This month I’m going to teach you how to become a nerve master! How? Well, the first step is asking you a question. Did you know you have a pair of nerves in your body that operate like a superhighway of communication?
It’s called the vagus nerve. It is one of your 12 cranial nerves (number 10) and is in your brain stem at the base of your skull. You have one on the left side of your body and one on the right.
The vagus nerve is involved in so many experiences you might have now or have had in the past such as heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic inflammation, being overweight, anxiety or depression.
The good news, though, is that there are many activities you can do that help your vagus nerve function better.
Before I share those with you, I want you to have a better understanding about the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is a main component of the section of the nervous system that makes digestion happen. This is called the enteric nervous system (or the ENS).
The vagus nerve has three primary roles:
• It communicates with the brain.
• It sends messages from the brain to other organs in the body.
• It sends messages from the organs in the body to the brain.
The vagus nerve plays a role in so many aspects of our lives that everyone can benefit from improving its function.
Improving the efficiency and function of your vagus nerve is referred to as your vagal tone. If your vagal tone is high, your nerve is doing its job well. However, if your vagal tone is low, you may be experiencing some problems.
Some things that can go wrong when you have low vagal tone or damage to your vagus nerve include:
• Inflammation and inflammatory conditions
• Bad moods
• Feeling lonely
• High blood pressure
• Irregular blood-sugar levels
• Chronic fatigue
• Autoimmune disorders
• Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity
• Psychiatric conditions that don’t respond to medication
• Gastroparesis (when the stomach empties too slowly)
Basically, if you want to keep your body and organs running smoothly, you need to take care of your vagus nerve. That’s why I want to make sure you’re aware of all this.
Here are six activities that will increase your vagal tone. Happy toning!
Craniosacral massage involves using an extremely light touch to move the fused bones in your skull. The fluid in your brain and spine (cerebrospinal fluid) becomes better able to flow, allowing it to nourish the tissues in your body and remove waste products.
Craniosacral massage can also be used to stretch the soft tissue around your head and neck. This tissue tends to get less flexible as we age or when we experience illness or trauma. By releasing the tension in this soft tissue, you improve the function of your vagus nerve.
2. Belly Breathing
The vagus nerve attaches directly to your lungs, so taking deep breaths stimulates your vagus nerve.
Belly breathing means taking slow, deep breaths that cause your belly to rise and fall as you breathe.
Breathing deeply stimulates your vagus nerve and releases stress and tension.
Learn more from one of my favorite books, Breath by James Nestor. You’ll learn more about the power of breath and how critical breath is for your optimal health.
Walking stimulates your vagus nerve because it is a physical activity that is performed at an enjoyable level of intensity. The vagus nerve connects directly to your heart, making walking a heart-healthy choice.
One fascinating facet of vagus nerve stimulation is that you can stimulate the nerve by thinking or expressing positive emotions.
When you meditate and create a calm state of being awake, you tone the vagus nerve. This helps your body run smoothly and helps create a peaceful mind.
5. Yoga and Stretching
Stretching your neck and spine allows more blood to flow into your brain stem, which in turn improves vagus nerve function.
Here’s a simple stretching exercise to activate the vagus nerve, offered by Stanley Rosenberg in his book Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve:
• Interlace your fingers.
• Put your hands with your interlaced fingers at the base of your head (just above your neck).
• Lie flat on your back with your hands behind your head.
• Look – with just your eyes – as far as you can go to the right.
• Hold your eyes in this position until you feel a sigh, swallow, or yawn come on (about 30 to 60 seconds).
• Move your eyes back to neutral (straight ahead) for a moment.
• Then repeat steps 4 and 5 for your left side.
Opening up your chest and moving the muscles behind your eyes through this stretching exercise tones your vagus nerve.
6. Sing, Chant, Hum, and Gargle
This might be my favorite one! The vagus nerve also attaches to the larynx in your throat. This is your voice box. It makes sense then that doing activities that stimulate your vocal cords and throat – like singing, chanting, humming, and gargling – will simultaneously activate your vagus nerve.
Toning your vagus nerve is a super important practice to add to your living well toolkit. It’s vital for both your mental and physical health, but don’t try to sing, hum, and gargle all at the same time 🙂
Now for some exciting news!
My newest blog post is one many of you have been asking me to write for quite some time. Enjoy learning all about Intermittent Fasting: What it is, how to do it, and if it’s safe!
And before I close this month’s newsletter, as much as I love finding Joyinmovement, I also love finding Joy-in-Savings.
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Until next month, give your vagus nerve a tune-up. It’s easy, beneficial, and I think gives you an interesting topic for discussion when you’re walking and enjoying the great springtime outdoors with family and friends!