10 Jul Is your vagal toned?
There are endless examples of how to tone the body but what about the brain?
Understanding our nervous system is key to understanding the complexities of our health and well-being. So let’s delve a little deeper!
The ANS + Vagal nerve
Our autonomic nervous system, ANS, is responsible for involuntary processes such as our heart rate, respiratory function, blood pressure and sexual arousal. It comprises of the sympathetic nervous system, SNS, and parasympathetic nervous system, PNS. Together, they regulate bodily functions, the immune response, mood and heart rate.
The VAGAL nerve is the 10th cranial nerve that meanders from the brain stem through the body with connections to the heart, viscera and other organs. It is the main component of the PNS and therefore part of the rest and digest system. Unlike the SNS which is often associated with the fight or flight response.
VAGAL tone correlates with a capacity to regulate high levels of stress and help mitigate corresponding inflammation as a result of stress hormones flooding the body.
Perhaps our greatest super power is knowing simple techniques that influence the functionality of the autonomic nervous system using bottom up and top down processes. Breathing techniques, somatic movement practices, Mindfulness and meditation enhance VAGAL tone modulating emotional responses, sensory feedback and social engagement.
Try these 5 top tips for VAGAL tone:
- HUMMING – Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Warm the hands by gently rubbing them together and place on the face. Take a deep breath in and then slowly, gently hum on the exhalation. Repeat 10 times. Elongating the exhale activates the parasympathetic nervous system that correlates to the VAGAL nerve. The action helps soothe and bring balance to the autonomic nervous system plus the sound gently vibrates the VAGAL nerve in the throat and other sensory nerves in the face.
2.MOVE YOUR BODY – Dance, yoga, walking, riding a bike synchronises movement and breath improving oxygen consumption, cardio vascular health, heart rate variability, body awareness and positive self image. VAGAL tone relishes such a positive synergy.
3.THINK HAPPY – Even in the darkest of moments find the light. VAGAL inputs also communicate from our thought patterns to our internal organs, so be sure to feed those neural inputs with positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are linked to stronger cell life – mitochondria and telomeres – meaning less pro inflammatory cytokines and damage from stress hormones.
Sitting comfortably with hands on the chest, the heart centre, repeat this Metta loving kindness mantra every morning 5 times:
‘I am love
I am light
I am peace
4.LOOK AFTER YOUR GUT – The VAGAL nerve is part of a bidirectional
communication between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, known as the brain gut axis. Your gut is an important control centre for the immune system and hormone production. Did you know that 95% of serotonin, the feel good hormone, comes from the gut?
So, be mindful of what and how you eat and drink. Ensure your diet is nutrient dense, includes plenty of water, omega 3’s and probiotics
5.PLAY! – According to Dr Stephen Porges, author of the Poly VAGAL Theory, the ventral vagus thrives on social engagement, a key part of our survival mechanism. Feeling safe and connected to loved ones, family and friends strengthen our sense of inclusivity. It forms strong relationships, trust and empathy and brings us closer to our community. So get creative and speak regularly with friends and loved ones. Have dinner at the dining room table. Talk to neighbours and engage in community activities. The pandemic may have restricted how we do this but there are safe and accessible ways to stay connected online and in- person.
Now….how does that vagal feel?
Written by Cathy Underwood