Feeling tense? Do you often find yourself stressed out with today’s hectic fast-paced lifestyle? If you are like most people then your answer is most likely yes. Oddly enough, you need not look very far to find a solution to your problem. Our own body has a built-in way of handling stress and there is a secret to harnessing it.
Our bodies are wired in such a way that our nervous system is divided into two functional categories, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the excitatory component which has the primary function of stimulating the body’s fight-or-flight response. An overactive sympathetic nervous system could leave you feeling restless and in a constant state of stress. To balance things out, the parasympathetic nervous system is in charge of recuperative functions of the body like resting and digesting. This is the system we need to tap into in order for us to relax.
The key lies in hijacking the powerful function of the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve shares its word origin with the word vague, both coming from the Latin root which means wandering. Why is that? It was named that way because the vagus nerve dominates a wide array of organs in the body. Think of it as the boss of the eyes, mouth, heart, lungs, stomach, and your gut in terms of letting loose and relaxing. A second reason the vagus nerve is powerful is that it has a direct connection to our control center, the brain, using 80 percent of its nerve conduction to drive information from the body to the brain.
There are a number of ways of stimulating the vagus nerve. Deep breathing and yoga are known for its calming effect since stretching out the lungs and chest muscles stimulate the vagus nerve.
Meditation is another method worth exploring. In the study published in the International Journal of Yoga, it was discovered that producing the sound “Om” in the form of chanting stimulates the vagus nerve. A novel way of stimulating the vagus nerve is to cultivate a healthy gut microbiota. The study from Arizona State University suggests that taking in a probiotic containing Lactobacillus casei enhances vagal stimulation which improved mood in those who participated in the study.
If the vagus nerve is stimulated deliberately, it was found to have a profound therapeutic effect to our health. Vagal stimulation can decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, relaxes muscles, improve mood and even tone down inflammation. According to a study published in the journal Science, vagal stimulation results in suppression of inflammatory response originating from the spleen.
Since vagal stimulation causes a decrease in blood pressure and pulse rate, which are elevated in a state of anxiety, it has been used to treat anxiety disorders with significant success. In a study done by the Department of Psychiatry of the Medical University of South Carolina, it was found that vagal stimulation not only produced acute improvement in the study participants with anxiety but also long term as well.
The effects of vagal stimulation are not limited to calming down an overactive nervous system. It has also found success in treating depression, a condition that manifests with symptoms of lack of motivation and excitement. The China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences was able to note significant improvement in participants who have depressive symptoms just by stimulating the vagus nerve.
So next time you feel burned out and could use some rest and relaxation, do not forget to give vagus stimulation a try.
Viva vagus: Wandering nerve could lead to range of therapies
Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jan-Jun; 4(1): 3–6.
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). (2014, August 15). Do gut bacteria rule our minds? In an ecosystem within us, microbes evolved to sway food choices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 10, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140815192240.htm
Science. Acetylcholine-Synthesizing T Cells Relay Neural Signals in a Vagus Nerve Circuit
A pilot study of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for treatment-resistant anxiety disorders.
Elsevier. (2016, February 4). New non-invasive form of vagus nerve stimulation works to treat depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 10, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160204111728.htmTags: Anxiety, Nervous System, Stimulation, Vagus Nerve