For some time I have been teaching about and fascinated by the power and workings of The Vagus nerve, trying to unlock what it is with yoga that makes me feel so good and works …where medicine and drugs failed. (After being diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis.)
Dr Stephen Porges, the author of The Polyvagal Theory is the professor revolutionising our understanding of autonomic physiology since the 1990’s.
The tone of our vagus nerve is key to our health. So what is it? (Briefly)…
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system and regulates vital organs including helping to control heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. In addition, the vagus nerve is a major constituent of the inflammatory reflex—that controls innate immune responses and inflammation during pathogen invasion and tissue injury.
The vagus nerve has two branches, dorsal and ventral.
Normally the dorsal vegus nerve serves a very positive function. It helps the body move between arousal and relaxation. So when we tone the dorsal vagal nerve it puts us in that nice rest-digest state of feeling at ease and safety.
However, one branch of the dorsal vagus state is immobilisation when the dorsal vegus nerve can shut down the entire system and we go into freeze. It is thought that Fibromyalgia could have it’s roots in vagus nerve problems.
The ventral branch of the vagal Nerve affects body functioning above the diaphragm. This is the branch that serves the social engagement system and self soothes and calms the body’s regularly active state.
The last ten or twenty years study of the vagus nerve has revealed that the vagus nerve is a significant immune system regulator. Stress and anxiety can inflame the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve signals are being looked at for an ‘early warning system’ for inflammation in Multiple Sclerosis.
How Yoga helps Stimulate Good Vagal Tone
When I started practicing yoga, inflammation markers and acidity levels in my body were probably being calmed and coming down. Doing a better job at making me feel better and healed than the injected medication which made me feel worse.
Our bodies are amazing and sometimes just need a chance to be given the right conditions to heal. For me Yoga gives me greater Interoception and intuition allowing me to live a full life by tuning in and listening to my body.
Yoga and movement with breath (moving meditation) and conscious breath work activate good vagal tone. The vagus nerve passes through the vocal cords and the diaphragm and stimulated everytime we breath deeply. A moving asana yoga practice also helps to get back ‘into the body’ unlocking any freeze or shut down state.
Other ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
Singing, gargling, chanting or Bhramari (humming bee) breath will stimulate the vagus nerve passing through the neck as will laughter.
Wild swimming….or a cold shower or even a splash of ice cold water on the face will benefit. And enjoy being out in the cold weather ….all these cold exposures will help to improve vagal tone since the sympathetic nerve activity is reduced so that the parasympathetic Nervous System can take over to regulate the body.
Meditation allows a rest and relaxation response. By practicing meditation, the body strengthens the parasympathetic Nervous System.
Eat healthily for good gut health. Processed foods and high sugar diet disrupts the vagus nerve function.
Soooo…….Enjoy Life. Sing, hum, laugh, practice a movement, breath exercise such as yoga where we can tune in to our breath and calm and boost our immune system. And you will be optimising your vagal health. With Love 🙏🏼