A little about our nervous system
We hear a lot about our Sympathetic Nervous system – which is our “flight & fight” response. Our heart rate goes up, we get narrow focus, blood supply moves into our arms and legs so we are ready to run from a predator! A worthy system, but in todays world, we have an epidemic of people stuck in “Sympathetic overdrive”. This means our daily multi-tasking and constant high stressors are keeping us in this heightened state of stress… Long term this means, poor quality of sleep (because our body wont let us go into deep sleep when we think we are under attack), poor digestion, but mostly poor HEALING. Our body simply cannot calibrate and rebalance when in this parasympathetic state.
So how can we counteract this stress response? With the parasympathetic nervous system! This is where natural healing occurs, the “rest & digest” nervous system. We get balance of our gut and brain interactions, inflammation modulation, good immune response and it is in this state our body can drop into deep rest! The Vagus nerve is (the Queen) an integral part of the Parasympathetic nervous system and makes our whole body work better!
Our brain and organs depend on the vagus nerve pathways to regulate:
- Hunger hormones and food intake
- Anxiety and fight-or-flight
- The immune response
So more importantly, how can we support & tone our Vagus nerve?
- Deep breathing
The Vagus nerve helps modulate our respiration & heart rate. So that is why deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help calm our heart rate and in turn our blood pressure. Studies show slow breathing with long exhales increase vagal tone, improve autonomic function and help the vagus nerve send signals to calm our body.
Try box breathing!
Inhale for a count of four.
Hold for a count of four.
Exhale for a count of four.
Wait for a count of four.
Repeat for at least 10 rounds ( sounds like a simple meditation hey? )
- Cold therapy
Exposing our body to acute cold conditions, like a cold shower or ice baths stimulate the Vagus nerve. While your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic activity declines, while parasympathetic activity increases. Have you ever tried it out?
An Osteopathic practitioner will ensure there are no biomechanical factors that are constricting the nerve, especially as it traverses a long way from the head, through the neck, into the abdomen. For example, any jaw alignment issues (TMJ), or tight muscles of the neck shoulder blades or diaphragm, can impact the pathway of the nerve.
By addressing the Vagus nerve your Osteopathic practitioner can help your body find homeostasis of the two nervous systems, in turn helping to manage inflammation, blood pressure, heart rate and have a positive impact on your Immune system.