Vagal tone – why is it important?

Posted by Kate Munden
On 23/05/2024
In Blog

Vagal tone specifically reflects the balance between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “fight or flight” response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “rest and digest” response). The vagus nerve is a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system.

When vagal tone is high, it indicates that the parasympathetic nervous system is more dominant. This is associated with a state of relaxation, lowered heart rate, improved digestion, and an overall calm and balanced physiological state. High vagal tone is often linked to better health outcomes and increased resilience to stress.

Conversely, low vagal tone suggests a dominance of the sympathetic nervous system, which may result in a heightened stress response, increased heart rate, and compromised digestive function. Low vagal tone has been associated with various health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular diseases.

Vagal tone, plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being. Here are some key points that highlight the importance of vagal tone for good health:

  1. Stress Response Regulation:
    • Vagal tone is closely linked to the regulation of the stress response. A healthy vagal tone promotes a balanced autonomic nervous system, allowing for efficient transitions between the “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) and “fight or flight” (sympathetic) states.
    • When vagal tone is high, the parasympathetic nervous system can more effectively counteract the effects of stress, leading to quicker recovery and reduced overall stress levels.
  2. Emotional Well-being:
    • The Polyvagal Theory emphasises the role of the ventral vagus branch in promoting social engagement and positive emotional states. High vagal tone is associated with improved mood, better emotional resilience, and enhanced social connection.
    • Individuals with optimal vagal tone may experience greater emotional regulation and a reduced susceptibility to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  3. Heart Health:
    • Vagal tone influences heart rate variability (HRV), which is a key indicator of cardiovascular health. Higher HRV, associated with increased vagal tone, reflects the heart’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.
    • Optimal vagal tone contributes to a more responsive and adaptable cardiovascular system, reducing the risk of hypertension and other heart-related issues.
  4. Digestive Health:
    • The parasympathetic nervous system, regulated in part by the vagus nerve, is responsible for promoting digestion and nutrient absorption. High vagal tone supports optimal digestive function and nutrient assimilation.
    • Individuals with impaired vagal tone may experience digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome.
  5. Inflammation Regulation:
    • Vagal tone has been associated with the regulation of inflammation. A well-modulated inflammatory response is essential for the body’s defense against infections and injuries.
    • Low vagal tone has been linked to increased inflammation, which, over time, may contribute to chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders.
  6. Resilience to Trauma:
    • The Polyvagal Theory suggests that the dorsal vagus is involved in the “shutdown” response during extreme stress or trauma. A well-regulated dorsal vagus response can contribute to resilience by allowing the individual to conserve energy and survive overwhelming situations.

Maintaining and enhancing vagal tone is vital for achieving and sustaining good health. The good news is that practices that support vagal tone, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, singing, social connection, and physical activity, are all easily accessible. They can be done every day and contribute to the overall resilience and adaptability of the autonomic nervous system. Each time you clean your teeth you can end by gargling – this is a simple way to activate the vagus and improve your vagal tone.

Specific practices such as TRE Tension & Trauma Release Exercises can support the autonomic nervous system and hugely increase vagal tone. For more information about TRE take a look HERE.

By understanding and actively promoting a healthy balance within the autonomic nervous system, we can positively impact various aspects of their physical and mental well-being.

Kate is a trauma and embodiment specialist. She is a TRE & EFT Supervising Mentor and is on the Executive Board of EFT International (formerly AAMET) and is a Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioner, DipPsych, Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of NLP and Time Line Therapy (accredited by the ABNLP) and has been an intuitive body & energy worker for 30 years. While she works with any problem state she specialises in the sensitive areas of Post Traumatic Stress, emotional abuse, chronic pain and anxiety.

Kate Munden
Kate is a trauma and embodiment specialist. She is a TRE & EFT Supervising Mentor and is on the Executive Board of EFT International (formerly AAMET) and is a Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioner, DipPsych, Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of NLP and Time Line Therapy (accredited by the ABNLP) and has been an intuitive body & energy worker for 30 years. While she works with any problem state she specialises in the sensitive areas of Post Traumatic Stress, emotional abuse, chronic pain and anxiety.

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