The human body is wonderfully complex and extremely fascinating. Almost every inch of it has an important role in making sure the machine runs smoothly. This is especially true for the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve of your body. It is crucial for your mind-body connection. When it’s off, you may find you’re not functioning to your full potential. But luckily, just like a muscle, the vagus nerve can be strengthened and toned.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve, also known as “the wonder nerve,” is a bundle of nerve fibers that stretch from your brain stem down into your colon. It’s important because it controls or contributes to your body’s unconscious functions like your heart rate, allowing your gut and brain to communicate with each other, your blood pressure levels and many more.
A high vagal tone
When we are in fight-flight mode or when we experience trauma, our vagal tone is impacted. The tone of the vagus nerve is key to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Vagal tone is measured by tracking your heart-rate alongside your breathing rate. Your heart-rate speeds up a little when your breathe in, and slows down when you breathe out. The bigger the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the higher your vagal tone. A higher vagal tone allows your body to recover from stressful situations and the more we experience positive emotions.
“A strong vagus nerve gives you emotional resilience”
7 Ways to instantly stimulate your vagus nerve
If you have a low vagal tone, there are a few things you can do naturally to stimulate your vagus nerve. This allows you to respond to stress and regulate your emotions better.
Because the vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords, singing can stimulate your vagus nerve. This has been shown to increase your heart rate variability and vagal tone.
- Chanting or humming
We all intuitively know that chanting or humming can lift your spirits and help you feel more grounded. Perhaps its due to the muscles in the back of your throat being connected to the vagus nerve.
Another great way to stimulate your vagus nerve is gargling with water. You can easily add this to your night-time routine, after brushing your teeth.
Our bodies were designed to move around a lot, so it’s no surprise that exercise or movement are also beneficial when it comes down to stimulating your vagus nerve.
A study done by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik in 2010 found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness, and an improvement in vagal tone.
Many yoga poses have been proven to help you develop a healthy vagal tone.
- Breath work
Conscious breathing is the easiest way to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system actions. Deep belly breaths where you extend the exhale increase your vagus tone.