Never mind your abs – toning your vagus nerve is the latest thing in the fitness and yoga world.
Your vagus is your longest cranial nerve. It starts in your brain and travels down through your torso. It’s known as the “wandering nerve” because it has multiple branches and touches your heart and most major organs along the way.
Lower vagal tone is linked to a variety of problems:
• Poor satiety or sense of relaxation while eating
• Low stomach acid secretion
• Poor absorption of B12
• Gut problems such as slow transit time or irritable bowel syndrome that causes constipation
• Low or slow bile acid production, so it’s harder to clear fats and toxins
• Poor blood flow to kidneys
• Higher blood pressure
• Poor glucose control
• Poor heart rate variability and greater risk of heart disease
• High resting heart rate
• Frequent urination
• Limited or absent capacity for orgasms
There are three types of states you can be in with regard to your nervous system according to polyvagal theory.
Dissociative – (Dorsal Vagal/parasympathetic)
This is the your most scared state. It can be a traumatic event which triggers it – a car accident, a house fire or it can be living in a chronically terrible situation like kids who are being abused or later it can manifest as PTSD. This is where your vagal tone is lowest. It is correlated with inability to take in new information, depression, sleep difficulties and generally poor health. This dissociative state results in a “freeze/submit” reaction.
Mobilization – (sympathetic)
This one is the well known “fight or flight” state.
This is where I think many of us live these days. This is the state of super busy, texting, driving, striving, worrying and over-efforting. This can make us irritable, distractible, impulsive and reactive. Can I get an amen? We all have an instinct to self soothe, even if it involves numbing.
Homeostasis – (Ventral Vagal/ parasympathetic)
This is your calm, centered, ‘rest and digest’ response. When you know how to self soothe, down regulate and see the big picture. Optimal heart rate and respiration, great digestion, good long term and interpersonal decisions, emotional attunement and connection from self to other.
So how do you tone your vagas nerve? You exhale deeply. You meditate. You sing or chant. You do yoga. Heck you can even take a cold shower.
The “rest and digest” part of the nervous system needs to train.
Yoga and meditation are proven ways to take us to homeostasis.
We need all the practices of yoga to bring us into relationship with ourselves and others. A rigorous practice that makes you sweat is great. Sometimes we need to excite the nervous system and tax and stress the body. I love to do lots of movement before I sit still for contemplative practices. Movement is awesome and we need to do it!
Just as awesome is our need to chill out in a yin or restorative yoga class. In these classes we can really let go and be held in the embrace of our own bodies.
These practices can be our time for spiritual or emotional healing.
Time taken to be be with our innermost self.
Letting our body give us the insights we need to move forward.
Good vagal tone results in better health all round.