Have you ever had a gut feeling or butterflies in your tummy when you think of something exciting or stressful? That’s the power of your mind-body connection at work, courtesy of your Vagus Nerve. The 10th cranial nerve or The Vagus Nerve is part of the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and is the largest, longest and most powerful nerve in the body. The Vagus Nerve is our body’s most powerful communicator in that it connects the brain to every visceral (open) organ in the body, including the gut, hence the term “the mind-body connection,” or more specifically, “the gut-brain axis.”
There’s a mainstream belief that the body has two brains, the cranial brain and the gut-brain. Tracy and I believe that, in fact, we have 3 brains: The Gut, The Heart, and The Head. Each of these organs has its own nervous system and neurons and they all talk to each other, via the Vagus Nerve. Given this latest research, we have created the term, The GHH Axis™. Notice how we list the gut first? There’s a reason for that; 80% of our body’s energy and communication moves from the gut up to the head brain (after hitting all those other organs including the heart).
Your microbiome or gut is comprised of an ecosystem of friendly bacteria. Did you know that you are made up of more non-human microbial material than you are human cells?! And did you know that 90% of serotonin is produced in your gut? Research on this mysterious microbiome and mood is dependent on the Vagus Nerve. In order to have an overall healthy system, we must start with the health of our gut. And all of this is dependent on a strong Vagus Nerve or “vagal tone.” Strong vagal tone means better blood sugar regulation, reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, improved digestion via better production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, and reduced inflammation. Higher vagal tone yields better mood, less anxiety, more stress resilience and a strong healthy “gut-brain.”
How to Hack Your Gut through Strong Vagal Tone.
Deep Belly Breathwork. 4-7-8 breathing exercise. Do this daily for 21 days for a healthier gut , a stronger parasympathetic nervous system and greater vagal tone.
Cold thermogenesis. Just taking a cold shower in the morning or splashing your face with cold water will cause the body to slip into parasympathetic mode and subsequently strengthen vagal tone.
Singing, humming, chanting and gargling. The Vagus Nerve is connected to your vocal cords and muscles in the back of your throat. So next time you are in the car or shower, sing away. You can also try gargling the last sip of water before you swallow.
Meditation. Yes, another reason to meditate! A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that increasing positive emotions through lovingkindness meditation led to increased social closeness and an improvement in vagal tone.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training. A coherent and strong HRV is a gold standard test of a strong stress response. One way to test your HRV and to strengthen it (thus increase your vagal tone and overall gut and mental health) is through biofeedback.