Meet a Healing Technique: Vagal Toning
The Vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, but is sometimes called “the love nerve” because of its deep connection to our emotions, resilience, and feelings of safety.
At its “heart” the vagus nerve is a major component of our parasympathetic nervous system, and helps regulate functions like heart rate, breathing, mood, and digestion — all of which have an impact on mental health.
By stimulating your vagus nerve, you strengthen and tone it. Strong vagal tone helps your body return to a “rest and digest” state after stress more quickly, and helps you develop more resilience during a stressful event.
Scientific studies have shown that vagus nerve stimulation is a promising add-on treatment for depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and inflammatory bowel disease, among other ailments.
Poor vagal tone symptoms include anxiety, depression, shortness of temper, being easily flustered, finding it hard to calm down after a distressing event, panic attacks, bowel distress, and more.
Vagal toning techniques work for people of all ages - children and adults alike - to help us regulate ourselves in challenging emotional circumstances. Strong vagal tone is the key to our inner resilience, adaptability, and strength, so let’s work at it!
How to stimulate and tone your vagus nerve:
- somatic exercises like yoga: moving your body while deeply breathing and increasing your heart rate.
- breathwork practices: deep, slow, diaphragmatic breathing (aim for 6 breaths per minute)
- chanting, singing, humming, or gargling: your vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords. The vibration of these activities helps stimulate and tone it.
- auditory stimulation: specialized recordings help stimulate your vagus nerve through vibrations in your ear canal. Try some playlists here (don’t forget your headphones!).
- cold exposure: try adding a 10-second cold rinse at the end of your shower, and work your way up over time.
- omega-3 fatty acids: Our bodies cannot produce these acids ourselves, and they’re powerhouses for our nervous systems and mental health. Shop our selection here.
- probiotics: the gut-brain connection is well-known, but the vagus nerve-gut connection is crucial as well. A healthier gut results in stronger vagal tone. Here’s one we recommend.
Try practicing a little each day, and notice at the end of the week if you feel eversoslightly more relaxed, resilient, or restored.
Keeping our vagus nerve toned is like a magic lifer aft that helps us navigate life’s bumpy waters with more comfort, grace, and skill.
Practice alone, or bring in your partner and children and share this ritual as a family!