The vagus nerve is the longest body nerve that originates in the brain as a carnal nerve ten, then goes down the neck, passing around the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart, and lungs. Its major role is ‘rest and digest’ part in the parasympathetic nervous system. They key for its activation is the tone of the vagus nerve and is being measured by tracking the heart-rate and the breathing rate. When you breathe in, your heart-rate speeds up, and when you breathe out, it slows down. When the difference between the inhalation heart-rate and exhalation heart-rate is bigger, then the vagal tone is higher. When it is higher, it means that the body is able to relax faster after stress.
High vagal tone is able to:
- Improve the function of many body systems which causes better blood sugar regulation, reduced migraines, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and improved digestion through better stomach basic and digestive enzymes production;
- Improving mood, less anxiety, and more stress resilience;
- It reads the gut microbiome and initiates a response to modulate inflammation based in whether or not it detects pathogenic versus non-pathogenic organisms. The gut microbiome can affect the mood, stress levels, and overall inflammation in this way.
Low vagal tone is associated with:
- Cardiovascular conditions and strokes;
- Chronic fatigue syndrome;
- Cognitive impairment;
- Higher rates of inflammatory conditions including autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, autoimmune thyroid conditions, endometriosis, and more.
How the vagal tone is being increased?
It is increased through a device which stimulates the vagus nerve, but you are able to access it on your own requiring practice. People are genetically predisposed to varying levels of vagal tone to some degree, but this does not mean that you cannot change it. The following ways will help you tone the vagus nerve:
- Speaking – it is helpful for the vagal tone because of its connection to the vocal cords.
- Humming – as the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming is able to mechanically stimulate it. You may repeat the sound ‘OM’, or hum a song.
- Slow, rhythmic, breathing through the diaphragm – this type of breathing stimulates and tones the vagus nerve rather than breathing shallowly from the top of the lungs.
- Balancing the gut microbiome – if healthy bacteria are present in the gut, the body will create a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve which will increase the tone.
- Washing your face with cold water – the mechanism is not familiar, but it surely works.
- Meditation – loving kindness meditation promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and the others. Moreover, increased positive emotions lead to increased social closeness as well as an improvement in vagal tone.
If you suffer from digestive upset, high blood pressure, inflammatory condition, or depression, a closer look at the vagal tone is highly recommended, and the implications of the practices mentioned above are far-reaching. People are aware that breathing exercises and meditation positively affect the overall health, but it is very interesting to learn the mechanism by which they work. We hope that you’ll start your meditation practice soon and start to look for other means to manage the body’s inflammatory response.