“The vagal response lowers stress; reduce the heart rate, and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, and many other things that happened to us when we are relaxed” – Mladen Golubic, M.D., Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
What does “vagal response” means?
In simple terms, the vagal response is typically the stimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve extends all the way from the brain stem, to the tongue, vocal chords, heart, lungs, and internal organs.
Stimulating this large nerve also assists to quell anxiety. Intriguingly, the yoga masters have been using the vagal response in “breath work regarded as Pranayama (as) a normal part of yoga practice” for centuries. This sounds somehow, isn’t it?
It has been revealed that regularly practicing vagal stimulation can help lower anxiety and stress – and help mitigate or neutralize conditions which include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease. This is the assertion made by Dr. Mladen Golubic who is an internist at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
Also, Judi Bar, a yoga teacher at the Cleveland Clinic, agreed with Dr. Golubic that “Our breaths will either wake us up or energizes us. It will relax us, or it will (balance) us”.
The Science behind the vagal response
It is noteworthy that amygdale which is part of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), provides us the best “fight-or-flight response” that put us on edge. That moment when you feel some jerk cuts you off in traffic, or while waiting on hold for 20minutes. Yes! That is the fight-or-flight (FOF) response.
As the FOF response kept our species alive, it is also a pain in the you-know-what. It is always easy for us to get pissed off over the smallest things due to two almond-shaped glands at the base of your brain.
Therefore, individuals with mental health problems, such as chronic anxiety and depression, are constantly on-edge due to amygdalar activity.
When we can’t seem to relax, it is time to engage the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) by stimulating the vagus nerve.
At first, it might seem complicated, but it is not really complex to do – which can even become much easier with regular practice. The most essential thing when stimulating the vagus nerve is to control your breathing. Abnormal breathing and a spike in blood pressure are the byproducts of SNS fight-or-flight activity.
Dr. Golubic noted that deep breathing is a great example of that. He said “we have a certain space where we can control breathing. It is possible for us to extend the inhalation and the exhalation. So by those practices, we can simply activate the parasympathetic nervous system”. The most important practice is a complete breath that involves diaphragmatic breathing.
We all know that a diaphragm is a dome-shaped, muscular wall that separates the lungs from the stomach area. It plays an active role in breathing process, as it is also liable for inflating the lungs.
The critical issue about it is that we tend not to engage the diaphragm enough while breathing; rather, we tend to breathe shallowly (“chest breathes”). There are standard disadvantages to not using our diaphragm for breathing. By not make use of diaphragm, our bodies do not receive the optimal amount of oxygen – something that affects our mind and body.