Vagus Nerve Unveiled

When we think about staying healthy, we often think of muscles, ligaments, organs, joints and bones. However, we often don’t about keeping our nerves healthy. However, our nerves are critical to the healthy functioning of the body. In fact, one specific nerve – the vagus nerve – is central to the most basic of bodily functions that we often take for granted.  The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and, as such, is the leader of the parasympathetic nervous system. This nerve, which begins at the base of the skull, spans the body and links the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems. The vagus nerve is responsible for regulating multiple critical bodily functions, including controlling the heart rate, monitoring breathing, preventing inflammation, linking the brain with the gut, triggering the relaxation response and supporting the formation of memories.

The state of the vagus nerve is linked to the quality of a person’s mental and physical health. People who have a high vagal tone are more resilient when faced with stress and can move more easily to a relaxed state. In comparison, people with a low vagal tone are more sensitive to stress and prone to diseases such as heart issues, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and epilepsy. These people often have weak digestion and increased heart rate.

Strengthening the Vagus Nerve

Just like muscles and tendons, the vagal tone can be improved through specific exercises and habits. For instance, in a 2013 Psychology Today post Christopher Bergland suggests adopting habits that improve vagal tone. These habits include:

– Develop a habit of positive thinking. Learned optimism helps the vagus nerve rewire the mind to adopt a more resilient stance under pressure.

– Be physically active. Strength training, aerobic exercise and yoga help build the nerve’s tone and harmonizes hormones and neurotransmitters. The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health also points to studies that suggest that yoga’s breathing techniques helps tone the vagus nerve.

– Avoid high-strung people. Because emotions are “contagious,” try to avoid spending significant amounts of time with high-strung, anxious or nervous people.

– Embrace positive emotions such as kindness. Positive emotions as well as positive social connections are tied to high vagal tone as well as overall physical health.

Diet also is an important component in creating nerve health. Fish, green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables offer nutrients that support healthy nerve function. Furthermore, eating a healthy diet can help control high blood sugar, which — if left unchecked — can damage the vagus nerve.

Assigned by Jennifer Buergermeister, written by Dorian Martin for Jennyoga. Edited by Jennifer Buergermeister

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Bergland, C. (2013). The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. Psychology Today.

Garvin, C. (2013). Foods That Heal the Nervous System.

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. (ND). Why Yoga Works.

Rosenfeld, J. (2015). 9 Nervy Facts About the Vagus Nerve.

Weil. A. (2009). Natural Treatment for Gastroparesis. Dr.

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