Dr. Nisha Manikantan
Want a more well-balanced mind and body free of stress and anxiety? Raise your vagal tone! Vagal tone refers to the activity of the vagus nerve, a critical cranial nerve in the body responsible for the mind-body connection. International experts suggest the easiest DIY practices to raise your vagal tone and bring back your energy levels, sharper, clearer and more productive minds and a feather-light body.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve arises from the brain and reaches important organs in the body – the brain, gut, heart, liver, pancreas, kidney, spleen, lungs, reproductive organs and the tongue. It controls all involuntary body processes like digestion and heartbeat, breathing, circulation.
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You’re likely to face these problems if your Vagal Tone is low:
- Digestive disorders
- Inflammatory conditions
- Sleep dysfunction
- B12 deficiency
- OCD, autism, ADHD
While an optimal vagal tone ensures:
- Optimal digestive health
- Healthy sleep
- Improved learning and memory
- Normalised weight
- Keeps inflammation in check
- Relieves stress-induced conditions
- Blood sugar balance
Here is a dynamic exploratory routine to stimulate this vital nerve in your body:
Start your day with meditation
Pancha kosha or five sheathed meditation takes you layer by layer through the five levels of existence- the physical environment, physical body, thoughts, feelings and the self-all of them connected through the one most powerful tool-breath. You can simply listen and follow through the instructions online. Meditation should ideally be done before a meal and in comfortable clothing. In this meditation, each step is followed by deep in-breaths and out-breaths. In this meditation, take a mindful pause of about 30 seconds to a minute between each step. The online guided meditations are timed and you need do nothing apart from sitting with eyes closed.
- Sit comfortably with eyes closed and spine erect
- Take a couple of slow deep breaths
- Without much effort observe the sounds around you (traffic or chirping birds, or any other sounds you may hear). Accept the noises and be in harmony with the environment around you.
- Breathe deeply for a minute.
- Become aware of your physical body-the different parts of your body, starting from feet to the head. Followed by a deep breath in and out.
- Become aware of the thoughts running in the mind, be they good or bad. Without judging or trying to get rid of them, just observe them. Continue breathing deeply.
- Become aware of your feelings.
- Be with the peace inside
- Take few deep breaths
- Become aware of your feelings. After a pause for about 30 seconds, become aware of the thoughts, if any.
- Gradually taking your own time open your eyes. Be in no hurry to come out of the meditation. Always follow up meditation with pranayam, as meditation releases a lot of toxins and breathing exercises help them exit the system.
Nadi Shodhan Pranayam
Studies have shown that ancient Indian breathing exercises can raise the vagal tone. So powerful is the effect of Nadi Shodhan Pranayam that doing it will instantly relieve you of stress. (You can also practise this technique anytime during the day when you feel stressed)
- Sit comfortably with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed.
- Place your left hand on the left knee, palms open to the sky.
- Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger near the left nostril and thumb near the right nostril.
- Press your thumb on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
- Now breathe from the left nostril and press the left nostril gently with the ring finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right.
- Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. This is one round of nadi shodhan pranayam. Continue inhaling and exhaling from alternate nostrils.
- Complete 9 such rounds by alternately breathing through both nostrils. After every exhalation, remember to breathe in from the same nostril from which you exhaled.
Yummy in your tummy (And a happy Vagus Nerve)
Eat potassium-rich food! Here is a delicious potassium-rich food recipe:
Ragada Pattice: The pride of Mumbai’s street food offers potassium in mouthfuls
Dry white peas- 200 gms
Oil- 1 tsp
Mustard seeds- 2 pinches
Asafoetida- 1 pinch
Turmeric – ¼ tsp
Potatoes- 250 gms
Green chilli paste- 1 pinch
Ginger paste- 1 pinch
Rock salt- as per taste
- Soak dry peas for 8 hours.
- Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add asafoetida, turmeric, green chilli and ginger paste.
- Add peas and cook.
- Add salt and cook for 8 minutes.
- Once the peas get cooked, turn off the gas and garnish ragada with coriander leaves.
- Wash sweet potatoes and potatoes. Cut them into two pieces and steam for 20 minutes.
- Peel and grate the potatoes. Add chilli, ginger paste, rock salt and mix well.
- Roll it into palm and press to make round flat cutlets.
- In a pan, roast the cutlet with little oil until it turns brown.
- Serve the cutlets with ragada, tamarind and green chutney. Garnish with tomatoes and coriander leaves.
Some facial yoga to end your day
Try these for immediate relief from stress at the end of a long day.
1. Pinch your eyebrows 5-6 times using your thumb and index finger.
2. Roll your eyes 5-6 times clockwise and then anti-clockwise.
3. Squeeze your eyes tight and then open them wide. Repeat this for 10-15 times.
4. Hold your ears and move them clockwise and anti-clockwise.
5. Move three fingers from the jawline to chin and massage your cheeks. You could keep your mouth open as you do this.
6. Open and close your jaw 8-10 times.
7. Open your mouth and move your jaw side-to-side 8-10 times.
8. Rotate your neck. Breathing intake your head back and breathing out touch your chin to chest.
Chanting for a happy mind
A study published in the Scientific American found that memorizing ancient Sanskrit mantras increase the size of the brain regions associated with cognitive function. A recent study at BITS Hyderabad, showed that people who chant/ listen to chants became more cheerful and calmer by the end of the study. Chant ‘om namah shivaya’ for ten minutes and see the difference! You can also listen to chants. Our experts recommend listening to / chanting as a daily practice, especially over the next 6 days.
(The writer is Director of Sri Sri Ayurveda. She has compiled this article with inputs from Ayurvedic cooking expert Kaushani Desai and senior Yoga instructor Mayur Kartik)