Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Having a high vagal tone means the body is operating more efficiently, with longer more even breaths, anxiety regulated well in the body, proper digestion, and lowered inflammation throughout. A low vagal tone can lead or contribute to mood disorder symptoms like anxiety and depression, create stomach issues, muscle tension, and inflammation that can lead to multiple other issues in the body. Low vagal tone has been shown to play a part in Alzheimer’s, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, epilepsy, migraines, tinnitus, joint issues, pulmonary disease, IBS, cancer, autoimmune disease, and numerous other issues. The good news is that increasing the vagal tone has been shown to lead to significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety and PTSD. It can also decrease inflammation, which leads to an entirely new myriad of autoimmune disorders and chronic pain.
So how do you improve vagal tone already! Well, there are two main requirements to begin: an open mind and patience. There is no quick fix, this is not a pill to cover up symptoms it is a skill to address the underlying cause of the symptoms. Some of the exercises may seem unusual or even ridiculous, but they work. Used together to work on vagal tone cumulatively, and used on a regular basis, results will follow over time. Some of the activities may even seem automatic or activities you already do, but the key is increasing awareness and attention to these activities. So here are ways that the vagus nerve can be activated in a positive way to increase your vagal tone. Everyday Interactions
Surrounding yourself with positive people and positive speech is the first way to improve vagal toning. The vagus nerve is connected to the nerves involved in hearing and speaking. It is also connected to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is the hormone involved in social bonding. So, positive social bonds will naturally improve vagal toning.
The Food You Eat
Some foods that can assist in this process include:
- Fermented foods like yogurt, cheeses, or kombucha: They restore necessary gut bacteria
- High fiber foods like seeds, fruits, nuts, and vegetables: They keep the body regular and they also contain prebiotics that improve gut health.
- Important vitamins and minerals: Magnesium, Polyphenol, Omega-3, Sodium, Phosphorus.
We all know exercise is good for our physical health, but it is also incredibly important for our central nervous system health as well. Any exercise is good for the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve has pathways that connect to your vocal chords and into your throat. The vibrations in the back of the throat stimulate the vagus nerve and improve vagal tone. This can be as simple as talking or singing. Sing in the car or shower, gargle water longer when brushing your teeth, read out loud. One of the best ways is to learn to chant. If you meditate already incorporate an “Ommmmmm” chant. Notice the vibrations in your throat.
Cold actually activates the vagus nerve. Cold exposure also boosts parasympathetic (calm) activity. It triggers your calm system. This could be anything from jumping into a freezing lake to taking a cold shower or even just splashing cold water onto your face.
A hearty belly laugh stimulates the vagus nerve at many points. Allow yourself to watch a funny movie and don’t hold back. Consider watching stand-up comedy sometimes on a weekly basis to get this stimulation.
Massage and Acupuncture
There are different types of massage and body work that stimulate the vagus nerve and improve vagal toning. A foot message can activate the calm, parasympathetic nervous system, reflexology can improve vagal toning, and any other physical massage, especially around the shoulder, neck, and face.
This can help ensure your body is aligned and the vagus nerve is not pinched. A pinched nerve along the vagus system can result in pain as well as increased mood instability.
Music and Binaural Beats
Music has many healing properties and is closely tied to emotional response. Binaural beats are becoming more and more studied and many benefits are being identified. You can download many free apps on your phone for binaural beats, and it is best to throw on a pair of headphones. A tone at a different Hz level will be played in each ear, creating an auditory illusion and increasing focus and memory over time.
This is an exercise that can be beneficial in the moment to reduce anxiety, however it is necessary to practice deep breathing on a regular basis for vagal toning benefits. This requires you breathe from the diaphragm. To help with this you can interlock your fingers, place your hands behind your head, pull your elbows back, and then breathe deep to the count of 4 or 5. You should see your stomach expanding and contrasting, not your chest.
Stretching and Yoga
This is an excellent routine for many reasons. Stretching and yoga decreases tension in the body and helps with muscle soreness. It also helps to manage any pinched nerves or kinks in the vagus nerve and opens up your body’s energy flow and improves blood flow.
Select a few of these and schedule them into your day. Even schedule a laughter session, where you plan to watch a movie alone and allow yourself to laugh without constraint. It is not enough to simply say “I think I will try that.” You have to schedule these activities at least sometimes, or you will become anxious, stressed, and forgetful. Schedule mental health exercises the same as you schedule physical health exercises.