The vagus nerve is the epicenter of the body. It helps regulate all major bodily functions from breath to the brain. It helps people respond to the challenges of life and is a key player in the gut-mind connection. It may even be helpful to increase vagal tone in treatment of addiction and cravings. Learn more about the vagus nerve and why it can help to calm it down to lower anxiety.
The vagus nerve is known as the ‘wandering nerve,’ due to the fact it snakes from the base of the brain throughout the body. It touches the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. The vagus nerve influences the face, neck, ears, tongue, and vocal cords. The effects of this are felt throughout the entire body. The nervous system functions around the balance and harmony of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), associated with ‘fight-or-flight,’ response, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), associated with ‘rest-and-digest.’ When these two systems work in harmony, they support and facilitate physical, mental, and emotional health.
Developing the Nerve
If you ever wanted to get the nerve up and running, vagal tone is important to living more holistically mind, body, and soul. Some tips for cultivating vagal tone include:
- Splashing water on the face. Cold water on the face helps increase prana, or vital life energy, in the body. Cold habituation and cold bathing lowers sympathetic activation and causes a shift toward increased parasympathetic activity.
- Chant OMs. Each morning, set aside five to 10 minutes to chant. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. Chanting mantras like OM stimulates the vagus nerve. Chanting and singing produces slow, regular, deep respiration. This may explain the relaxation of kirtan, an important element of Bhakti yoga.
- Roll out a mat and stretch, breath, and meditate, try a few asanas or poses, work your breath, and focus on the present moment. The breath is most important to harmonizing the vagus nerve. This helps you relax, energize, and heal.
- Eat healthy foods and take probiotics. Nuts, fruits, yoghurt, buttermilk, whole grains, and legumes can improve overall gut function and play a role in brain and behavior shifts. Adding probiotics into your diet can aid in healing overall, not just the vagus nerve.
- Laugh–often. Laughter reduces activity in the sympathetic nervous system while stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This can aid in increased mood and feeling lighter overall.
If you find yourself struggling with any of the symptoms associated with low vagal tone, it may be worthwhile to step outside the box—breathe deeply, laugh a lot, or enjoy a cold shower to support your vagus nerve. The body and mind will be grateful for the extra support.
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