03 Mar The Unknown Powerhouse – The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and as it weaves it’s way around the body has a plethora of different organs that it branches out into.
It is also known as the “wandering nerve” which comes from the Latin pronunciation. It weaves through the body into organs such as the:
Because the vagus nerve connects to and supplies all of these organs, it has a contribution to bodily functions such as speech, taste, swallowing, digestion, excretion & especially heart rate.
The vagus nerve starts from the underside of the brain, flows down behind the ear on both sides of the neck, and then branches all through the body to all of the organs and out to the extremities. The vagus nerve has a big influence on the inflammatory system, which protects against potential diseases that could be posing a threat to the body. All in all, it can strengthen overall physical health in many areas if it is stimulated reducing inflammation in things like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing cluster headaches and migraines, elevating mood, reducing anxiety and improving memory.
So, how does this work?
There is a critical part of the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system that contains something called vagal tone. This is the only part of the autonomic system that you are able to have an essence of self-control over. Imagine a scale that ranges from high to low… the higher the tone, the quicker the body will be able to recover from stress, depression & anxiety due to the regulation in heart rate that’s acquired. And vice versa for a lower tone.
The higher or lower your tone is, could simply be decided by the genes that have been passed down through your family’s DNA. But, not to worry! If you start off life with a low vagal tone, a collation of different actions can be done in your day-to-day life to increase your vagal tone naturally and maximize the functions of the organs and emotions that it affects.
Let’s take a look at some of these actions…
The first action you can take to increase your vagal tone is to immerse yourself in a cold environment. The easiest and most efficient way you can do this is by splashing your face with cold water or even taking a cold shower. As your body adjusts to the cold temperature, your parasympathetic system decreases your heart rate and relaxes you, hence why a boost in your overall mood will be obtained.
If, like me, you are thinking “Brrr – not for me!” another way to stimulate your vagus nerve and increase that vagal tone is by humming. Yes, humming! The vibrations from humming can give an instant, positive impact on the vagus nerve. This is because the nerve runs through your inner ear and vocal cords, so the vibrations will be prominent in these areas.
An additional action you can use in your day-to-day life is meditation. This is a great technique to use because of the calming aura it brings. The slow, deep and controlled breathing slows your heart-rate right down and boosts your vagal tone, allowing you to de-stress much easier. Meditation only needs to be done for around 10 minutes to obtain great benefits. You could try and set yourself a personal challenge to meditate every day for a month and see the results. We’d love for you to let us know if this works for you!
A further action that can be used to increase your vagal tone is laughter! Laughter always seems to be a natural healer but recent research has shown that it stimulates the vagus nerve. The breathing patterns that you have when laughing stimulates the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system, which as we’ve already discussed, boosts your vagal tone. A much higher heart-rate variability has come to show up whilst laughing which gives an almost instant lift in mood.
The final action we’ll be going over is the process of hands-on healing. One healing process in particular that works very well is using one of your hand reflexology points to stimulate the vagus nerve. The point where your vagus nerve lies is on the inside of your 5th finger. This stimulation comes in 3 simple steps. The first step is to simply apply consistent pressure to this point for around 30-60 seconds. After this is done, you will then begin to make a small circular motion at the same point whilst still applying pressure to the skin. This only needs to be for around 10 seconds. And the final step in this process is to gently feather back and forth over this point again, for around 30-60 seconds. This should give you a feeling of some sort of general relaxation.
It’s amazing to see how these quick and easy actions that stimulate your vagus nerve can have such a big impact on your mental and physical health.
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