This is the second in our relaxation series and our focus continues to be on the parasympathetic nervous system, in particular, the vagus nerve which is one of the most important cranial nerves. The vagus nerve delivers signals to and from many parts of the body and originates in the lower part of the brain stem. The system actually is made up of two physical nerves arising from either side of the back of the head and can be thought of as the heart of the nervous system. It is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves, it transfers information both ways from brain to body and vice versa. It is the most obvious physical representation of the mind-body connection and connects to all the major organs: brain, heart, lungs, liver, bladder, kidneys, stomach and intestines.
There are many benefits to maintaining a high vagal tone. To name a few: it increases baroreceptor firing rates which lowers blood pressure by lowering the heart rate. High vagal tone suppresses inflammation in the body caused by stress. It helps reduce feelings of anxiety and thus may keep depression at bay. Increased activity of the vagus nerve regulates insulin secretion and the production of blood glucose in the liver and it promotes good gut health.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated by deep slow inhales and exhales, this creates a state of increased activity of the nerve which is referred to as high vagal tone. This then sends signals to the mind and body that moves it away from unnecessary, chronic, fight, flight and freeze stress response mode. Vagal function is decreased in states of sympathetic nervous overdrive in cases of high levels of unhealthy stress. This state of low vagal tone can have the opposite effects of high vagal tone. In many ways regulating one’s vagal tone can promote wellness. The good news is that they are many simple ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and help release our inner healing powers.
Here are a few ways to do this in order to stimulate the positive effects of the vagus nerve:
Smiling, the kind that touches your heart and lifts the corners of the lips and brings light to your eyes
Taking a cool shower or swim
Being kind, compassionate, loving and considerate, practising gratitude, showing empathy
Being in the sunshine, eating fresh foods with high fibre content
Simple things such as laughing, dancing, singing, chanting, massages
Through meditation practice, Yoga poses, stretches and regular gentle exercises
Through systematic relaxation practice such as the ones included below, as it emphasizes deep slow breathing
Being in parasympathetic nervous system dominance is key for releasing our inner healing powers. Studies show that people with autoimmune conditions such as lupus, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms to name a few can greatly benefit from stimulating the positive functions of the vagus nerve. So find ways to increase situations that bring about good moods for longer stretches during the day and help reduce your bad moods. Create and promote environments where these simple things can thrive for you, your family and community.
Bliss | Ease | Wellbeing