VAGAL TONE & WELL-BEING
The Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges describes a model of how our systems determine safety and risk in our environment, in the world around us and internally within ourselves. Porges speaks to how our nervous systems thrive in an environment where we have spontaneity and novelty in a background of safety.
Below is a brief musical lesson on the polyvagal theory performed by the Keynoters (Robert Schwarz and Michael Reddy) just before Stephen Porges’ Keynote at ACEP’s 17th international Energy Psychology conference.
Being comfortable with change and the unknown is essential for developing a highly versatile and resilient system.
Vagal tone refers to how the vagus nerve operates in our system and affects how resilient and responsive our systems are. The vagus nerve touches all the major systems in the body – cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, and reproductive, affecting such things as our breath, blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar and hormone levels.
The vagus nerve connects to the brain, ears, tongue, neck (including pharynx, larynx, esophagus), heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, kidney, ureter, gut (stomach, intestines), and fertility organs (females). The polyvagal system includes the vagus nerve, striated muscles of the face, middle ear, brain-face-heart circuit.
Somatic movement arts, creative expression, meditation, exercise, natural movement, play and similar forms involving spontaneity and novelty in a safe environment assist to cultivate vagal tone and overall well-being of body, mind, and spirit. These modalities use listening, touch, spontaneity, making sounds, long exhales, facial expressions and gestures; all supporting vagal tone development.
Low vagal tone has been associated with brain, heart, digestive issues, chronic pain/inflammation and how well we respond to emotions and stress.
We can bring more harmony and balance to our systems by bringing presence to the moment and developing our systems innate ability to adapt and self-regulate. Giving time for a PAUSE can improve our immune response and overall well-being. According to the Heart-Math Institute a few minutes of a coherency practice can assist a return to balance and harmony improving our immune system and decreasing stress responses (like decreasing cortisol levels with effects lasting for up to 6 hours).
One of the easiest ways to calm the system is to breathe in a gentle easeful manner and allow the exhale to be longer than the inhale. One way to do this is allow inhales to be through the nose and add in the occasional exhale out the mouth. You could even allow it to be a soft audible exhale like a whispered “ahhhhh” sound. And if inspired you can increase the volume of the sound. Doing the sound in a more intoning way where the sound is more internalized instead of being projected out.