The Vagus Nerve
In a New York Times health issue, there is an interesting article about current research being done on a medical device. This device physically goes around the vagus nerve and stimulates it. The vagus nerve is a part of the nervous system. When it is stimulated it turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system which is responsible for all things restorative including our healing, repair, and immune systems.
Researchers were initially surprised to find out that one can promote healing in this way. Yogi’s, on the other hand, have been working with this for centuries. It turns out that deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. This, in turn, promotes proper sleep and good health. The yogic science of pranayama works with this fact to not only reduce anxiety and promote well being but to actually heal conditions. In my yoga therapy practice, I regularly teach pranayamas for a wide range of conditions and I’m often questioned about why and how breathing can make problems better.
Of course, we will never have as much funding for breath work as we might have for a medical device but I think it’s great for yoga therapy to be able to make these connections to current research. Maybe when we see the price for these devices we will be more likely to take the cost-effective route of visiting a Yoga Therapist for some breath instruction.