The Vagus Nerve, Tension and Trauma Recovery
Stress and Trauma can lead us to experience exhausting, scary and very uncomfortable feelings in our body. Understanding our Autonomic Nervous System in particular our Vagus Nerve can help us find answers when healing from trauma. See below for a vagal toning exercise.
The Autonomic Nervous System
Our autonomic nervous system governs automatic bodily responses that occur with conscious input. It is why your heart races when you get a fright. Our digestive system automatically releases juices during a meal and contracts our stomach when we are upset or beats our heart for us. It picks up on stressful queues or a sudden traumatic situations and can activate a myriad of sensations both pleasurable and uncomfortable in our bodies. From a nervous jelly belly, tight or raspy throat, a sinking feeling in the stomach to feelings of overwhelm, numbness or burning anger to a relaxation response during yoga, a massage or meditation.
Vagus Nerve and Tone
The tone or health of our Vagus nerve is the critical to our ability to to rest, relax, digest and feeling engaged with life. As the longest nerve in our body it earned the name Vagus which means wandering. Emerging as the 10th cranial nerve it wanders down through the body supplying the jaw, larynx, throat, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys and entire digestive system. It supplies vital information between our brain and our organs to maintain healthy digestion, breathing, heart rate etc As many of these areas are we hold and store tension, it is intricately linked to our mental health and plays a key role in how we feel every day.
Vagal Tone is Our Weapon Against Stress
Prolonged stress or traumatic events can create an unreleased build up of bodily tension. This can contribute to virtually all health conditions. And this will directly affect our ability to heal completely. Disease affects our vagal tone which in turn affects our ability to deal with stress and compromises our health.
Ways To Improve Vagal Tone
Singing, chanting mantras, slow deep breathing, probiotics, Yoga Nidra, and cold water swimming all help tone your vagal nerve. There are are also many other ways you can corporate into daily life. It is important to keep your vagus nerve nurtured and activated.
Vagal Tone and The Gut-Brain Axis
The vagus nerve plays such an important role in regulating our mood and our digestive function. Since it serves as the conduit between the brain and the gut, stimulating it can improve both ends of the nerve.
When the vagus nerve is damaged, people often report a myriad of digestive symptoms. And since our gut health also plays a role in our mental health, it’s no surprise that the vagus nerve is also heavily involved in both bodily functions.
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), infertility, cancer, lymes disease and asthma are a few of the diseases that tax our system and affect the tone of our vagus nerve.
As a yoga therapist I see now that the Ancient Yogi’s intuitively understood our body in a way we are just beginning to with science. Many of the ancient yoga therapy practices being used today bring about Vagal Tone, thus supporting better health. See below for one exercise.
Fight & Flight or Rest & Digest
Most people are familiar with our Sympathetic or SNS and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems or PSN. We may be more familiar with the terms ‘fight and flight response’ orchestrated by our SNS and ‘rest and digest’ which is influenced by our PNS. Our bodies are miraculous and are programmed to keep us safe and well. Yet life is complicated. And so our nervous system has to deal with a lot of complicated input too. And it not rebalanced this can lead us to insomnia, poor digestion, anxiety, palpitations, depression, jaw tension and social withdrawal.
Toning or stimulating the Vagus Nerve can be a secret weapon against stress. The tone or health of our Vagus nerve is the critical to our ability to to rest, relax, digest and feeling engaged with life and developing true resilience. Join my Shake it Off – TRE & Yoga Nidra Course or book a private session to learn more how to use Vagal Toning techniques in daily life.
Vagal Tone Exercises
Here’s one exercise you can utilise if you’re feeling upset, activated.
- Give yourself space & lie down comfortably. Lovingly hug your right hand around your diaphragm, under your rib cage and your left hand over your right shoulder.
- Slow down and deepen your breathing. Inhale from your belly for 3-4 counts, and exhale for 6-8. Place a little extra outward pressure on the exhale to stimulate the vagus nerve. Repeat this for 7 rounds or until relaxed.
- If you are feeling stressed or anxious while out excuse yourself and splash the face with cold water. this will help.
Soraya Saraswati is an Author, Trauma Informed Yoga Therapy, TRE facilitator and Naturopath who manages Mangalam Meditation Retreat
0400 520 624 or www.sorayasaraswati.com