If you follow health and wellness blogs, even if only halfheartedly, you've probably heard of the Vagus nerve (pronounced like Vegas). The Vagus nerve pair is the largest of our cranial nerves in the somato-sensory system, running directly into the body, acting as the leader of our parasympathetic nervous system. They connect to the stomach, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, female reproductive organs, neck, ears, and tongue (and probably more things I've forgotten). Our sympathetic nervous system is our "fight or flight system," priming our body to take action under pressure, and our parasympathetic nervous system is our "rest and digest system," encouraging the body to return to normal functions while decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and encouraging digestive processes (and many other physiological processes).
You may have also heard that the vagus nerve can be low functioning, "low vagal tone,"or working optimally, "high vagal tone."
Because of its many connections to vital organs, the Vagus plays a significant role in digestion by increasing stomach acidity and increasing histamine production, affects heart rate and blood pressure, regulates glucose balance, affects female fertility, as well as play a role in the mind body connection. Now back to a low functioning vagus- how does one improve vagal tone? Although there are many ways of contacting the vagal nerve, there is research to support meditation, massage, restorative yoga, and deep breathing as part of maintaining vagal tone. I've also read a wide range of other possibilities for contacting the vagus, from chanting, singing, splashing cold water on your face, lovingkindness meditation, positive social relationships, and regular movement and exercise. What does it mean for you right now? Downregulation is ESSENTIAL self-care for your nervous system, whether that means a mind-body practice, meditation, getting a massage (or regular self-massage!), walks, or social interactions. Living in a place of constant stress taxes your nervous system, and affects all of your body's vital functions.
To read more on the study about yoga and the vagus, click here.
To read more about the Vagus nerve and autism, click here.