Let me introduce you to another Vegas...The vagus nerve. It is one of the twelve cranial nerves, and is very influential. It is cranial nerve 10, and runs from your head, all the way down to your gut. So why should you care about your vagus nerve? I’ll tell you why.
Have you ever felt those nerves in your stomach when you're nervous?Have you felt your heart flutter when you’re frightened? That’s your vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve has sensory functions, and motor functions.The sensory functions of the vagus nerve are divided into two components:
Somatic components. These are sensations felt on the skin or in the muscles.
Visceral components. These are sensations felt in the organs (stomach, heart, lungs) of the body.
1.)The vagus nerve provides sensation information to the throat, the external ear canal, and skin behind the ear.
2.) It supplies information to the esophagus, lungs, wind pipe (trachea), heart, and most of your gut (digestive tract).
3.) It also plays a small role in the sensation of taste.
Motor functions (movement of the body) of the vagus nerve include:
1.) stimulating muscles in the pharynx, larynx, and the soft palate, which is the fleshy area near the back of the roof of the mouth
2.) stimulating muscles in the heart, where it helps to lower resting heart rate
3.) stimulating involuntary contractions in the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and most of the intestines, which allow food to move through the tract.
Because of all of the functions of the vagus nerve, and the anatomy of all the areas of the body it influences, it plays a BIG role in the balance on the autonomic nervous system.
Let me explain further. There is the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), which we have no control over. And then there is the autonomic nervous system that breaks into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is our “flight and fright” system.It is supposed to be turned on when we are stressed, frightened, or “running from a bear”. It makes our heart rate jump up, digestive slow down or stop completely, and respiration increase to prepare our bodies for the incoming attack.
The parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” side of the autonomic system.It slows down our heart rate, slows down respiration, and allows digestion to take place.
Now imagine if you were under constant low level attacks (or stress), and what that would do to our nervous system.You guessed it….your heart rate is elevated, your blood pressure is elevated, your digestion isn’t working well, and your fatigued because your body is tapped out. If this sounds like you….we need to work on balancing the vagus nerve and bringing back more parasympathetic balance to your body.
The vagus nerve exits the skull, innervates the heart, lungs and gut.It runs RIGHT THROUGH THE DIAPHRAGM, to innervate the gut. So one of the ways you can bring back balance to your autonomic system, and the vagus nerve, is with cranial osteopathy. D.O.s (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine) have extensive training in this gentle movement that addresses the inherent movement of the central nervous system, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the surrounding connective tissues to bring balance to the autonomic nervous system. It stimulates healing by using gentle hand pressure to manipulate the skeleton and connective tissues, especially the skull and sacrum (the large, triangular bone at the base of the spinal column). Cranial osteopathy is based on the theory that the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, has subtle, rhythmic pulsations that are vital to health and can be detected and modified by a skilled practitioner (aka D.O.). The picture shown above is a patient receiving a cranial osteopathic treatment.
Another method to help bring balance to your nervous system is with mindful, cleansing, diaphragmatic breathing. That’s right….YOU can help your body heal. Breathing is a powerful tool to help you heal.
I have patients do this in the morning before they get out of bed, and in the evening before they go to sleep. Lay on your back, with a pillow or 2 underneath your knees. Place your arms by your sides in a comfortable position. Now as you take a deep breath in through your nose, allow your rib cage to expand, and your abdomen to rise. The abdomen must rise in order for your diaphragm to come down and allow your lungs to fill up with air. Feel your lungs expand, and hold it there for a few seconds.Now exhale through your mouth, slowly. Allow your rib cage to contract in, and your abdomen to lower as the air leaves your lungs. It should take your twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale. Now repeat this slowly, 5-10 times.I like to imagine my vagus nerve being gently massaged.And as that is happening, it allows the parasympathetic (the calming “rest and digest” side of our nervous system), to be in BALANCE with the sympathetic.
Imagine starting and ending your day in a place of balance, instead of a place of panic.You can bring balance to your body, and calm to your mind. Your body can heal.
Add this practice to your morning and evening, and YOU WILL NOTICE A DIFFERENCE!
Can’t wait to hear about your progress…