The Importance of the Vagus Nerve on Development and Learning

Die belangrikheid van die vagussenuwee op ontwikkeling en leer
September 25, 2023
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September 25, 2023

By Julie Wiid

The Vagus nerve supplies all organs except those in the pelvic area. It conducts impulses from these organs to the smooth muscles and glands in the body, the functioning of which ensures survival. (Maree, 2009). It is deemed necessary because its function directly impacts the Learning Process that supports physical, emotional, and cognitive development, as explained below.

STRESS – Physical impact

In stressful situations, the body produces adrenaline and noradrenaline, which increase heart rate, cause vaso-constriction, increase respiration rate (i.e. they have a direct effect on the smooth muscles), increase muscle contraction, and increase the level of arousal/alertness/attention in the brain in preparation for fight or flight (Anon, n.d). Sensory input and processing are thus directly affected and restricted. Production of adrenaline and noradrenaline also results in the symptoms of anxiety such as:

  • increased peripheral hearing and vision.
  • a raised heart rate.
  • changes in skin tone.
  • dryness in the mouth and.
  • ‘butterflies’ in the stomach that we experience when stressed (De Jager, 2010).
  • Furthermore, prolonged periods in such a condition can negatively affect the immune system (De Jager, 2019).

These physiological effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline are therefore clearly not conducive to facilitating learning and development.

The physiological effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline can, however, be reversed through direct stimulation of the Vagus nerve (Yoshio et al, 1999) or an increase in blood oxygen levels (cell bodies in the structures supported by the Vagus nerve are sensitive to oxygen concentration in the body). As a result of stimulation or increased oxygen levels, the Vagus nerve instructs the relaxation of the smooth muscles. The functions of seeing, hearing, sucking, swallowing and speech thus improve as heart rate reduces and breathing slows and cerebral blood flow increases (Yoshio et al, 1999) and the body therefore returns to a more optimal state for learning and development.

In addition, the Vagus nerve also fulfills other functions. During emotionally intense experiences the Vagus nerve is responsible for the conduction of the messages that signal the limbic system to strengthen memory for what is occurring (Maree, 2009). The creation of memory and validation of perception against memory before action is essential in the Learning Process.


It has also been found that the Vagus nerve speaks directly to the immune system through a neurochemical called acetylcholine. Stimulating the Vagus nerve sends commands to the immune system to stop pumping out toxic inflammatory markers. Through this “inflammatory reflex,” the Vagus nerve therefore controls inflammation (Anon, 2007) and thus assists the body in maintaining a state of physical ability to support development.

Physical development provides the essential foundation for emotional, social, and cognitive development, As the Vagus Nerve exerts a wide range of influence over the structures and neurochemical processes that directly impact physical development and learning through the Learning Process, its role in reversing the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline must be acknowledged. In the context of Mind Moves®, the direct impact and importance of using the Power ON exercise (De Jager, 2009b) should not therefore be downplayed.

Mind Moves Power On

Rub the indentation just below the collarbone in line with the left eye to re-establish the electrical flow via the Vagus nerve to the speech organs and stomach to help relax butterflies and self-soothe.


Anon, n.d. Norepinephrine. [online].  [accessed 21 June 2010].

Anon, 2007. New Understanding of Vagus Nerve’s Role in Regulating Inflammation the Medical News 24 October 2007. [online].  [accessed 9 June 2010].

De Jager, M. 2020. Mind Moves Advanced Instructor Training Course Manual. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.

De Jager, M. 2019. Mind Moves – moves that mend the mind. Johannesburg:  Mind Moves Institute.

Maree, E. 2009 Cranial Nerve X: Vagus Milestones [online]. [accessed 11 September 2009].

Yoshio, M., Tomoyasu, F. & Michikata, W .1999 Effects of Adrenaline on Vagus Nerve Reflexes [online]  [accessed 22 June 2010].



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