How and Why to Attend to the Vagus Nerve

Here are 3 tools and techniques to help improve your vagal tone, and enhance your body’s ability to recover well.

Lexy Rose | Partner, Coach & Head of Myofascial Education
 min read
June 2, 2023
Here are 3 tools and techniques to help improve your vagal tone, and enhance your body’s ability to recover well.

The vagus nerve is a big deal.

If you are a casual health news and information consumer, chances are good that you’ve recently heard something about the vagus nerve and how important it is. If you are a regular exerciser, the vagus nerve is your best friend when it comes to recovery and making positive adaptations to your training.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, and runs from the brain stem through the neck, and upper torso, into the abdomen. This nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system — initiating the “rest and digest” body response, as opposed to the “fight or flight” reaction — and the unconscious activity of the vagus nerve is referred to as vagal tone.

Vagal tone is responsible for lowering blood pressure and heart rate, regulating mood and emotional states, efficiency in digestion, liver, and glandular function, and appropriate immune system response.

In short, the activity of the vagus nerve is responsible for physiologically putting the body at ease. The more often you practice stimulating the vagus nerve, the stronger your vagal tone, and the quicker and more efficiently the body enters into a state of rest, relaxation, and recovery.

In order to recover from exercise (and life!) you must attend to the vagus nerve, and Upswell has all of the equipment and class programming you need to do so.

Here are 3 tools and techniques to help improve your vagal tone, and enhance your body’s ability to recover well.

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises that focus on an exhale that is longer in duration than the inhale stimulate the vagus nerve. Research shows that this type of breathwork sends the body into a parasympathetic response, inspiring all of the down-regulatory physiological responses that come along with — lowering heart and respiratory rates, as well as blood pressure.

Upswell offers POWER and BURN; dynamic recovery classes that incorporate breath and movement, restoring ease and balance to the body.

Foot Massage

Foot massage and reflexology have been shown to have a positive effect on vagus nerve function. Self-massage using balls on the bottom of the feet can generate the vagal response of tranquility, especially when combined with deep breathing.

Upswell offers RELEASE; a self-massage class that uses balls, foam rollers, and guided meditation to down-regulate the nervous system.

Cold Immersion

Cold immersion can be a powerful recovery modality, especially following cardiovascular exercise. 

The cardiovascular system’s positive adaptation to training is directly related to how quickly and efficiently the body's vagus nerve kicks in, post-exercise. Once the vagal activation has lowered the heart rate, the cardiovascular system then plays a role in signaling the recovery cycle in other physiological systems of the body.

While exercise is interpreted by the body as stress, recovery is the process of returning to a state of balance and a higher level of homeostasis (your body’s baseline equilibrium). With this in mind, studies have shown that 6-15 minutes of cold water immersion following cardiovascular exercise can incite parasympathetic reactivation, and an immediate shift from stress to recovery mode.

Starting in April, Upswell will offer PLUNGE; a cold immersion tub that augments physical recovery, strengthens vagal tone, and challenges mental endurance.

The vagus nerve is the primary component of the parasympathetic nervous system. Adaptations to exercise rely on the strength of an individual’s vagal tone, and how adeptly the body can drop into rest and recovery mode. With practice and consistency you can improve your vagal tone, and your body's ability to recover from exercise.

At Upswell, recovery is our thing — let us show you how.

For more information about our athletic recovery classes, equipment, or anything else related to living your most vibrant life, visit our website here or email our managing partner Dr. Kat Sand at

Lexy Rose is a Colorado native who began teaching exercise and personal training in 2008.