensitive. The more sensitive they are, the more likely they are going to fire and tell your brain that the blood pressure is too high and it’s time to activate the vagus nerve to lower it.

Slow breathing, with a roughly equal amount of time breathing in and out, increases the sensitivity of baroreceptors and vagal activation, which lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety by reducing your sympathetic nervous system and increasing your parasympathetic system [R].

For an average adult, breathing around 5-6 breaths per minute can be very helpful.

Tip: You need to breathe from your belly and slowly. That means when you breathe in, your belly should expand or go out. When you breathe out your belly should cave in. The more your belly expands and the more it caves in, the deeper you’re breathing.

7) Laughter

As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. Many studies show the health benefits of laughing [R].

It seems like laughter is capable of stimulating the vagus nerve.

A study done on yoga laughter found increased HRV in the laughter group [R].

There are various case reports of people fainting from laughter, which may be from the vagus nerve/parasympathetic system being stimulated too much.

For example, fainting can come after laughter, urination, coughing, swallowing, or bowel movements, all of which are helped along by vagus activation [R].

There are case reports of people passing out from laughter who have a rare syndrome (Angelman’s) that’s associated with increased vagus stimulation [R, R].

Laughter is also sometimes a side effect of vagus nerve stimulation [R].

A good bout of laughter is good for cognitive function and protects against heart disease [R]. It also increases beta-endorphins and nitric oxide and benefits the vascular system [R].

8) Prayer

Studies have shown that reciting the rosary prayer increases vagus activation. Specifically, it enhances cardiovascular rhythms such as diastolic blood pressure and HRV [R].

Studies also found that the reading of one cycle of the rosary takes approximately 10 seconds and thus causes readers to breathe at 10-second intervals (includes both in and out breath), which increases HRV and therefore vagus function [R].


Magnetic fields are capable of stimulating the vagus nerve.

Studies have found that PEMF can increase heart rate variability and increase vagus stimulation [R].

I use a pulsed magnetic stimulator called ICES in my gut and brain, which stimulates my vagus nerve increasing my appetite and stimulating me.

I recommend using this in your gut, brain, and side of your neck.

My gut flow increases and inflammation is reduced everywhere when I put this on my gut.

At first, I didn’t understand how it can have systemic effects if I placed it on my gut, but the vagus nerve must be the main reason given that it’s stimulated by magnets.

10) Breathing Exercises

Breathing in and out with resistance will likely stimulate your vagus nerve better –kind of like jogging with a backpack.

A breathing exercise is to breathe out as hard as you can until it’s really uncomfortable and until you notice how awake you are. I haven’t seen studies on this, but I suspect it will help with your vagus nerve.

11) Probiotics

The gut nervous system connects to the brain through the vagus nerve. There is increasing evidence pointing to an effect of the gut microbiota on the brain.

Animals supplemented with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus experienced various positive changes in GABA receptors mediated by the vagus nerve [R].

12) Exercise

Mild exercise stimulates gut flow. This is mediated by the vagus nerve, which means that exercise also stimulates it [R].

13) Massage

Massaging certain areas like your carotid sinus (located on your neck) can stimulate the vagus nerve. This helps reduce seizures [R].

A pressure massage can activate the vagus nerve. These massages help infants gain weight by stimulating gut function and this is largely mediated by vagus nerve activation [R, R].

Foot massages can also increase vagal activity and heart rate variability, while lower your heart rate and blood pressure [R]. All of these decrease heart disease risk.

14) Fasting

Intermittent fasting and reducing calories both increase high-frequency heart rate variability in animals [R], which is a marker of vagal tone.

Indeed, many anecdotal reports show that intermittent fasting benefits heart rate variability.

When you fast, part of the decrease in metabolism is mediated by the vagus nerve.

Specifically, the vagus detects a decline in blood glucose and a decrease of mechanical and chemical stimuli from the gut. This increases the vagus impulses from the liver to the brain (NTS), which slows the metabolic rate [R].

Hormones such as NPY increase while CCK and CRH decrease during fasting [R].

When we eat, the opposite happens. Satiety-related stimulatory signals from the gut contribute to increased sympathetic activity and stress-responsiveness (higher CRH, CCK, and lower NPY) [R].

Fasting can increase the activity in the subdiaphragmatic vagus, which can increase an unfavorable sensitivity to pain in animals [R].

The vagus nerve may make you more sensitive to estrogen. In female rats, fasting increases the number of estrogen receptors in certain parts of the brain (NTS and PVN) by the vagus nerve [R].

15) Sleep or Lay on Your Right Side

Studies have found that laying on your right side increases heart rate variability and vagal activation more than being on other sides. Laying on your back leads to the lowest vagus activation [R].

Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Check out my book, Biohacking Insomnia so you can finally go to sleep quickly at night and wake up feeling refreshed.

16) Tai Chi

Tai chi increases heart rate variability and, therefore, very likely vagus activation [R].

17) Gargling

The vagus nerve activates the muscles in the back of the throat that allow you to gargle.

Gargling contracts these muscles, which activates the vagus nerve and stimulates the gastrointestinal tract.

Before you swallow water, gargle it first.

18) Seafood (EPA and DHA)

I’m a big proponent of fish in the lectin avoidance diet.

EPA and DHA increase heart rate variability and lower heart rate [R]. This indicates that they stimulate the vagus nerve.

I’ve taken ten pills of fish oil as a megadosing experiment and my heart rate went from 60 to 40. So, in my self-experiments, fish oil does indeed lower heart rate, which is probably mediated, in part, by the vagus nerve.

19) Oxytocin

Oxytocin increases vagal nerve activity from the brain to the gut (in the brain and orally ingested) [R], which induces relaxation and decreases appetite.

Mice who had their vagus taken out didn’t exhibit the appetite-reducing effects of oxytocin [R].

20) Zinc

Zinc increases vagus stimulation in rats fed a zinc-deficient diet for 3 days [R]. It’s a very common mineral that most people don’t get enough of.

21) Tongue Depressors

Tongue depressors stimulate the gag reflex.

Some say that gag reflexes are like doing push-ups for the vagus nerve while gargling and singing loudly are like doing sprints.

22) Acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture points stimulate the vagus nerve [R].

In particular, acupuncture to the ear stimulates the vagus nerve [R].

Acupuncture is powerful enough that a man died after vagus nerve stimulation from too low of a heart rate [R].

23) 5-HTP (Serotonin)

Serotonin is capable of activating the vagus nerve through various receptors.

The effects are mediated in part by the activation of 5HT1A [R], 5-HT2 [R], 5-HT3, 5-HT4 [R], and perhaps 5-HT6 [R] receptors.

On the other hand, 5-HT7 receptors reduce vagus activation [R, R].

So, serotonin has some mixed effects, but overall it should stimulate the vagus nerve.

You can take 5-HTP to increase serotonin.

24) Chew Gum (CCK)

CCK directly activates vagal impulses in the brain [R].

CCK ability to reduce food intake and appetite is dependent on the vagus nerve impulse to and from the brain [R].

Chewing gum helps increase CCK release.

25) Eat Fiber (GLP-1)

GLP-1 is a satiating hormone that stimulates vagus impulses to the brain, which acts to slow the emptying of your stomach and make you feel fuller [R]. It also works by increasing CRH [R].

Fiber is the best way to increase GLP-1.

26) Coffee Enemas

Enemas are like sprints for your vagus nerve. Expanding the bowel increases vagus nerve activation, as is done with enemas.

27) Coughing or Tensing the Stomach Muscles

When you bear down as if to make a bowel movement, you stimulate your vagus nerve. That’s why you might feel relaxed after a bowel movement.

So if you use these bowel movement muscles, it will stimulate your vagus nerve.

28) Thyroid Hormones/T3 Are Normal

In rats, the thyroid hormones (T3) increase appetite through activating the vagus nerve, which also increases ghrelin [R].

29) Sun (MSH)

Alpha-MSH activates the vagus nerve. It is capable of preventing damage from a stroke via activating the vagus nerve, which suppresses inflammation [R, R].

Alpha-MSH injection in the brain (DMV) moderately excites the vagus nerve in some conditions [R].

30) Carbohydrates (insulin)

Insulin activates the vagus nerve in some ways through intermediaries.

31) Orexin

Orexin neurons are found in centers which control vagus nerve activation from the brain (NTS, DMV, and the area postrema) [R].

Orexin stimulates the vagus nerve from the brain, which promotes gut flow.

Orexin A can stimulate the pancreas from the brain [R].

Orexin is capable of increasing glucose tolerance or insulin sensitivity via the liver vagus nerve [R].

On the other hand, orexin is capable of inhibiting the activation of the vagus nerve signals to the brain by competing with CCK [R].

32) Ghrelin

Ghrelin increases growth hormone and hunger by stimulating the vagus nerve signal from the brain to the gut, and this is abolished by capsaicin (in chili) [R]

Ghrelin stimulates the pancreas from the brain via the vagus [R].

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Source: https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/28-ways-to-stimulate-your-vagus-nerve-and-all-you-need-to-know-about-it/

Contents [hide]

  • Introduction to the Vagus Nerve

  • The Vagus Nerve and Health

  • The Vagus Nerve and Sickness Behavior

  • Genetics/Testing for Vagus Activity

  • Potential Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

  • Conditions That Vagal Nerve Activation Can Help

  • The Vagus Nerve and Hormones

  • Acetylcholine

  • 32 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

  • 1) Cold

  • 2) Singing or Chanting

  • 3) Yoga

  • 4) Meditation

  • 5) Positive Social Relationships

  • 6) Breathe Deeply and Slowly

  • 7) Laughter

  • 8) Prayer

  • 9) PEMF

  • 10) Breathing Exercises

  • 11) Probiotics

  • 12) Exercise

  • 13) Massage

  • 14) Fasting

  • 15) Sleep or Lay on Your Right Side

  • 16) Tai Chi

  • 17) Gargling

  • 18) Seafood (EPA and DHA)

  • 19) Oxytocin

  • 20) Zinc

  • 21) Tongue Depressors

  • 22) Acupuncture

  • 23) 5-HT

P (Serotonin)

  • 24) Chew Gum (CCK)

  • 25) Eat Fiber (GLP-1)

  • 26) Coffee Enemas

  • 27) Coughing or Tensing the Stomach Muscles

  • 28) Thyroid Hormones/T3 Are Normal

  • 29) Sun (MSH)

  • 30) Carbohydrates (insulin)

  • 31) Orexin

  • 32) Ghrelin

  • Others

  • Leptin

  • CRH

  • MSG

  • How Does the Vagus Nerve Malfunction?

  • The Vagus Nerve and the Circadian Rhythm

  • How to Inhibit the Vagus Nerve

  • Vagus Nerve Terms

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