The Whys and Hows of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
You already know that your body contains nerves in all parts of it. These nerves help to send messages back and forth from the brain to give you feedback.
Twelve specific cranial nerves come from your brain to output information to other body parts. Some of the nerves in your body work to send sensory messages from the brain, while others send and receive motor function messages.
One nerve in your body, the vagus nerve, is responsible for sending sensory and motor function messages. While the vagal nerve works to send messages to the different organs of your body, you achieve vagal tone when your body has good nerve activity in return.
The vagal nerve sometimes starts to slack, and its message-sending starts to slow. This can impact your body in several different ways. Read on to learn more about the vagal nerve and why vagus nerve stimulation is so important for good health.
What Is the Vagus Nerve?
The 12 cranial nerves you have worked through your body in pairs. Each is named with a different Roman numeral depending on its location. The vagus nerve, sometimes called the vagal nerve, is identified as cranial nerve X.
The vagus nerve is a pneumogastric nerve responsible for the functions of various internal organs in your body. These organ functions include:
- Heart rate
- Reflex actions like sneezing, coughing, and vomiting
The vagus nerve also plays a role in the automatic nervous system. This part of your nervous system helps to handle those things your body does automatically to help keep you alive. This would include things like breathing and food digestion.
Why Is the Vagus Nerve Important?
Anatomy specialists would describe the nerves in your body as the super highway that transports messages throughout. In Latin, the word vagus translates as a wanderer. This is very much how the vagus nerve acts in your body.
As the longest nerve in your body, it travels to all body parts. These nerves are like super pathways that help promote and protect your health. The nerve also helps to address the physiologic unease that handles your anxiety levels.
What Does the Vagus Nerve Do in the Body?
The vagal nerve is part of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. Its role is to act as a safety guide for your body while helping to control your heart rate, immune system, and digestion.
What’s important to know about the parasympathetic part of the nerves is that they’re involuntary nerves. They handle the things you need to do to stay alive involuntarily. This, of course, includes things like breathing and heart rate. The information to make these things happen in your body is involuntarily for you.
When considering safety, the vagal nerve helps to control and regulate:
- Downward the response to a threat
- Restore psychological calm
- Restore visceral order
Once the vagal nerve works to maintain safety, other nerves can kick in to manage those situations and your interactions in them.
Exercises for the Vagus Nerve
When you discuss the vagus nerve, you often hear the term vagal tone. Vagal tone helps show how well the vagus nerve functions for you in your body.
Some studies show that the vagus nerve begins to slow its response rate and effectiveness as people get older. Many support the practice of vagus nerve exercises to prevent this slowing down.
One method for exercise might include OM chants. These are practised by creating sounds in the back of the throat in the same area where the vagus nerve travels down your spine. It’s also why gargling, especially cold water, helps exercise and stimulate the vagus nerve.
Other exercises for the vagal nerve are deep breathing exercises. This can happen by practicing yoga, meditation, tai chi, and even kickboxing. That movement of deep air helps provide the needed stimulation for the vagus nerve. Yoga is especially effective since, with certain movements, you can move your chest, throat, spine, and belly simultaneously.
The Mind and Body Highway
Studies show an interesting and unique connection between the mind and body with the vagus nerve.
There are several avenues to help a person get this exercise for the vagal nerve and work to stimulate it for increased effectiveness. Of course, this matters because the body and mind are physiologically connected, and one type of health impacts the other.
The vagus nerve might communicate with the organs in the body. Yet, it also helps to address the relaxing tension, counteracting the activity of the sympathetic nerves, helping to achieve homeostasis, a restful state for the body.
Physical Health, Mental Health, and the Vagal Nerve
Of course, you already know the vagus nerve is key to some physical functions in the body. These include:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Digestive functions like moving food through the digestive tract
Vagal tone and physical health are closely connected because the vagus nerve helps to tell the heart to increase or decrease heart rate. When you have a low vagal tone, your ability to calm a heart rate or send messages to the digestive tract after a stressor isn’t as strong.
There are some interesting studies related to what’s referred to as the gut-brain axis or the gut-brain connection. You already know that the vagus nerve has a key role in digestion. The large intestine has a complex network of nerves called the enteric nervous system. Interestingly, these are completely separate from the main nervous system in the body.
The enteric nervous system is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve. So, scientists believe this gut-brain connection helps control everything from stress, anxiety, mood, and behaviour to weight gain, bowel movements, and nutrient recovery.
Understanding the Vagus Nerve and How It Controls How You’re Feeling
Many people have likely never heard of the vagal nerve in their body and the important role it plays in your physical and mental health. Finding ways to exercise and create a strong vagal tone are key to maintaining those strong connections between the body and the mind.
If maintaining your health and fitness is important to you, we can help. Visit our health and fitness tab for more articles about keeping you and your family looking and feeling great.