The vagus nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, also knows as the “rest-and-digest” system. The word vagus means “wanderer,” because it branches out and
wanders all over the body connecting to the brain, the intestines and stomach, and major organs such as the heart, kidney, lungs as well as the ears, neck and tongue.
What is the Vagal Tone?
As a major regulator of the autonomic nervous system, 80% of the nerve fibers in the vagus nerve are dedicated to communicating the state of our viscera up to our brain. Twenty percent of the vagus nerve messages travel from the brain through the vagus nerve signaling our organs to create an inner-calm, and stimulating “rest-and-digest” during times of perceived safety, or preparing the body for “fight-or-flight” in times of perceived danger or stress.
A healthy vagal tone is in a state of homeostasis and is associated with trust, compassion, acceptance, and joy. An unhealthy vagal tone will compromise the nervous system creating inflammation, lack of homeostasis, brain fog, and an increase in stress hormones.
Pump up your vagal tone with these 3 simple practices:
Vibration: Chanting Om creates a vibration that stimulates the vagus nerve while relaxing the jaw, face, and neck. Notice how the vibration feels throughout your body. Try to follow the vibration imaging where it is releasing stress from your body and tension from the mind. You can also hum in place of chanting Om, if you prefer. The International Journal of Yoga has reported from a recent study of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with ‘OM’ chanting, a significant deactivation of activity in certain areas of the brain associated with depression. The researchers found that the vibrations from ‘OM’ chanting stimulate the vagus nerve, which then sends out neurotransmitters and electrical signals that reduce activity to key areas of the brain like the amygdala, associated with our fight/flight/freeze response. In addition, the increased oxygenation of the blood from the vibration facilitates feelings of relaxation and ease in the flexor muscles of the body.
Breath: Slow, smooth breathing through the nose increases vagal tone. Nose breathing seems to activate the vagal receptors found in the lower lobes of the lungs that mouth breathing cannot access. Take a 30-second breathing break creating 4-6 count inhales and exhales through the nose next time you are feeling anxious or experiencing brain fog. Exhaling through rounded lips can also stimulate vagal tone while providing a cooling and calming effect to the nervous system.
Social Connection: Engaging with others in safe social situations stimulates the vagus nerve. The ventral branch of the vagus nerve controls the muscles of the face as well as the heart and lungs. These are parts of our body we use when interacting with others. According to Dr. Stephen Porges, who discovered the Polyvagal theory, social engagement and eye to eye connection “down regulates” the sympathetic nervous system, so try meeting someone’s eyes over a meal or sharing a smile with a stranger to pump up your vagal tone.
Shanti Medina, CYT, CPT, CNSF, created Energize training systems and founded the Body Current® modality of therapeutics after more than 15 years designing personal fitness and wellness programs for clients struggling with high levels of trauma and recovering from stress-related illnesses. Body Current is a revolutionary empowering system of simple and highly effective transformational yoga therapy and neuromuscular body-centered practices designed to gently release trauma, resolve chronic pain, mitigate daily stress, and reprogram old conditioning by self-directing the nervous system and engaging the vagus nerve. She is a certified Neurosculpting® facilitator and a faculty member the Neurosculpting Institute in Denver, Colorado. She and her husband recently released a double-CD of healing music, mudras and guided meditations to self-direct the nervous system called SoMAntra. To find out more about Shanti or to schedule a private session in person or via Skype, visit her website: EnergizeShanti.com