Toning up your vagus nerve

The vagus nerve is the nerve that connects the mind to the body. Research has found that when we have a high ‘vagal tone’ we are better able to recover from stressful situations quickly. Having a higher vagal tone also helps to improve a variety of physical health conditions including inflammation and arthritis.

Our vagus nerve is connected to our parasympathetic nervous system, or our ‘rest and repair’ system. When we have a higher vagal tone we are spending more time in rest and repair rather than fight or flight.

Excitingly, there are a number of ways we can tone up our vagus nerve. As this article shares, here are some key ways we can do this:

‘1. Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing from your diaphragm, rather than shallowly from the top of your lungs stimulates and tones the vagus nerve.
2. Humming. Since the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically stimulates it. You can hum a song, or even better repeat the sound ‘OM’.
3. Speaking. Similarly speaking is helpful for vagal tone, due to the connection to the vocal cords.
4. Washing your face with cold water. The mechanism here is not known, but cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve.
5. Meditation, especially loving kindness meditation. This promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kirk found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness, and an improvement in vagal tone.
6. Balancing the gut microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone.’

So I’d encourage you this week to think about using one of the ideas above. I personally splashed cold water on my face which felt incredible (and a bit shocking!!)

With love as always, Hannah and Team Bird

PS. After the success of this week’s Building Personal Resilience in Uncertain Times webinar we are running another one in May. Check it out here. We’d love to have you along.

Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

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