Of the many, many different “stress relief” techniques floating around the internet, which ones are actually effective? According to experts, vagus nerve stimulation really is a great way to lower your stress levels.

“The vagus nerve starts at the brain and runs through the face and thorax (which holds the heart, major blood vessels and lungs) to the abdomen,” says osteopath, Nadia Alibhai. “It’s a major part of our parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the ‘rest and digest’ response, plus it also helps counteract the sympathetic nervous system’s ‘fight or flight,’ or stress, response.” In addition, it controls several muscles in the throat, which are involved in speech and various aspects of digestion.

One of the easiest ways to stimulate the vagus nerve? By humming. “It’s like going to the gym for the vagus nerve. The more often you hum, the more you strengthen it and increase vagal tone,” Alibhai says. “This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps the body to relax faster after stress, while allowing your body to rest, recharge and recover.”

She recommends trying the “voo” method: a powerful technique that can feel deeply relaxing for some, but stimulating for others – if you feel a calming effect while trying the below, repeat. But if you feel activated, stop doing it and try it another time.

  1. Practice the following in a place where you feel comfortable and safe.
  2. Inhale for six seconds. As you exhale, make a rumbling, low “voo” sound—like a foghorn.
  3. You may feel the vibration through your stomach and diaphragm.
  4. Continue the “voo” sound until your natural exhalation ends.
  5. Inhale normally.

Super easy (and free!) to do, the “voo” method can also be alternated with gargling or singing. “As the vagus nerve innervates parts of the throat, gargling can also help increase vagal tone,” says Nadia. “Try 10 to 30 seconds of loud gargling with water, two to three times a day.”

They may not be the most social of anti-stress hacks (should your colleagues be irked by you bursting into song), but they work. So next time you feel your cortisol rocketing, take some time for vagus nerve stimulation, and gargle or rumble the word “voo” in the interests of chilling out.

This article first appeared on British Vogue. 

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