Recently, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. When our vagus nerve is working optimally we may feel “at home” in our bodies. Home is where the body rests, recovers, repairs and grows.
Without this sense of home our emotions, immune, digestive and endocrine systems become dysregulated. Scientists have recently identified the vagus nerve as the key component that is responsible for this sense of home through regulating our nervous system.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves. It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs.
The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental, physical and emotional health. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which means that your body can regulate back to a calm relaxed state (home) after a stressful event.
How does low vagal tone contribute to poor health?
When our nervous system is dysregulated, we may feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, angry, flat or even depressed. This kind of system dysregulation can lead to gut issues like IBS, chronic pain, insomnia, inflammation, autoimmune issues, thyroid problems and migraines. If we are unable to reduce this internal inflammation then chronic illnesses can occur.
A dysregulated nervous system can also take a toll on your relationships: you may avoid getting close to people, you may misinterpret other people’s words or actions, you may be easily angered or feel jealous. If you don’t feel safe, trusting and at home within yourself it is difficult to be vulnerable and trusting of others.
The higher our vagal tone, the more regulated our nervous system is and the safer we feel in the world and within ourselves. and safe we feel in the world.
How we do stimulate our vagus nerve for better health and relationships?
Hope lies in knowing that the nervous system and your vagus nerve are highly adaptable and responsive to every day experiences. This means with the right tools and knowledge we can rewire your nervous system so that it can more readily access this safety and sense of home.
While I teach in-depth vagus nerve exercises in my 6 week Trauma and Tension Release course (more info about that here) there are some simple vagus nerve stimulation exercises you can try at home:
- Cold water: Splash cold water on your face each morning. Cold water has been known to stimulate the vagus nerve. More about that here.
- Deep breathing exercises: Since the vagus nerve travels into your viscera, deep breathing into your belly can stimulate the vagus nerve. Try breathing in for a count of 5, briefly hold your breath and slowly exhale for a count of 10.
- Connecting with loved ones: Whether this occurs in person, over the phone, or even via texts or social media, connecting with loved ones can initiate regulation of our body and mind.
- Humming: The vagus nerve passes through by the vocal cords and the inner ear and the vibrations of humming is a free and easy way to influence your nervous system states.
If learning more about how to harness the power of the vagus nerve for greater mental and physical health is of interest to you, you can sign up for our next six week Trauma & Tension Releasing Program which starts on 19 May.