If you were to take your hand right now and rub the back of your neck, you would be touching the area where your brain stem is located. This area houses the origin of your vagus nerve–the largest nerve in the body, often referred to as "wanderer" as it intersects with multiple nerves, organs, and bodily functions. I had heard about the nerve and its impact through various yoga teacher trainings; however, it wasn't until I decided to research how emotions become processed in the body, as well as the impact of emotional trauma, that this nerve would really capture my attention.
The vagus nerve can dictate your movement and harness emotional trauma that can dictate how your body moves and feels too. To gain a bit more control and understanding of how to detect and strengthen your response to the vagus nerve, here are five reasons to tone your vagus nerve:
1. Decreases stress levels.
When you tone your vagus nerve, you create a healthy vagal tone, which improves your body's ability to communicate effectively with your organs and nervous system. For example, individuals who want to lose weight often have a poor gut-brain connection. A recent study found that improving the vagal tone might help your body's stress levels.
2. Deepens breath.
Toning your vagus nerve can help increase your deep-breathing capabilities. The moment you tone your nerve, your body responds by increasing the volume of your in-and-out breath, allowing you to access the lower lobes of your lungs, where more calming nerves are present.
3. Lowers heart rate.
The vagus nerve increases the production of nitric oxide, which helps circulate your blood. This has a calming effect on your nervous system, making you feel more relaxed.
4. Opens up emotional flow.
When your body relaxes, reactivity dissolves, and as this occurs, energy increases, making you feel lighter and more grounded. In this state, old, heavy, and undesirable emotions such as anger, resentment, and fear get transformed into healing states such as love.
5. Improve circulation.
The vagus nerve is connected to so many organs (heart, lungs, digestive tract), allowing for more blood circulation. As circulation improves, so does the way your organs function. As a result, your cells are able to work more efficiently, carrying nutrients while removing toxic waste from your body. Improved circulation can also influence inflammation in the body—specifically in your joints, skin, and arteries. Emotions at the biochemical level are neuropeptides that attach to certain neuron receptors. Neuropeptides influence the amount of inflammation and cell turnover in your body.
Where to start? For starters, try this cat-and-cow stretch.
Each time you tone your vagus nerve, you are sending a message of love, compassion, and healing to yourself. See your vagus nerve as a tool for self-respect and ownership. Taking ownership is the first step of creating a new and happy life. Here's a simple yoga stretch that'll help activate the process.
Sit up tall, with your feet flat on the floor, scooting toward the front of your chair. Now, open your arms wide to the sides, and then fold them in, rounding your spine while folding into your body and creasing your abdominal area. It's important to engage your pelvic floor throughout the transition of steps. Inhale, open your arms (squeezing your shoulder blades together), and exhale (fold inward) two or three times. Try practicing this stretch daily to help identify past trauma, current emotional blockage, and open up to the process of healing.
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