It is always great fun (and great honor!) to work with GOOP and try to answer the yoga and science questions they throw at me. This installation: the multifaceted vagus nerve. I hope it’s basically correct!
What’s important to know about the vagus nerve, and how it affects our overall health?
Emotion, stress, inflammation, heart rate, blood pressure, vocal expression, digestion, brain-heart communication, adaptivity, epilepsy. What do these things all have in common? The vagus nerve. It allows for communication between the brain, inner body, emotions, and world. The vagus nerve takes its name from Latin—it means wandering, like vagabond. It is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves. Most of the cranial nerves (there are twelve), stimulate or direct only one or two particular functions; for example, the first cranial nerve controls our sense of smell, the second our sense of sight. The vagus, however, which is the tenth cranial nerve, extends from the brain stem down into the trachea, larynx, heart, lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, and intestines. Among its many, many functions, the vagus stimulates the voluntary muscles that effect speech and expression (which is why Darwin called it the nerve of emotion); it’s associated with digestion and relaxation of the GI tract; it slows the heart rate and reduces inflammation. It is the oldest branch of our parasympathetic nervous system, and carries within it imprints of hundreds of thousands of years of the evolutionary imperative that we all have within us to feel safe, connected, and loved.
An earlier GOOP article on Yoga and aging (an excerpt from the book GOOP Clean Beauty) can be found here4