Sometimes small things that go unnoticed cause us pain. If you are suffering from migraine attacks, depression, and overall inflammation, it may be due to imbalance in vagal tone.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emanate from the brain. Its function is to transmit information to or from the surface of the brain to tissues and organs elsewhere in the body. The origin of the name “vagus” comes from the Latin term for “wandering.” Also known as cranial nerve X, the vagus nerve functions contribute to the autonomic nervous system, which consists of the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts. It commands the unconscious body procedures like keeping the heart rate constant and controlling food digestion. It links the neck, heart, lungs, and the abdomen to the brain.
Simply put, vagal tone is the extent to which the vagus nerve can cause the body to relax. It is an internal biological process referring to the function of the vagus nerve, located in the medulla oblongata of the brainstem. It controls majority of the body’s internal organ systems, such as the heart, lungs, eyes, adrenal glands, and digestive tract.
What is high vagal tone associated with?
High Vagal Tone is an indication that the nervous system is in harmony with the various systems of the body, also known as homeostasis, in order to function together for the benefit of the whole organism. High vagal tone causes improved blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, better digestion and reduced migraines. Vagal tone reads the gut microbiome, modulating inflammation.
High vagal tone invariably makes a person calmer, reduces anxiety and helps to combat stress. It in directly related to a good mood. Athletes usually have a higher vagal tone than physically inactive people.
What is low vagal tone associated with?
Low vagal tone in often associated with poor emotional and attentional regulation in children. It is also instrumental in increasing sensitivity to stress, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and cognitive impairment. It is also responsible for strokes, diabetes, and higher rates of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, autoimmune thyroid conditions, lupus etc.
How do we increase vagal tone?
Everyone has different vagal tones. Well the good news is that you can control the activities of the vagus nerve without too much of an effort.
These simple things may seem irrelevant but have a strong impact:
1. Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing
Take deep breaths instead of shallow ones from the top of your lungs. Try to breathe in and breathe by relaxing your face and especially your jaw. You can also release the muscular tension in your neck through gentle compression.
2. Humming and laughing
Did you know that laughter increases beta-endorphins and nitric oxide which is good for the vascular system? Laughter and humming also release oxytocin and serotonin, stress relieving hormones, which restore emotional balance. You can also try repeating the sound ‘OM’.
The vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords and speaking stimulates it.
4. Washing your face with cold water
Try taking a cold shower in the morning, as crazy as it sounds. It is an ancient Chinese remedy that stimulates the vagus nerve. The “hot and cold plunge” in very effective, put your face in ice cold water for 15 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
5. Meditation, especially loving kindness meditation
A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that positive emotions led to increased social closeness resulting in an improved vagal tone. Your well being in related to your mental health, so reach out and spread the good vibes.
6. Balancing the gut microbiome
By now you probably know how important your gut health is to your overall health. If not, you need to! 80 percent of your immune system is in your microbiome, your body’s bacteria, which help your body with just about every process, including helping you to digest your food, think clearly and even maintain a healthy weight. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut increases vagal tone.
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