Raise your hand if you want a resilient nervous system.🙋♀️ Uh huh… that’s what I thought. I do too! 😊I want to be healthier overall, quicker to recover from stressful situations, happier, stronger, more empathetic, better able to concentrate, and have thriving relationships…. ALL things associated with healthy vagal tone.
Vagal tone should be nurtured daily if it is to function optimally. You might be surprised at how easy some of these tips are!
⭐Poor breathing habits. The sedentary nature of our current society has been no friend to the vagus nerve. Poor posture, including the downward tilt of the head as we look at our computer and phone screens restricts the airways from throat to lungs. If you walk into nearly any nursing home you will see posture associated with long term low vagal tone. Dr. Navaz Habib👨⚕️, author of Activate Your Vagus Nerve, makes a compelling argument that dysfunctional breathing is the most common cause of poor vagus nerve function. Friends, this is such an easy (and free) fix. Address posture (revisit that post!), and incorporate breathing slowly and “belly button” deeply at least a few times every hour. This is nourishing to the vagus nerve, and feels good too!
⭐Alternate nostril breathing👃. Inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the opposite nostril has a profound effect on the nervous system and an increase in oxygen consumption. One study found that inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril for approximately 3 minutes four times a day for a month increased oxygen consumption by 37% compared to normal breathing practices. (Doing the reverse activity.. Inhaling through the left and exhaling on the right showed an oxygen increase of 24%) It was suggested in the study that this type of breathing may reduce the release of stress hormones (a benefit in vagus nerve health). As an added bonus, you will likely find yourself more focused and awake by “right nostril breathing” and more relaxed and less anxious by “left nostril breathing”. Knowing this, consider supporting these techniques with Brain Power or En-R-Gee essential oil blends when “right nostril breathing”, or Tranquil, Peace and Calming, or Sacred Mountain essential oils blends when “left nostril breathing”.
⭐Prayer and meditation🙏 are both scientifically proven to increase parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) activity which improves vagal tone. Incorporating essential oils during prayer and meditation is a beautiful way to enhance both practices. Some of my favorites include Frankincense, Peace & Calming, RC, and Raven.
⭐Practice tensing stomach muscles or coughing on purpose.
⭐Massage…..even an ear massage. Massaging the areas of the ear👂 called the tragus and cymba concha can trigger a mild vagal response. Additionally, acupuncture or acupuncture point based therapy (check out Dolphin MPS for one such type) are hugely helpful.
⭐Keeping a positive attitude and emotion set. This is truly a “use it or lose it” situation. Affirmations and constructive emotions can spark a self fulfilling future for all aspects of the body, including vagal tone. Destructive emotions can also do this but in the opposite direction. (ex: If you believe you will fail, you probably will! ) Direct good thoughts and actions towards other people and watch your vagal tone improve. Act on kindness, compassion, and empathy. Doesn’t the world need more of this anyway? It’s fascinating that attitude alone can deeply impact the function of the vagus nerve. God has knit us together in wondrous ways!
⭐Belong to a socially active community 🧍♀️🧍♂️🧍♀️. Social isolation does no favors to vagal tone. Find your tribe and spend time with them in person. Oxytocin is a hormone which acts as a neurotransmitter. Its presence has a powerful effect on the health of the vagus nerve. Hugging, laughing, breastfeeding, speaking to someone in person or on the phone, being trusted by someone, and listening to soothing music are all ways to release oxytocin. Surprisingly, shooting guns can be included in this list!
⭐Eating correctly. Saying words of gratitude🙏 over your food actually stimulate the vagus nerve. Chewing slowly and eating mindfully (fully present) allows the body to recognize the type of nutrients being released into the body, and to release the appropriate enzymes and digestive juices needed to make them bioavailable (or boot them out as a toxin). It would come as no surprise that an unhealthy vagal tone has a negative effect on digestive juices, especially those released by the gallbladder.
⭐Intermittent fasting. There are a myriad of benefits of intermittent fasting, including decreasing inflammation in the body. Inflammation negatively affects vagal tone. Of course intermittent fasting is only one way to help the body in this manner. Any time you remove a toxin source from your body’s daily load, you will be showing your vagus nerve TLC. Thank goodness for the clean household and personal care products we have access to! #ThanksYL
⭐Foods that have been found to support healthy vagal tone include fermented foods (ex: kombucha, cheeses, plain yogurt), high fiber foods (ex: nuts, fruits, vegetables) and foods high in Omega3’s. If you feel you might not get enough of any of these food groups, supplement with YL Life -9 (or MightyPro) probiotic, Balance Complete Meal Replacement, and OmegaGize3 (or Mindwise) respectively. Additionally, adequate zinc levels contribute to a healthy vagal tone. (You’ll want to go back and re-read the section on zinc. It may tie together some clues for you)
⭐How we sleep matters😴. Laying on the right side has the highest vagal stimulation.
⭐Gargling. This contracts the muscles in the back of the throat which causes direct stimulation of the vagus nerve. Humming (especially while covering the ears) and singing loudly are also helpful.
⭐Improving vagal tone thru exercise💪 and yoga is reason #100 to do both. Seriously. Mental and physical health will only improve in amazing ways when exercise and yoga are incorporated into healthy habits.
For the more adventurous spirit, other ways to spark quick vagal tone improvement include ❄️cold❄️ showers, ❄️ice baths❄️, ❄️cryotherapy ❄️ or coffee☕️ enemas (Yes indeedy! 😉).
Our brains are constantly checking on us to see if we feel safe or not. It is only when the brain perceives safety that we are able to engage socially, have curiosity, feel happy, and be playful. If it has been awhile since you’ve felt this way, this would be another set of clues indicating that your vagus nerve needs some additional love and attention.
It may seem hard to “want” to incorporate these suggestions into your healthy habits if all of this is new to you, but if you raised your hand a few minutes ago in a bid for resiliency, it’s time to do “the things.” Just like a teenager who is hard to wake up in the morning, waking up the vagus nerve may take perseverance. Find your tribe and work together to make those vagal nerves toned and happy!
PS: Friends, there is an enormous amount of information on the vagus nerve and polyvagal theory. If this has sparked your interest, please DO do some more digging on your own. There is simply no way to do this particular topic justice in a couple of posts.