Want to see changes faster? Work this nerve daily.
We hear about the vagus nerve and think it might be important, but what does it all mean? Understanding and working the vagus nerve can play a significant role in the rate in which you see change occur for reflex integration and sensory regulation. Let’s look at the many areas that this nerve impacts and some simple techniques that can help create change.
What is it? The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body, connecting your brain the gut (intestines, stomach), heart, lungs and auditory system. The word “vagus” means “wanderer” in Latin, which represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs. This nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. Here are some signs that this nerve is not regulated:
- Auditory system (hyper-sensitive)
- Swallowing (difficulty with swallowing larger things such as pills)
- Facial recognition/social interactions (mis-reading or difficulty reading facial expression or social cues)
- Breathing (faster rate, more in the chest)
- Digestion (impaired)
- Peristalsis (lack of intestinal movement contributing to constipation)
- Inflammation (increased)
- Sensory regulation (more difficulty or more easily overwhelmed)
- Body’s ability to relax overall and recover from stress (diminished along with resiliency)
- Mood regulation (more prone to negative moods or depression)
There are simple techniques to increase vagal tone, however frequency is key. Things that stimulate our throat or lengthen our breath like singing, humming, gurgling, exaggerating a yawn and yoga breathing techniques. Playing a wind instrument also helps (with young ones, think kazoo or recorder). Especially when trying to first increase the vagal tone, these things would ideally be done several times a day. I know this can be difficult with children and I am researching some other passive techniques that show some promise such as particular music and essential oils. If you have a child that cannot participate with you in these activities, consider doing them in front of them anyway. We can use the mirror neurons between our systems to still have a positive impact on their vagus nerve.
A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being and chronic stress diminishes the tone. So just as we need to take the time to maintain our muscles as we age, everyone should include vagal strengthening activities into their daily routines. Maintaining this nerve strength is vital for the entire family’s health. Have fun singing, humming, playing together while strengthening your vagus nerve!