I have a cool new anatomy app that shows the nervous system. I keep peeling away virtual layers and looking at the vagus nerve, a paired ribbon of nerve threading together brain, heart, stomach, lungs, and gut. (What happens in vagus doesn’t stay in vagus… sorry, couldn’t resist. Vagus means “wandering”!)
We’re networked for sensitivity. The science of it is awesome, and I’m finding beauty in the affirmation of wholeness.
The vagus nerve—a body-mind connector of intelligence, courage and gut wisdom—tells the brain about our viscera, and vice versa. And guess what? Activities that increase our vagal tone relate to the resiliency of our heart and decreased stress response, and may be related to positive emotions!
For example, this research study: Upward Spirals of the Heart (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010) found increased positive emotions among meditators with higher vagal tone. It suggests a “positive feedback loop” between high vagal tone and positive emotions.
What’s “vagal tone”? It’s a state of the nervous system. Increased vagal tone means good stuff: slower heart rate, increased heart rate variability, and increased parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activation. If you’re a regular reader of my posts about restorative yoga, you’ll remember that PNS activation helps us rest, digest, and heal—the opposite of fight, flight, and freeze stress responses.
This suggests that we can impact the nervous system and emotional well being via meditation. And yoga too, I’d say. Because of the connection of muscle and nerve action, we may be able to affect the vagus nerve—and therefore brain, heart and gut health—with breathing practices and movement. Emerging research is looking at vagus nerve stimulation with anxiety, inflammatory bowel disease, and other conditions.