There is a nerve in the body, it is quiet and calm; it checks in on most of the body and does wonder for us! Its street name is The Wanderer – aka the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is fascinating. Its nickname is attributed to the way it winds its way through the body. Starting in the brainstem, it passes down the neck, into the chest where it provides the main calming effect on the heart, and carries on down into the abdomen.
While evermore information is being discovered about this the vagus, a few key points we know are:
- It is the main nerve that keeps us calm and relaxed
- It works as a communicator and sends information from the gut, liver, heart and lungs to the brain. The vagus nerve is the main communication channel between the gut and the brain. Furthermore, we know that severing the vagus nerve was once a way to treat various gut symptoms. It was noted that doing this seemed to be protective against the development of Parkinson’s disease, which suggests that pathogens and toxins may get into the brain via nerve pathways.
- Vagus nerve stimulation is now an approved treatment for refractory epilepsy and depression in some countries. Why is this important? Because we can positively affect the vagus nerve ourselves! The following activities increase the activity of the vagus nerve – leading us to increase our calm and relaxed state, which improves mood and brain function. :
Stimulating your vagus nerve sends acetylcholine throughout your body. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for learning and memory, dampening inflammation and relaxing the body. By activating your vagus nerve, you can reverse or stop all the negative effects of stress.
The vagus nerve helps to create new brain tissue by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) output, which is like super fertilizer for your brain cells. It helps repair brain tissue but also helps with regeneration throughout your body.
So, here are some ways to increase the tone to the vagus nerve and move towards a healthier system:
- Slow, rhythmic breathing from your diaphragm – when you breathe deeply down into your abdomen, you stimulate and tone the vagus nerve.
- Meditation. Especially focusing on feelings of kindness and goodwill towards others. Increasing positive emotions lead to improved vagal tone.
- Humming. Since the Vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically stimulates it to pump out relaxation waves.
- Any kind of cold exposure increases vagus nerve activation. Be it a cold shower or just splashing your face with cold water.
- Balancing the gut. The presence of healthy gut bacteria creates a positive feedback loop through the Vagus nerve, increasing its tone.
- Osteopathic treatments. Regular osteopathic care can improve vagal tone as it can release blockages and stimulate vagal tone.
- Laughter. Happiness and laughter are natural immune boosters. Laughter also stimulates the vagus nerve.
- Pets. Having a pet has many health benefits. When you stroke a dog or cat, you release happy hormones, which in turn stimulate the vagus nerve. In response to a stroke, a cat will often purr – she is stimulating her vagus nerve in return! And that is why cats purr – self-care!!
I hope you have found this article useful. Please do let me know if you find any of these techniques helpful.