The Vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve that originates in the brainstem and carries an extensive range of signals via nerve endings towards the digestive systems and back. It makes up a major portion of one’s parasympathetic nervous system, holding 75% of the nerve fibers that are responsible for regulating the link between emotions and physiological functioning of one’s body.
Role of the Vagus nerve: The most important function of the vagus nerve is afferent, bringing information of the inner organs, such as gut, liver and lungs to the brain. Its play a huge role of regulating the digestive system and creating a restful environment in the body
The Vagus Nerve is a major contributor to the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for the regulation of vegetative functions by acting in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system.
The Vagus nerve is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate, as well as vasomotor activity, and certain reflex actions, such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting.
The nerve passes through the neck and provides required innervation to most of the muscles of the pharynx and larynx, which are responsible for swallowing and vocalization.
In the thorax, it provides the main parasympathetic supply to the heart and stimulates a reduction in the heart rate.
In the gastrointestinal tract, the activation of the parasympathetic nervous through the vagus nerve increases bowel motility and glandular secretion leading to digestion.
Trauma is an event that a person goes through an experience that is overwhelming, upsetting or frightening. It Is a ‘whole body experience’ when the entire body is responding to survive by going into fight, flight or freeze during this event. The person's senses heighten, adrenaline surges and cortisol floods the entire system to cope with the event.
Surviving a traumatic event can lead to a lot of aftermath stressors and completely dysregulate the vagus nerve. For instance, People often have flashbacks, nightmares, loss of appetite, can cause hypervigilance and cases of intrusive thoughts.
In terms of either trauma or brain-body sciences, we think of the nerve as a cable linking us to our brain, rather than as a nerve that runs through our peripheral. It sends information to our brain about the state of our bodies.
Reason for toning the Vagus Nerve:
The parasympathetic nervous system connects directly to the vagus nerve and often plays a pivotal role in mental illness on the other hand the sympathetic nervous can produce depressive episodes and anxiety-related disorders. These two systems can be disrupted by a traumatic or stressful event.
The vagal response is a significant health-protective mechanism. When the vagus nerve has a high tone we tend to experience more favorable feelings which leads to a better physical health and on the contrary when we have weaker nervous responses we continue to stay in fight or flight response with hormones for a long period of time which wreaks havoc on our overall health.
The Vagus Nerve helps us digest food and relax, and changes how we breathe and heart rate in response to certain stimuli. When we look at the 'tone' of the vagus nerves we need to focus on the internal biological mechanism which connects to major organs and how active it is. The more toned our vagus nerve is, the more quickly our bodies will relax more after being exposed to a stressful situation.
The vagus nerve response reduces stress which calms our breathing down and lowers our blood pressure, hence dropping our heart rate variability. Us being calm activates parts of the brain which activates digestion and regulation of energy and healing within the body making it crucial for us to live a healthy life..
Allow Me to present Eleven savvy ways to alleviate health by toning the vagus nerve:
1. Cold exposure therapy
This practice is commonly to tone the vagus nerve and stimulate the cholinergic neurons. The researchers found that regular exposure to freezing temperatures can reduce the sympathetic "fight-or-flight" response by increasing parasympathetic activity, which is controlled by the vagus nerve.
For beginners, consider ending each shower with 30 seconds of ice-cold water before progressing the time slowly. Even Placing your feet in cold water helps the nervous system calm down more.
Specially with people that are prone to high anxiety responses and panic attacks placing an ice pack on either of your wrist enables this stimulation.
2. Deep Breathing
Most powerful technique for stimulating the vagus nerve is to breathe deeply and slowly. The vagus nerve passes by the vocal cords and the inner ear, therefore Deeper mindful breaths and singing and humming can increase heart- rate variability and tone the vagus nerve especially in cases when you feel really tense or nervous.
There are many ways you can practice deep breathing inspired by yogic science as well as mindful breathing techniques such as Bhamari pranayama or Honey Bee breath.
In this technique you sit in a comfortable position, close your ears with your palms and take a deep breath, now as and when you exhale create a humming sound to vibrate you eardrum. Repeat till you feel better.
We also have 4-4-4-4- and 3-6-9 breathing techniques where you breathe in for 4 seconds, then hold you breathe for 4 seconds, Exhale for the next 4 seconds and hold the vacuum for the last for seconds. In 3- 6-9. technique you breathe in for 3 seconds, hold the breath for 6 seconds and exhale slowly lasting up to 9 seconds. Both of the methods of deep breathing and humming and you breathe can have a calming effect for your vagus nerve.
3. Pay attention to your gut health.
Scientists have discovered a surprising relationship between Digestive system and brain health. Your vagus nerves connect with your digestive system directly and tending to your gut health can reduce the stress on your vagus nerve.
Your gut is made up of microbiomes and consists of hundreds of species of good and bad bacteria which usually reside in your intestinal tracts. An imbalance in your gut can lead to inflammation response in your immune system, an unhealthy stomach can cause a wide range of disruptive symptoms including anxiety and depression.
You can have a healthier gut by increasing the use of food that has good bacteria such as yogurt, which has probiotics such as Lactobacillus Rhamnosus. Also reducing your sugar intake and highly processed carbs and increasing your fiber intake has proven to have a massive positive impact on your gut health.
4. Mindfulness meditation
Practicing being mindful is an excellent approach to relaxation and improving vagal tone. Research has shown that meditation promotes positive emotions, including feelings of self-love. According to one study, it reduces sympathetic "fight-or-flight" activity while lowering heart rate.
Mindfulness allows you to take a calmer and detached pathway to observe your thoughts. It is like creating a space for thoughts to come and go and exist within your mind without allowing it to get you worked up. Once you are tensed or worked up you vagus nerve gets activated and has to work overtime to maintain a healthy balance.
5. Omega-3 Fatty acid
Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary lipids that your body cannot produce itself; it has to depend on an outside source to obtain this. It has shown to increase the Gray matter in the brain and promote neuron formation and repairing damaged ones.
Studies on patients receiving Omega - 3 have shown modulation in responses to stress, reverse cognitive decline and has been used extensively in addict recovery.
They directly promote brain health, tone the vagus nerve and regulate sleep cycles and hunger to an extent that it lowers the heart rate. Plus HLD in it promotes good cholesterol which keeps your heart healthy.
6. Use movement as medicine
Exercise increases your brain's growth hormone, increases Gray and white matter in your brain, protects your mitochondria, and helps reverse cognitive decline. There are exercises and stretches that stimulate the vagus nerve, improving the overall health
It helps in formation of new muscle fibers and promotes blood flow to all of your body parts making sure the body and mind are healthy which could explain its mood-enhancing and cognitive properties. Many Studies suggest that exercise is the most important thing you can do for your mental health!
Massage is an excellent vagus nerve stimulation technique that can help reduce sympathetic response, reduce seizures, reduce tension and trauma stored in your muscles and increase heart rate variability.
You can do this in a number of ways, for instance by a foot massage, acupressure or through a full body massage from a therapist.
8. Be a social bee.
We can tone the vagus nerve, by socializing and laughter shared with people that are close to us can help reduce the cortisol in the body. The researchers found that just the thought of favourable social connections improved vagal tone and increased positive feelings and people that tend to not be social dies an earlier death and are ailed by depression and high anxiety responses.
Laughter has been shown to improve mood and improve heart rate variability.
Laughing deeply Creates a natural rush of endorphins throughout the body. A good laugh naturally changes the way you breathe, your heart rate, and your blood pressure. Laughter is a whole body experience; creates movement in the face, chest, diaphragm and abdomen, which can give your vagus nerve a good healthy workout.
9. Shake it off
Inspired by wild animals, you can use a simple shake exercise to release physical tension or overcome a frozen reaction. First, scan your body with your awareness to notice areas of tension. Then focus on those points and allow yourself to shake them off one at a time. Allow yourself to indulge in the shaking and, if possible, allow yourself to release sounds to accompany the movement.
10. Get in touch with nature
Going for a walk in nature can help calm you down. In Japan, Physicians prescribe patients that are diagnosed with depression to go for hikes in nature or simply a retreat in the areas close to the forest.
Walking amongst the trees has been our natural habitat as a species; it helps us connect with our roots. Plus that fragrance of plants and the dews on the trees help release endorphins which can create an overall happy experience.
Watching sunrise and sunset and following a sleep cycle or daily routine based on the sun cycle can help re-calibrate our natural circadian rhythm.
Also adjusting our diet to involve more berries and fruits along with vegetables can really help soothe our digestive system which is directly controlled by the vagus nerve and can allow you to create an environment where your body can truly heal.
11. Rinse and Repeat
Rinse and Repeat In truth, the vagus nerve is continuously coming in and out of balance due to different stress responses as we try to adapt to situations on a daily basis. Therefore, making it imperative that the mind-body therapies are repeated daily. Additionally to ensure that the practices work properly we need to feel safe with them. We must learn to read the cues from our own body and honor these signs as we see them. For instance, we usually keep working and pushing harder even when our body screams for rest and rejuvenation.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into three parts, the oldest of which is the dorsal vagal system. In life-threatening conditions, this component of the parasympathetic nervous system immobilizes your freeze response.
The sympathetic nervous system is a relatively young evolutionary development that mobilizes the body in reaction to threats by triggering the fight-or-flight response. Most notably, mind-body therapies aid in the activation of one of this evolutionary tree’s new branches: the ventral vagal system. It is interlinked to the response that originated within our ancestors as protection from predators in their surroundings.
At CHANGE CATALYST when clients have trouble calming down after a stressful or a triggering event, we aim to understand how their bodies' responses allow them to understand what responses make sense for them. We use Mindful practices, stress management techniques and help you create daily activities to help tone your vagus nerve until they are able to help themselves better manage themselves.