THE VAGUS NERVE
Also called the “wandering nerve - being derived from the Latin word Vagus” is so named because it is the longest and most complex of all 12 cranial nerves connecting the brain to the heart and down the gastrointestinal tract and organs. It basically runs from the head, down the middle ear and face, down the throat, down the chest and heart, through to the digestive organs. It transmits information to or from the surface of the brain all the way down to the lowest viscera, tissues and organs.
It is primarily through the function of this nerve that the body can apply handbrakes on itself and prevent adrenalised energy from completely running the show. This fascinating and complex nerve is essentially responsible for the “mind-body” connection, and it literally is the “Mind-body” connection. Besides being a parasympathetic nerve, sending fibres from the brain to the body, it also sends sensory information from the body back to the brain.
As you're reading this, you are most likely aware that we have 3 brains.. your gut brain, your heart brain and your brain brain.. The vagus nerve is the pathway through which they communicate - especially being responsible for transferring emotions and the state of your viscera (internal organs) to your brain.
Diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) is part of a feedback loop that improves vagal tone (activity of the vagus nerve) by stimulating the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. When it comes to effective vagal maneuvers, any type of deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing, with extended exhales - is going to stimulate your vagus nerve and activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
Vagal tone is measured in the changes in heart rate that occur with the breath. This is referred to as Heart Rate Variability or HRV. Healthy vagal tone involves a slight increase in heart rate on the inhalation and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale. Vagal tone can be thought of as an optimal balance of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system actions. People with higher HRV can move more easily from excitement to relaxation and can recover more easily from stress.
So there are different ways to stimulate the vagus nerve such as :
Cold water immersion, loud gargling water, swallowing, laying down on the ground, positive self talk, singing, laughing and deep breathing, especially with long exhales. Today we will practice some deep breathing together with vocalisation (chants and mantras )
Deep inhale.. big sigh!
When it comes to singing, humming, chanting or gargling we activate the vocal cords and the muscles in the back of your throat, which are connected to the vagus nerve. Incorporating these activities into your daily routine can help increase your vagal tone.
It turns out our voice and breath are all we really need to help ourselves find a calmer, safer centre within. Breathing while using your voice is simply that the breathing frequency is lowered and the natural breath becomes longer (tidal volume expands). The same happens when you hum or sing, which as you know, causes a feeling of happiness and wellbeing.
Vocalisations and intentional breathing with humming, chanting or sounds are actually neural exercises that stimulate specific pathways in the Vagus nerve. These pathways enable healing, well-being, and inner calm to take place. When we chant, we utilise our mouths and create a movement of certain facial muscles. These facial muscles in the head and neck are connected to nerves that supply and adds to the relaxation response.
According to Dr Stephen Porges:
“The neural regulation of the face – the mouth, the oral area, the eyes, and even controlling muscles of the middle ear – are related to the vagal regulation of our heart. So when we sing or chant, we’re enhancing the regulation of the heart through this vagal pathway.”
Chanting also stimulates the larynx nerves located in our throat. These nerves are a branch of the Vagus nerve, and therefore activate that relaxation response and also activate the “brake” that slows down the stress response.
Chanting is a way of getting in touch with yourself. It’s an opening of the heart and letting go of the mind and thoughts. It deepens the channel of grace, and it’s a way of being present in the moment.”
It’s common to feel awkward about chanting when you’re first starting out. It’s not something we’re commonly taught here in the West, but in eastern traditions like yoga, traditional Chinese medicine (Qigong), and Buddhism chanting meditation is a common way to cultivate a quiet mind, well-being, and inner peace. That is what Bhakti Yoga is all about, yoga of devotion.
Mostly everyone is familiar with the sound or mantra - AUM
According to ancient Vedic and yogic texts, Om is the primordial sound of creation. A word that represents to our ears the sound of the energy of the universe of which all things are manifestations. To vocalise it is to merge with the infinite intelligence and creative wisdom of the Universe.
On a physics level we attune to cellular vibration to integrate both body and mind, which facilitates renewal, repair and healing. Especially in the lungs, heart, neck, jaw, tongue and brain…… Try it out now
Deep inhale, … AAUUUMMMM.
If the meaning of Yoga is to unite and connect, then Om is the vehicle through which we can unite with the Supreme Consciousness, Source, and Spirit.
“Aum – starts in the back of the mouth – Aaaaahhhh. And then you fill the mouth – Uuuuuuhhh, and Mmmmmhhh closes at the mouth. When you pronounce this together, all vowel sounds are pronoucned– AAAUUUUMMMM.
So a mantra is a sound or syllable with vibrational power. Om is considered the “mantra of all mantras” and so is called the main Seed Mantra.”
“Aum…. Aum… Aum…” The space in between aums (oms) vibrates with prana (vital energy). By engaging in mantra meditation we’re also increasing the flow of prana throughout our body and mind. In this way, we’re cleansing our energy field and removing energetic blocks that hold us back. Chanting can open an energetic portal to help you cross through the thresholds of your own consciousness. It can create a sacred space for growth and resilience to flourish.
We’ll use Mantra sound and breath to help us to go deeper and create a balanced energy throughout the body.
M sound (like Bhramari breath)
A sound, from diaphragm area
U sound, from the heart and throat.
M sound, from nasal, third eye area.
Sending awareness and energy upwards.
A sound.. breathe in .. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
(hold hands over belly area) x 2 , continue twice more on your own.
U sound. breathe in …uuuuuuuuuuuu
(hold hands over heart and throat) x 2 , continue twice more on your own.
M sound, breathe in … mmmmmmmmmmmmmm
(hold hands over sinuses/cheek area) x 2 , continue twice more on your own.
Notice the energy go up. Even the pitch. Feel the right vibrational rhythm for yourself... what feels good to you. One can almost say it is a harmonious feeling.
Do all together now:
From the bottom … aaaa...uuuu…mmmm (can have hands moving too) x 3 , feel free to do it twice more on your own.
Staying in the stillness for a moment. Feeling sensations. Gently open your eyes when your're ready. As you can feel, by chanting we feel a sense of calm as we activate the relaxation response in our bodies.
Most of you would have heard the mantra, “Om mani padme hum” ,an ancient Buddhist mantra. In English, this rhythmic chant literally translates to “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus. The word Mani means "jewel" or "bead", Padme is the "lotus flower" and Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment. There’s lots of different variations of this mantra, in so many traditions and religions.
Go ahead, chat this mantra now, full power! Thanks for reading:)