While countless healing modalities continue to pop up, all promising to mitigate feelings of anxiety and improve your mental health, there is one area of the body that is pivotal in nearly all of its functions. Currently, many mental health researchers have started to share the influence of the nervous system and the role that it plays in feeling your best.
According to The Cut, the vagus nerve runs between the gut and the brain — touching all of the organs, including the heart, in between. A zig-zag-shaped line, the vagus nerve actually has two branches that run along the right and left sides of the body. It impacts nearly all of the system in the body, regulating everything from your heart rate to your vocal cords to your digestion, Mindbodygreen reports. The longest nerve in the body, the vagus gets its name from the Latin word that means wandering. Essentially, this long, winding network of nerve endings acts as a central channel for vital information in your body’s processing. This information wanders up and down in an effort to maintain equilibrium.
Plus, the vagus nerve regulates the central nervous system — aka the system that either puts your body into “rest and digest” mode or “fight or flight”. The outlet also explains that it plays a key role in the gut-brain connection that works closely with our mental health. Particularly, the vagus nerve closely connects with the way we breathe.
Your vagus nerve is directly impacted by your breathing
When you’re taking shallow breaths, you’re usually worried or in a state of stress. These shorter inhales and exhales send information to the nervous system to prepare the body for even more stress. According to The Cut, the vagus nerve directly responds to both your breaths in and out. On the way in, the air hits nodes in the lungs that send information up the channel to the brain. On the way out, that information travels in the opposite direction, impacting the speed at which our heart is beating. This is the reason that short breathing makes our hearts beat faster, while relaxed, slow inhales and exhales reduce your heart rate.
Another important aspect of this nerve is its tone. Vagal tone represents the strength of the nerve and how well it can readily transfer important information throughout the body. Mindbodygreen reports that vagal tone plays a key role in fighting inflammation, immune system function and metabolic and emotional regulation. Essentially, a strong vagus nerve holds serious weight in vital functions throughout your system. Keeping it healthy and learning more about how it works can improve both your mental and physical health.
To tone your vagus nerve, you can sing, chant, or try cold exposure. Each of these impacts your vagus nerve, stimulating different aspects of the channel.
But, the easiest way to impact this area of your body is to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing helps slow down your heart rate, better your digestion and soothe the system as a whole. Your vagus nerve will thank you!
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