The vagal/parasympathetic system is a keystone to all healing. Nothing facilitates positive change more than being in a vagal state.
Where does the vagal nerve begin and end?
The vagal nerve begins at the base of the brain (the brain stem) and communicates with the body’s organs and musculature—the face, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, gall bladder, intestines, bladder, pancreas, and sex organs. *See footnote below.
The vagal nerve is the brain/body connection. See our diagram to get a sense of how many connections the vagal nerve makes with the body. The volume of transmissions through the vagal nerve is unimaginable.
How does the vagal nerve integrate the brain and the body?
The vagal nerve delivers signals from the top down—from the brain stem at the base of the brain to the many organs shown in the diagram. It also functions from the bottom up; for every one signal the brain sends to the body, there are four signals from the body to the brain.
So, not only does the vagal nerve activate…
- Promotion of anti-inflammatory pathways
- Regeneration of tissues
- Increased sense of connection to others
- Slowing an accelerated heart rate
- Immune functions
- Sexual arousal
…it also sends information from the organs to the brain about their needs.
For the brain to direct these functions, it becomes a relay station, calculating status reports from the organs to know how to proceed. The brain talks to and listens to the body through the conduit of the vagal nerve. The more the vagal nerve is used, the stronger it is. This is the secret to vagal nerve neuroplasticity.
The vagal nerve lets us know how we are,
it makes adjustments in our systems and organs,
and it brings us into balance.
How do we know when we are in a “vagal state”?
We know we are in a vagal state when our breathing is relaxed and easy, the heart rate is slower, our peripheral vision allows the eyes to soften, and we have the ability to be attentive and receptive with others. The vagal system is always asking one question, “Do I feel safe?” The term “neuroception” is when our vagal system is evaluating the risk in the environment. It is an unconscious awareness of safety and danger. When we feel safe, we can access the vagal function. When we don’t feel safe, the vagal system is not accessible (our sympathetic function is triggered—see the ANS page). This plays a profound part in whether we feel connected with others or see them as a risk, which affects our positive social behaviors like love, friendship, and comradery.
Why does the vagal nerve affect our health so dramatically?
Without the vagal nerve facilitating communication between the brain and the body, we cannot survive. A strong and active circuit of conversation between the brain and the body via the vagal nerve—the scientific term is “vagal tone”—is foundational to our well-being and health. What weakens the “vagal tone” is stress. So when stress is on and the sympathetic branch is employed, all vagal functions like digestion, calming the heart rate, detoxification, sleep, and regeneration are turned off. When the condition becomes chronic, the vagal nerve loses its tone like an out of shape sedentary body.
As clinicians, this is why we know that healing any health condition necessitates strengthening the vagal communication. Our combined 50 years of nutritional therapy practices have made one thing clear: digestion begins with brain-gut (vagal) integration. We’ve learned that trying to support detoxification, improve immune function, or facilitate healing from a physical injury without addressing our clients’ potential for being in a vagal state limits their ability to heal. The more we have accessed this foundational neurological system, the stronger the connection has become for our clients. The potential for healing grows exponentially.
How do we increase the strength of the vagal nerve?
At Neo Myalo/New Mind, our solution for strengthening the vagal connections between brain and body is our signature plant and mineral essential oil blend, Vagal 2.0. Using Vagal 2.0 combined with a deep inhalation followed by a long exhalation will train the brain and the body to strengthen the vagal/parasympathetic state for functions like eating, sleep, and immunity.
*There are two parts of the vagal nerve. The dorsal branch is considered the older branch. The nerve tissue is unmyelinated, which means the signals are transmitted more slowly. The dorsal branch communicates with the organs from the diaphragm and below. The ventral branch, which is myelinated and whose signals are faster and more directed, evolved later, and it impacts body functions above the diaphragm. The ventral branch affects facial and eye muscles and it offers signals to others that we are attentive, present, and safe. This part of the vagal nerve is also impacted by social engagement (our relationship with others). For more on the importance of the vagal nerve divisions, see “The Polyvagal Theory” by Dr. Stephen W. Porges.