The number one cause of death in the world today is heart disease. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include following an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle and most importantly stress!1Ayurveda primarily identified these factors and suggested a healthy lifestyle that’s free from stress as the only way to good health. Mindful meditation and deep breathing techniques were developed as the foremost ways to bring calmness even in high-stress environments.
In recent times, more and more practitioners of allopathy have started to advocate the importance of mindful meditation for vitality. This is where, the importance of the longest cranial nerve, vagus comes into play. Studies claim that having a high vagal tone creates a healthy vagal tone which is directly linked to proper cardiac functioning.
What Happens in The Vagus?
The vagus traverses a major portion of the body in its journey from the brainstem to your abdomen and it connects with vital organs like the heart, lungs, intestines, and lungs in its course. The vagus nerve keeps signaling the brain with information received from the body tissues. When you feel good about a new person or thing or you sense something is fishy about some place, it’s actually your vagus sending information to the brain. This is what we refer to as the ‘gut instinct’.
The vagus nerve also transmits information from the brain to the visceral organ tissues instructing them to calm down and relax. It is hence an integral part of the parasympathetic nervous system that’s concerned with activities that spread a sense of serenity in the body. These include, deep breathing, reduced heart rate, better digestion and normal basal metabolic rate.
Like yin exists for yang, the parasympathetic system has an antagonist called the sympathetic nervous system. While the former is concerned with ‘digest and rest’ phenomenon, the latter carries out the ‘fight and flight’ phenomenon. The sympathetic nervous system induces the stress response that spikes the heart rate, blood pressure while slowing digestion and pumping the muscles with blood for fighting or fleeing.
What Happens In Reduced Vagal Activity?
Since we live in highly competitive and stressful times, on a daily basis our sympathetic nervous system is activated more than the vagus and parasympathetic nervous system. When we frequently lose our temper or we are pushed to the brink of emotional meltdowns, our body gets stuck in a state of imbalance. This leads to a persistent state of stress in the body leading to chronic inflammatory conditions that affect the health of our brain, heart, and brain.
This is the reason why we cannot afford to take vagal nerve stimulation lightly. Stimulating the vagus means activating the parasympathetic nervous system thereby promoting relaxation, a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term studies have proven that vagal nerve stimulation can treat chronic depression and heart failure as well as epilepsy.23
Mindful Meditation For Vagal Nerve Stimulation
The optimistic aspect about the parasympathetic nervous system is that we can control it to work in our favor, unlike the sympathetic nervous system which is automatic. That’s why studies have proven the importance of relaxation techniques to stimulate the vagus nerve so that we display grace under pressure.
Mindful meditation consists of techniques where you either sit in stillness or are in motion to calm your mind and body. Zazen and tai chi meditation are the most commonly practiced one in mindful meditation. When you engage in slow, diaphragmatic breathing with awareness of the present moment and without getting carried away by thoughts, you activate the vagus nerve.
Every conscious inhalation and exhalation stimulate the vagus nerve. This means your parasympathetic nervous system regains control from the sympathetic thereby slowing your heart rate and blood pressure while you enter gently into a state of calmness.4
3 Steps To Practice Mindful Meditation In Your Daily Life
For many of us, being still, mentally or physically is a herculean task. A great way to involve meditation into our chaotic existence is to be completely absorbed in what we are doing. Here are 3 ways to practice mindfulness daily.5
1. Be Completely Present At The Moment
While walking or working, keep distractions away and tell your mind that the only job it’s got to do now is to be totally aware of what you are doing in the present. Neither the past nor the future needs to worry you.
2. Release Tension By Acknowledging It
Next time you are in a stressful situation, practice breathing with self-talk. With each inhalation, you can say, ‘ I’m aware that my body is stressed’. On exhalation, you can say, ‘ I release all the tension in my body because peace is better.’
3. Pay Attention While Breathing
When you breathe, make sure that your exhalation is longer than your inhalation. You can say ‘I am aware of my body’ with each inhalation and exhalation. This will keep your mind occupied and focussed on the breathing.
Mindfulness is the only way to live life wholly with full awareness of its beauty and miracles and hence it’s too valuable to be missed.
|↑1||Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). World Health Organization|
|↑2||De Ferrari, Gaetano M., Harry JGM Crijns, Martin Borggrefe, Goran Milasinovic, Jan Smid, Markus Zabel, Antonello Gavazzi et al. “Chronic vagus nerve stimulation: a new and promising therapeutic approach for chronic heart failure.” European heart journal 32, no. 7 (2010): 847-855.|
|↑3||Nahas, Ziad, Lauren B. Marangell, Mustafa M. Husain, A. John Rush, Harold A. Sackeim, Sarah H. Lisanby, James M. Martinez, and Mark S. George. “Two-year outcome of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for treatment of major depressive episodes.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry 66, no. 9 (2005): 1097-1104.|
|↑4||Hölzel, Britta K., Sara W. Lazar, Tim Gard, Zev Schuman-Olivier, David R. Vago, and Ulrich Ott. “How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective.” Perspectives on psychological science 6, no. 6 (2011): 537-559.|
|↑5||Five Steps to Mindfulness. mindful|