Running from the brain all the way down through the abdomen, the vagus nerve is the longest and most complex cranial nerve. In fact, because it is so interwoven throughout our bodily systems, we can credit our mind-body connection to this nerve. It ultimately interacts with the parasympathetic (rest & digest) nervous system to control the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. The vagus nerve also plays a big role in the immune system as well as how we experience and recover from stress. All of that being said, it clearly has a big impact on how we feel and function.
So what do we need to watch for regarding the vagus nerve? The wellness of this nerve is described as “tone” and by observing your own vagal tone, you can better know what your body and mind need in any given moment.
Weak vagal tone essentially traps a person in the parasympathetic “fight or flight” or dorsal vagal (freeze) response. Ultimately, these responses leave a person feeling unsafe in their own bodies, which is obviously not desirable. Signs of weak vagal tone include, but are not limited to:
- Inability to regulate emotions
- Trouble focusing
- Digestion issues
- Chronic fatigue
- Inability to make decisions
- Numbness in social interactions / relationships (physically and / or emotionally)
Strong vagal tone, on the other hand, keeps a person at ease in their body. It allows a person to feel comfortable even amidst challenges and to feel confident in their own ability to successfully navigate their lives. Obviously, we all prefer to act from this space. Strong vagal tone might look like:
- Consistent, proper digestion
- Stable moods
- Ability to regulate emotions
- Good sleeping patterns
- Strong relationships
- Quick stress recovery
- Ability to use logic over emotion
- Ability to make decisions
- Deeper concentration
- General sense of peace / wellbeing
Strengthening Vagal Tone
If in reading the above descriptions you classified yourself as having a weak vagal tone, do not distress. There are plenty of practices that can strengthen your vagal tone, and help you thereby feel better in both your mind as well as your body. You might try:
- Taking cold showers
- Singing / chanting (especially in sync with others -- resonance / harmony are powerful here)
- Increasing gut health (eating clean; intermittently fasting; taking probiotic)
- Doing breathwork
- Consuming Omega-3 fatty acids
- Mindfully moving -- note for yourself if you’re needing stimulation or grounding. To stimulate (provoke energy), do backbends (cobra pose, locust, tiger pose, bridge pose, etc). To soothe / ground your energy, do compression poses (child’s pose, forward folds, wind-relieving pose, etc).
The vagus nerve deeply impacts our bodies and minds and therefore deserves our attention. As Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge is power.” The more we know and understand the inner workings of ourselves, the more power we have to address issues and create change.
Brooke is a contributing author for Tada Rugs. Tada Rugs is a 5x7 yoga mat disguised as an artistic area rug that you never have to put away. Tada is short for tadasana, or mountain pose, and our own backyard in the San Juan Mountains of Durango, Colorado is where we find our inspiration. Check out our new designs, enter for a chance to win a new Tada Rug, and be sure to follow us for deals and insider specials! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, or contact us through our website! Tie a room together and bring your practice home.
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