Imagine a nerve connecting your brain to your heart, gut, and immune system. A nerve that promotes balance within your body. This nerve, known as the vagus nerve, is a conductor, synchronizing your body’s rhythms. It holds the power to regulate your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and promote digestion. The vagus nerve is the ambassador of calm, the guardian of balance, and the catalyst of well-being. With increased vagal tone, you’re able to promote whole-body wellness.
But what happens when this nerve falls out of tune? When its tone decreases, stress rises, emotions run amok, and the body’s harmony is disrupted.
It’s time to discover the transformative ways to rekindle the vagus nerve’s flame, enhance its tone, and reclaim the equilibrium it brings. Today, I’ll share the top five strategies that lead to increased vagal tone.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is the tenth and longest cranial nerve that travels from your brainstem into multiple areas of your body, such as your heart, gut, lungs, and tongue. It is the central part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our body’s “rest and digest” state.
The vagus nerve helps regulate our body’s automatic systems, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, hormones, and digestion. It also regulates our fight, flight or freeze reactions, affecting our anxiety levels and ability to handle emotional and physical stressors.
Vagal tone tells us how well the vagus nerve is functioning. It is measured indirectly through heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measurement of the amount of time between heartbeats, which is an indicator of the vagal activity of the heart. A more variable heartbeat indicates increased vagal tone, while lower HRV is associated with poor vagal tone.
Poor vagal tone is associated with several gastrointestinal and neurological conditions, such as IBS, colitis, heart disease, depression, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. It is also associated with metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes.
5 Strategies for Increased Vagal Tone
Today, I want to focus on non-invasive strategies that can lead to increased vagal tone. These non-invasive strategies are safe and generally good for your health and well-being. The key is to choose one strategy and stick with it.
There are many small studies showing that exercise leads to increased vagal tone, and it is probably one of the most accessible interventions to do at home. Plus, exercise has numerous health benefits beyond increased vagal tone.
However, it’s important to note that more exercise does not necessarily mean better vagal tone. Over-exercising or doing too much high-intensity exercise without enough recovery time can lower your HRV, leading to decreased vagal tone.
- Meditation and Breathing Exercises
The vagus nerve helps control our breathing, and studies show that you can increase vagal tone by practicing certain types of breathing.
The most straightforward form of vagus nerve breathing is to make your exhalation longer than your inhalation. When we breathe out, our heart rate decreases, and we stimulate the vagus nerve. Just as you may notice that when you’re anxious, your breathing becomes short and rapid (indicating activation of the sympathetic nervous system or the fight-or-flight response), you’ll see that slow breathing helps increase parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest) activity. Adding five to ten minutes of slow and mindful breathing each day can be a great way to improve vagal tone.
Other activities that can increase vagal tone include singing, chanting, and humming. All these practices slow breathing, which can lead to feelings of calm.
- Cold Water
Have you ever taken a cold-water plunge? Cold water immersion can reduce heart rate, improve HRV, and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity, especially after exercise.
If you want to test out cold water therapy, start by taking the last 10 to 20 seconds of your shower on the coldest water setting you can handle. This provides a way to ease your body into cold water therapy.
- Tapping, Gargling, and Laughing
Other strategies that lead to increased vagal tone include tapping, gargling, and laughing. Vagus nerve tapping has become increasingly popular in recent years. This involves lightly tapping your chest while holding your breath to stimulate the vagus nerve. While many people report improved mood and reduced stress and anxiety, there currently aren’t any studies looking at the effectiveness of vagal nerve tapping.
Another practice that can lead to increased vagal tone is the Emotional Freedom Technique. This form of tapping taps on acupressure points helps reduce levels of anxiety and improves emotional regulation.
Because the vagus nerve goes to the throat and affects swallowing and the dilation of the throat, some people suggest periodically gargling to improve vagal tone. Some people also believe that laughing may stimulate the vagus nerve because the vagus nerve also goes to our diaphragm. However, there currently isn’t any research looking at the effectiveness of gargling or laughing for increased vagal tone.
- Vagus Nerve Massage
Vagus nerve massage uses light to moderate pressure in areas of the body near the vagus nerve, such in the neck and shoulder area near the base of the skull or on the side of the neck near the carotid artery. This form of massage increases HRV and decreases subjective stress, leading to increased vagal tone.
It’s important to remember that these strategies are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each person’s journey toward increased vagal tone is unique, requiring patience, consistency, and a holistic approach to well-being.
By incorporating practices such as deep breathing, mindfulness, physical activity, meditation, gargling, and nerve tapping into your daily life, you can gradually increase your vagal tone and experience its wide-ranging benefits. Remember, small steps can lead to significant improvements over time.
The vagus nerve and the gut are highly connected. If you’re unsure where to start with your gut healing journey, my gut healing program will give you all the information you need to get started. Click here to get in touch and book a complimentary 15-minute health discovery call to learn how my gut healing program can help you.