Continuing with our theme of gut health….
If there’s one thing that’s often at the forefront of concern in the modern day world, it’s stress. Our bodies are hard wired to react to stressful situations, and these reactions have a whole host of negative effects, often leading to serious disease and illness.
If we become habituated to stress, we essentially start to think that feeling stressed is ‘normal’, and the body stays in the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system), keeping blood pressure high, digestion compromised, adrenals working over-time, the brain and metabolism not working as well as it could, and out general mood and physical ability a mere shadow of what it could be.
Enter, the vagus nerve
We know by now that gut health is incredibly important, but it’s not just about good nutrition and digestion, it’s about maintaining the health of he gut-brain connection. Or really the gut-brain-nervous system connection.
The word ‘vagus’ translates from Latin as ‘wandering’, which is just what this nerve does; it wanders from below the base of the brain, through the throat and oesophagus, continues through past the lungs and heart, and finds its way to the gut, where it culminates in a mass of nerves. The vagus nerve plays an important role in allowing the boy to move away from the sympathetic nervous system, to the parasympathetic nervous system, and the ability to access this regularly is what allows for real relaxation, healing, digestion, cognitive function and better physical performance.
“Regardless of the system of relaxation and parasympathetic nervous system activation, there is one component common to all of them: the vagus nerve. Most of us are familiar with the central nervous system, the bundle of nerves that leaves the brain and moves into the spinal column. The vagus nerve is part of the sensory-somatic system, a subdivision of the peripheral nervous system. Peripheral nerves make their way directly out into the body. Most begin at the spinal column, but within the peripheral nervous system there are a group of nerves called cranial nerves that exit directly from the brain. The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It exits at the medulla, part of the brainstem”.
There are a few ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, and when we’re able to do this regularly, we allow the body to release unnecessary stress. In this ‘more is better’ and ‘busy is best’ mentality we generally seem to have these days, the ability to relax (or atleast not stress so much) isn’t as valued as it could be. Whoever you are, you can benefit from working with the vagus nerve to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. When we allow ourselves to enter into this state of wellbeing, we also improve immunity, blood pressure,
10 ways to stimulate the vagus nerve
- Deep breathing directed into the abdomen
- Cold water exposure (switch your shower to cold for a couple of minutes and notice the release of endorphins you feel after)
- Singing or humming in a low, resonant tone
- Belly laughter
- Practice relaxing movement, like Qi Gong or gentle Yoga
- Massaging the stomach
- Surround yourself with people who make you feel happy, safe and comfortable
- Exercise in a way you really enjoy (movement releases endorphins and relaxes the nervous system)
- Lying on your right hand side when sleeping
- Gargling water