The vagus nerve (found right behind where you typically feel for your pulse) is the longest nerve in your body. It is one of 12 cranial nerves and it extends from your brainstem all the way to your abdomen and through various organs including your heart, esophagus, and your lungs.
It is often called “cranial nerve X,” as it forms part of your involuntary nervous system that directs all of the unconscious body actions, like stabilizing your heart rate and making sure your digestive system is working effectively.
Interestingly, the vagus nerve was named because it actually “wanders” like a “vagabond” and sends tiny fibers from your brainstem to your visceral organs (organs in your chest and abdominal area– heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and intestinal tracts.).
The vagus nerve basically controls your whole parasympathetic nerve system (the system responsible for stimulating what is known as your “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” activities when your body is resting and after eating.)
A study done at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has shown that the vagus nerve may actually be what they call “the missing link” to treating chronic inflammation that can cause a range of other issues– like hypertension, migraines, gastrointestinal problems and any inflammatory related things like arthritis, etc.– all without medication!
Your Vagal Tone
Vagal tone essentially refers to the inhibitory control of your vagus nerve over your heart rate. What the studies now reveal is that vagal tone is essential to activating your parasympathetic nervous system and everything it does. We can measure your vagal tone by tracking your heart rate in combination with your breathing rate.
Usually, when you breathe in, your heart rate speeds slightly and vice versa when you breathe out. Your vagal tone is then determined by the difference between your inhalation heart rate and your exhalation heart rate– the bigger the difference, the higher your vagal tone, which is actually good in this case due to the fact that it means that you are more able than somebody with a lower vagal tone, to relax your body after a stressful situation.
Why a higher vagal tone is good
Apart from being able to relax faster after stress, people with a high vagal tone have in general much better functioning internal systems including:
- Better blood sugar regulation.
- Reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.
- Generally lower blood pressure.
- Better digestion due to proper production of gastrointestinal enzymes.
- Less migraines.
- Less depression.
- Less anxiety (they naturally deal with stress better).
What researchers have found is that the vagus nerve constantly monitors your gut microbiome to determine if there are any pathogenic organisms, and if so, it initiates a response that then controls any inflammation that results from these foreign organisms, which can affect your mood, your stress levels (and your ability to control the stress) and your overall inflammation levels.
What if I have low vagal tone?
Unfortunately, people with a low vagal tone are more susceptible to heart issues and strokes, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, cognitive impairment, not to mention more inflammatory conditions such as any autoimmune diseases like thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, lupus etc.
So, how do I increase my vagal tone?
So far, researchers have stimulated the vagus nerve using a device that emits an electrical current but there are other methods to do this yourself. While the studies also reveal that people are genetically predisposed to different levels of vagal tone, with consistent practice, you can change your tone to some level using the following techniques.
7 Ways To Instantly Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve To Fight Inflammation, Depression And Migraines
You know all of those people you used to think were “new age” because they would sit quietly and repeat the “OM” sound? Well, it ends up they are on to something. Since the vagus nerve is connected to your singing cords, systematic humming can stimulate the nerve.
Also, people who speak more are more likely to be able to raise their vagal tone as talking is done through the vocal cords. Singing and laughter in general will also do the trick.
3. Wash your face with cold water
A splash of cold water does seem to stimulate the vagus nerve. Whenever your body is required to adjust to the cold, your fight-or-flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) system increases. In other words, any sort of sudden cold exposure will increase vagus nerve activation. You can achieve this by either dipping your face in cold water or take a cold shower.
4. Breathing deeply using your diaphragm
Breathing long, deep breaths from your diaphragm can stimulate and tone your vagus nerve.
Research shows that yoga, together with breathing practices, can significantly increase your vagal tone.
According to a 2010 study, people who meditate regularly and think more positive thoughts tend to have better vagal tone.
7. Increase Good Gut Bacteria
While there are countless benefits to increasing the healthy bacteria in your gut, surprisingly, this also helps to develop a positive “feedback loop” through your vagus nerve and thus increase its tone. Probiotics are an excellent source of healthy bacteria.
All the above techniques are beneficial to your overall health simply for the fact that they also help reduce stress, which is a major factor in disease, but also understanding that you can help improve your vagal tone, and the specific issue of inflammation, is an effective tool.
Add these simple tips to your daily routine and see how much better you feel in very short time.
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