Increasing vagal tone for a calmer life
Today I wanted to blog about increasing vagal tone. The vagus nerves are the longest in our body, and play a key role in the parasympathetic nervous system, the calm down ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system. The more toned your vagus nerve is, the faster you can relax when you have been stressed. There is a positive feedback loop between vagal tone, emotional wellbeing and physical health.
So, how can you tone it? There are many researched ways, here are some of them that I am aware of:
Cold exposure. Maybe start off with cold water on your face for a good period. Then, turn your shower cold for 30 seconds. Then, build it up. Being able to continue breathing deeply and calmly through the cold helps reduce fight/flight activation, and increase parasympathetic activity, meaning you are more calm, more of the time.
Deep and slow breathing, taking 6 breaths a minute rather than the more usual 10-14. This is the pace at which people breathe for many spiritual activities for good reason, it is deeply calming.
Singing, humming, chanting and gargling. These are all good ways to stimulate the vagus in your throat. The gargling has to be full on enough to bring tears to your eyes to work, really go for it! You’re aiming for a good level of vibration in any of these to get good stimulation.
Take good quality probiotics such as Lactobaccillus and Bifidobacterium. I am no expert in nutrition and would recommend talking to someone who is before taking supplements, but anything to improve the health of your gut bacteria will likely help vagal tone, for example eating fermented foods, and having 12+ hour fasts between meals each 24 hours.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also reported to help vagal tone, and its worth noting it’s algae that make these, not fish (who consume the algae and pass it on), so regardless of your dietary preferences omega-3 is available.
Exercise regularly, in ways you enjoy, at moderate intensity. Too much or too intense exercise can reduce heart rate variability and vagal tone, but regular exercise is important for vagal tone. Find exercise you like, both aerobic and weight bearing for optimal effect
Meditate - meditation has been demonstrated to increase vagal tone and improve mental health. It's a good idea to find an experienced teacher to talk through your experiences as you learn, meditation can be calming, and it can also be illuminating, and is best done with social support and with guidance to draw on.
Socialising and laughing with loved ones and friends.
There is surely something in here for everyone, the key is consistent, repeated application, making a concerted effort to help your system become more regulated and less sensitive to activation. Working with vagal tone is preventive maintenance more than disaster recovery, and it’s an investment well worth making.