3 breathing exercises to improve vaginal tone and reduce stress in a snap
Cranial nerve X. It sounds like a pretty radical superhero, or maybe the superhero’s genius buddy who comes up with all the cool gadgets and never gets credit for being the one who actually thwarts the bad guy’s evil plans.
Cranial nerve X, also known as cranial nerve 10, also known as the Vagus nerve, is none of those things, but it IS pretty radical. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve complex that runs from the base of the brain down through your trunk, branches like a tree, and sends out “roots” to communicate with your internal organs and glands. When we talk about the undeniable power of the mind-body connection, we are usually referring to the actions of the vagus nerve.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the heart of your parasympathetic nervous system. You may remember that your nervous system is made up of two parts: the “fight-flight-freeze” sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” nervous system. Well, Without the vagus nerve, one cannot rest and digest. Think of it as a information superhighway. It gathers information from your organs and translates it into messages that tell the brain: “Everything is cool here!” Or “Oops, there’s something bad! It’s time to get the sympathetic nervous system involved. ”It also carries instructions from the brain to the body.
Simply put, The vagus nerve modulates the stress response and facilitates our ability to maintain homeostasis. Some people describe the nerve as the “brake” of the sympathetic nervous system, but I am not interested in that analogy. It means you are “on” in Fight-Flight-Freeze mode and if you are heavily parasympathetic (resting and digesting) you are off.
It’s not exactly. All of the good things – growth, repair, emotion regulation, social connectivity – happen in parasympathetic mode. You definitely want to be parasympathetic dominant or vagal dominant.
The term vagus tone refers to how active the vagus nerve is, which is an index of the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. Higher vaginal tone = more parasympathetic nervous system = less physiologically stressed.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is an indicator of vagal tone, with a higher HRV correlating with a higher vagal tone. Decreases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure all indicate increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, so they may also be representative of vagal tone. Any practice that increases HRV or decreases any of these cardiorespiratory markers will increase vagal tone.
Research shows that we can specifically activate the vagus nerve and thereby alleviate physiological stress. One of the easiest ways to do this is to modulate our breathing. Sounds too good to be true, but You can literally affect your biochemistry almost instantly by changing your breath. Breath work is becoming increasingly popular in the fields of health, fitness, and longevity. With this, we will see a growing interest in the vagus nerve and how we can hack it to relieve chronic stress endemic to modern life.
I now make my prediction: the vagus nerve is ready to have its own hot girl summer, and I’m looking forward to it.
3 breathing exercises to increase vaginal tone
The vagus nerve passes information between the brain and lungs to help regulate breathing. When you are not stressed, your breathing is naturally slow and controlled. Your heart rate also increases with every inhalation and, thanks to the vagus nerve, slows down with every exhalation, a phenomenon known as respiratory sinus arrhythmia.
Usually these are top-down or efferent processes, ie the brain controls these physiological processes via the vagus nerve. However, there is also growing body of evidence that When we breathe consciously, as if we were unstressed, we can essentially tell the vagus nerve that we are indeed relaxed. The vagus nerve then sends this information to the brain and voilà, we’ve created our own relaxed reality.
Those of you with young children may remember the lesson from Daniel Tiger:
When you feel so mad
That you want to roar
Take a deep breath
And count to four
Daniel offers some wise, science-based advice there. This deep breath calms the body and changes your emotional response to a negative situation. Every time you pause and take a few slow, calming breaths, you activate the vagus nerve and put yourself in a parasympathetic state.
In the longer term, it seems possible to improve vagal tone and to put yourself in a more chronic parasympathetic-dominant state through regular breathing exercises. Here are three to try:
Diaphragmatic breathing means slow, deep abdominal breathing. Find a comfortable position, either lying down with your knees bent or sitting with your feet on the floor. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
Inhale slowly through your nose. You should feel the hand rise on your stomach. Breathe out gently and feel your stomach drop. Think of the air going through your nose and all the way into your stomach, then up and back out in a gentle wave.
If most of the movement of your breath is in your chest, or worse, in your shoulders, it means that you are not really using your diaphragm to pull the air into your body. Keep practicing!
Resonance breathing, also called coherent breathing, means breathing at a rate that allows your breath to synchronize with your heart rate. Although we all have slightly different resonance frequencies, research has shown that the average resonance is around 5.5 breaths per minute, which is 5.5 seconds per inhale and 5.5 seconds exhale. Cool right?
According to James Nestor, the author of Breath, many traditional religious chants and prayers from around the world had a similar rhythm, which naturally made people breathe about 5.5 times per minute. This offers a physiological explanation of how prayers, chants, and yogic mantras have a calming effect.
To practice resonance breathing on your own, find a comfortable position while sitting or lying down. Take a few slow breaths to calm and center yourself, then start inhaling through five and exhaling through five. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing.
Extended breathing patterns while exhaling make use of the aforementioned respiratory sinus arrhythmia. The vagus nerve is activated as you exhale, so lengthening the exhale can provide “respiratory biofeedback” and tell the brain that you are relaxed.
There isn’t enough research to determine an optimal ratio, but I’ve seen both 4: 8 and 4:10 are recommended. That means Breathe in for four seconds, pause, then breathe out for eight to ten seconds. It probably doesn’t matter what you do as long as the exhale is longer than the inhale. If it’s too difficult to start with, try a three-second inhalation and a seven-second exhalation.
Put these breathing exercises into practice
You can do these exercises anytime, anywhere. The next time you feel stressed out while standing in traffic or in the slowest line at the grocery store, inhale for four seconds and exhale for eight seconds. See if you don’t calm down right away.
Ideally, you should make breathing exercises a consistent practice, similar to meditation. In fact, breath work is a form of meditation. Pick one of the exercises above and start with one or two five minute sessions a day. If you can do ten minutes, all the better. Work up to longer sessions, up to twenty or thirty minutes, once or twice a day. Try to breathe through your nose as much as possible.
If that sounds like a lot, start with what you can do. You will likely find yourself craving the benefits. As you start to improve vaginal tone and experience more rest, less stress, and better emotion regulation, it becomes self-reinforcing. Would like more.
The good news is it is likely that many of the basic primal lifestyle behaviors also improve vagal tone. This is likely one of the ways in which they improve health and wellbeing. Stay tuned for part two of this series where I’ll talk about how this might work. It is really very radical!
About the author
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is Senior Writer and Community Manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Marks Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the what, why, and how of a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her Masters and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was also a researcher and lecturer.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sport-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping and game nights. Follow @theusefuldish on Instagram when Lindsay tries to balance work, family and endurance training while maintaining a healthy balance and, above all, enjoying life. More information is available at www.lindsaytaylor.co.
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