‘Actively’ Learning to Relax

 How often do you tune up your car or exercise to help develop heart, lung and muscle tone?

Did you know that you can increase your vagal tone to actively facilitate a calmer nervous system response throughout your day? Higher vagal tone means you can relax faster after a stressful event or when you need to wind down. High vagal tone is associated with a myriad of psychological and physical health benefits.

Interestingly, our vagal nerve is one of the most important nerve fibres in the body, connecting from our brainstem (the oldest part of the brain) all the way down to a many of our internal organs.

‘Vagus’ is latin for ‘wandering’ and this bundle of nerve fibres is systematically wired throughout our internal system, facilitating communication from our brain to our heart; digestive tract; as well as many internal organs such as your kidneys and liver.

The interesting thing about the vagal nerve is that it reports a diverse and rich amount of information back to the brain. Importantly, it is an essential facet of our parasympathetic nervous system, giving immediate information which is vital in calming our nervous system down and facilitating a calmer nervous system response (hence feeling relaxed).

One simple way of developing vagal tone is through breath re-training and the development of ‘coherence’ whereby the brain, heart and nervous system synchronise. The strength of your vagus response can be measured by your heart rate variability. High vagal tone can be developed through actively developing good heart rate variability and hence, learning to ‘switch over’ into your parasympathetic nervous system which is a fancy way of saying ‘actively learning to relax’.

Another way is by practicing TRE (Tension/Trauma Release Exercises) which slows the vagus nerve down and helps you to switch over into the parasympathetic nervous system/relaxation response.

Who would have thought that ‘learning to relax’ would be so active? I will discuss vagal tone, heart rate variability and coherence next week.

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