It was 2013, I was 29 years old and in peak physical shape. I had a regular meditation practice and I had been doing yoga without fail every morning for the last 3 years. You may think that I am about to mention that something bad happened. It didn’t. It just got better. Let me explain how discovering the vagus nerve changed everything!
I have always been captivated by human movement patterns. But unlike the commercial trends, I have been exploring lesser known movement disciplines since 2003. What bewildered me is that movement patterns from ancient lineages had trance like qualities. What fascinated me was not the movement itself but what evoked trance in the first place.
Lucky I had the luxury of being a neuroscientist and I started my personal investigation by reading up on everything on this topic. All my research converged on a single conclusion. The heart is responsible for our brain, body and behaviour. I discovered that subtle changes in our heart rate (cardiopulmonary response) happens before anything else does, so our hearts are the first perception to reality. Suddenly, I became bored of studying the brain and dove deeper, below the subconscious and into the body. This is where I encountered the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve descending from the brainstem into the body. What may seem contradictory at first makes complete sense when you realise that 85% of the information traveling in the vagus nerve is afferent, meaning it is traveling towards the brain. The nucleus of the solitary tract is the region of the brain that receives organ related information from the vagus nerve and coordinates your behaviour depending on your internal state. In other words, it is your body that is in control of your brain. The vagus nerve is key to well-being.
We can naturally stimulate our vagus nerve to gain near superhuman control of our body and unlock potential that may only have existed if we entered trance. You might be surprised that I do not mentioned meditation. I have come to realise that there are techniques that are easier, quicker and far more effective than meditation will ever be. Breath however is the prerequisite. Without breath, you have no technique.
Here are 7 ways you can stimulate the power of the vagus nerve:
1. Breath – anything that happens around us will inevitably change our breathing and because breath is so intimately linked with our hearts, our heart rate will change as well. The moment to moment changes in our heart rate is what we call heart rate variability (HRV). We can heighten our HRV and therefore the connection between brain and body through breathing. The general rule is to keep the exhale at least twice as long as the inhale. Longer exhalations are an easy was to hack your vagus nerve however, there are far more effective techniques to train breathing than simply remembering to do so. I share the correct vagal breathing exercises in my online course.
2. Cold water – we have an inbuilt mammalian reflex that generates aversive behaviour to cold exposure, similar to how our hand will reflexively retreat if we touch a candle flame. For this exact reason, we are able to reverse the hardwired reflexes of the nervous system and surrender to the cold. Every attempt by the mind to escape, fails when you surrender. This is reason enough to practice cold exposure for mental gains. I recommend cold water dousing in the morning to boost your mental state and improve immune function.
3. Tactile – we are subconsciously aware of other people’s intentions by reading their body language. For many, they are completely unaware of their tactile sense. I have a newsflash for you – the skin is the largest organ of the body and if you are feeling threatened in your own body, you will be fighting against yourself. It is you against you. This is the foundation of autoimmune conditions, neurological conditions such as epilepsy and psychological conditions such as psychosis, anorexia and bulimia. The brain-body disconnect is the source of self generated diseases. For this reason, one of the biggest components of my online course is tactile sensitivity exercise to rehab touch. Quite simply, hugs won’t work if you perceive touch as a threat.
4. Singing / chanting – singing can come in many forms. Singing by it’s vary act, prolongs the exhale. So you might not need a breathing practice if you simply sing. Chanting however, comes with the powerful intention to reach a state of trance. This is achievable when meaning and reason dissolve. The ecstatic bliss of chanting occurs when, every attempt by the mind to escape fails and we once again surrender. The mind no longer has a say in the matter, only the heart speaks.
5. Laughter – is the best medicine. Laughter isn’t simply going to comedy shows and having a giggle. It is a way of life, to take things lightly, to laugh at yourself, the absurdity of your struggles and make time in your life to have fun. Also one one the biggest reasons couple stick together and expend their longevity to old age is when they laugh together as best friends do. Laughter is the cornerstone of deep and lasting friendships and these social bonds are the expression of a high vagal tone.
6. Movement – no movement will suffice. Movement can in fact be corrosive when it comes through the mind. For this reason, I recommend movements that induces flow. This is where action and awareness merge, time disappears and we find ourselves moving in complete harmony with the moment. Movement does not have to be complex – you can be in flow even when you walk. It is movements that have no meaning that demands our utmost attention.
7. Nature – the outdoors have an aliveness that demands our attention. We suddenly find that there is no where else to be so our hearts’ are responsive to this moment. Our body craves this attention, it reminds us of our instincts, our wildness and our place amongst it all.
Learn more about the vagus nerve in my online course.
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