Behold the wonder of vagus nerve stimulation – a seemingly miraculous solution to our stress and anxiety. With a few simple movements, we can hit the “restart” button on our nervous system and find relief from the pressures of modern life.
In these tumultuous times, there is no better time to practice systemic adjustment and experience instant calm.
From deep breathing to splashing your face with cold water, massaging your neck and ears, and even gently stroking your diaphragm – all of these techniques are showcased on popular social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, inviting us to explore the amazing benefits of Vagus Nerve Activation. .
The vagus nerve, named after its wandering path throughout the body, is the longest of the twelve cranial nerves that extend from the brain to various parts of the body. It extends to a vast network of organs within the chest and abdomen, expertly regulating crucial functions such as hormones, digestion, heart rate and immune response.
Surprisingly, a staggering 80 percent of the time, the vagus nerve transmits vital information from these systems to the brain, according to Prof. Yoram (Yuri) Gidron of the University of Haifa.
There is universal agreement among practitioners of both Western and holistic medicine: The vagus nerve reaches its peak performance when we engage in sustained, intentional breathing exercises.
The professor. Gidron illustrates this well by suggesting “smelling a flower and blowing out a candle.” The practice commonly known as “vagal breathing,” familiar to yoga enthusiasts, involves taking deep, deliberate breaths in three separate two-minute sessions each day.
The crucial element lies in the rhythm of breathing, as slow and measured inhalation and exhalation work together to restore the body’s regulatory balance.
According to Prof. Gidron, there are various methods and practices that can effectively enhance the activity of the vagus nerve, also known as “vagal tone”. For example, switching to a Mediterranean diet that includes olive oil, vegetables, fresh fruit and fish can be very beneficial.
Furthermore, Artzi Padan recommends a simple technique for vagal stimulation: diaphragmatic massage while lying down or sitting. As the vagus nerve passes through the center of the diaphragm and divides, massaging the area can relieve tension and allow for better diaphragmatic movement.
Heart rate variability (HRV) – a metric that measures the activity of the vagus nerve – represents a vital indicator of our overall health, as explained by Prof. Gidron.
In essence, it measures the space between our pulses and reflects our heart rate. The higher the value, the better our well-being.
Additionally, research has shown that this index has predictive value in terms of survival rates for a number of diseases, including the COVID-19 virus. While typically measured using a pulse or ECG, HRV specifically looks at the interval between our heartbeats, rather than the pulse itself.
Almost a century ago, in 1921, Otto Levi, a renowned German physiologist, made an extraordinary discovery concerning the vagus nerve. He has discovered a substance secreted by the nerve, which he has appropriately dubbed a “vagal substance.”
Later, scientists identified this substance as acetylcholine, marking it as the first neurotransmitter ever discovered. In honor of this groundbreaking revelation, Levi shared the Nobel Prize with his colleague, Sir Henry Dale.
Additionally, the vagus nerve is responsible for the production of oxytocin, a hormone that is even more widely recognized than its counterpart. Oxytocin, also known as “the love hormone,” is famously released during orgasm.
According to Christopher Bergland – a famous author of several articles on the vagus nerve in Psychology Today – there is a potential evolutionary explanation for why our bodies need both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
He postulates that our ancestors likely relied on the sympathetic system to raise cortisol levels, which was crucial for hunting, gathering and defending against enemies.
In contrast, the parasympathetic system was responsible for producing oxytocin, a hormone that fosters social bonding, reproduction, and creating an environment conducive to our survival, including close-knit communities and romantic relationships.
He believes that a difficult situation arises when our archaic evolutionary mechanisms face the incessant frenzy of the 21st century, causing a kind of short circuit in our biological system.
One of the obstacles that hinder the smooth functioning of the vagus nerve is the advent of social networks. On these platforms, we are inundated with images of cheering individuals on Instagram who sow doubts about our own happiness, encourage us to make unfavorable comparisons, and ultimately foster a sense of isolation.
The vagus nerve is not only a tool for bodily regulation, but also for sexual pleasure, especially in women. According to Artzi Padan, the nerve is a crucial component of female sexuality because it creates a sense of safety and security with one’s partner.
“Female sexuality thrives on feelings of safety and regulation,” she explains. “Being able to release stress and feel protected stimulates sex drive.” In fact, the branches of the nerve extend beyond the digestive system and into the cervix, so proper muscle activation can improve sexual function.
The professor. Gidron believes that one effective treatment for increasing vagal tone is biofeedback, a technique that involves monitoring physiological information from the body. A small device attached to a finger displays HRV on a screen, allowing people to track their progress.
Additionally, activating the frontal cortex, located in the front of the brain, may help manage anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress. Cognitive methods such as restructuring can also be helpful, allowing people to see their experiences in a neutral or positive rather than a negative light.
Research indicates that narrative writing can have a positive impact on vagal tone. According to a 2017 study conducted by Kyle Bourassa at the University of Arizona, people who had gone through a divorce, a distressing event for many, were able to elevate their HRV through expressive writing.
The process involves noting one’s deepest thoughts and emotions about a traumatic experience to process and derive meaning from suffering.
Findings suggest that the ability to construct a coherent narrative not only helps relive emotions, but also assigns meaning to them, enabling people to process their emotions more beneficially, which may lead to an improvement in their heart activity. .
The professor. Gidron emphasizes the importance of the HRV index in predicting survival rates in the general population. Studies indicate that individuals with high vagal activity have a better chance of surviving longer.
In the case of COVID-19, the index predicts double the survival rate, and for cancer recovery, it predicts two to five times higher survival rates. It also predicts four times the probability of surviving a heart attack.
However, despite its importance, there is a lack of awareness regarding this index, and it is not measured in emergency rooms or intensive care units, which can be attributed to ignorance.
How would the ER use your HRV index?
“Individuals with mental illness and chronic illnesses are often found to have low HRV, which is associated with a higher risk of mortality.
“Therefore, it’s important to consider methods to activate the vagus nerve or adjust their treatment plans. The vagus nerve serves as the critical link between the brain and the body.”