Do you know that your body has a superhighway?
It’s called the vagus nerve; the longest nerve in your body. This sensory element carries information between your brain and your internal organs. It controls your body’s response in times of rest and relaxation. It’s essential to controlling the muscles used to swallow and speak, plus influences your immune system. Let’s discover the “zoom zoom” of this superhighway.
The vagus nerve starts at your brain stem and “wanders” throughout the body (vagus is Latin for “wandering”). It connects your brain to your stomach and digestive tract, as well as your lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys. The vagus nerve’s main job is to monitor what’s going on in your body and to report information back to your brain. It is a key component of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming you down after a fight-or-flight response revs you up.
The strength of your vagus nerve activity is known as your vagal tone. This is what we really need to pay attention to. Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress. Low vagal tone is the opposite and can keep you in a chronic state of flight of fight, and — well, stressed out!
In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa. According to Dr. Mladen Golubic of the Cleveland Clinic, “The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, simulates digestion and all those things that happen when we are relaxed.”
What’s interesting is that studies have even shown that vagal tone is passed on from mother to child. Mothers who are depressed, anxious and angry during their pregnancy have lower vagal activity. And once they give birth, the newborn also has low vagal activity and low dopamine and serotonin levels.
How do we measure our vagal tone? By tracking certain biological processes such as heart rate, breathing rate, and heart rate variability. When your heart rate variability is high, your vagal tone is also high. They are correlated with each other.
Steps can be taken to increase the vagal tone by stimulating your vagus nerve. You will more effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of your brain and mental illness. You can enjoy the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation naturally by following these steps:
- Cold exposure
- Deep and slow breathing
- Singing, humming and chanting
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Socializing and laughing
Overall, I hope you implement some of the above steps into your daily life, and they allow you to live more optimally.
This is a video that you DON’T want to miss!
Vagus Nerve Activation | 10 Minute Daily Routines
Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve: Self-Help Exercises for Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, and Autism, Stanley Rosenberg, 2017
Vagus Nerve Anatomy
Tone Your Vagus Nerve to Hack Your Whole Nervous System