I generally try to avoid any celeb TV, but I've made a point of watching the current series, Freeze the Fear, featuring Wim Hoff, the Iceman.
I've spent many hours in freezing cold water, when I used to take part in open water triathlons, (and have no great urge to repeat the experience!) but I was intrigued to learn more about the benefits of his breathing technique for helping to improve mental, emotional and physical health.
One of the reasons behind this were the symptoms I've been seeing in clients recently that pointed towards possible inflammation of the vagus nerve, which can be caused by viruses and toxic heavy metals in our bodies.
Symptoms that may suggest someone has an inflamed vagus nerve are:
· headaches and migraines
· humming in ears
· chattering teeth/jaw weakness
· vertigo and dizziness
· tightness in the throat
· anxiety and nervousness/panic attacks
· tingling and numbness
· tics and spasms
· weakness in the limbs
The vagus nerve is actually a bundle of nerves leading from the gut through the heart and to the brain, communicating with every organ in the body. In fact, scientists have linked vagus nerve dysfunction to obesity, chronic inflammation, depression, anxiety, seizures, abnormally low heart rate, fainting, and gastrointestinal issues.
The main function of the nerve is to control the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is part of the autonomic service system known as the “rest and digest” system. As a result. it plays a part in heart rate, digestion, urination, and gastrointestinal activity.
The vagus nerve also works to control inflammation in the body. It alerts the brain to release neurotransmitters when inflammatory proteins called cytokines are present. These neurotransmitters help the body repair then reduce inflammation.
Another function of the vagus nerve is to trigger the release of acetylcholine which controls muscles, dilates blood vessels, and slows heart rate. I think we can agree this nerve is really important!
Research on this nerve has even found success with untreatable depression and epilepsy. Once stimulated, the vagus nerve starts communicating effectively with the rest of the body.
As tone in the nerve improves naturally through stimulation using techniques that can be done at home, it has been found that this will help with mood, digestion, and overall wellbeing.
There are a number of ways to improve the tone and function of the nerve, one of them being breathing, hence my interest in the methods used by Wim Hoff. If you'd like to watch a short video on his method, I've found some on Youtube. Alternatively, you might like to look at the 10 different ways to help improve and stimulate the nerve below - yes it does include breathing and cold-water therapy!
10 Ways to Improve Vagus Nerve Tone
Gargling. The simplest and most accessible way to work on their vagal tone. Each morning gargle some water as hard as you can. You’ll know you’ve stimulated the vagus nerve when you begin to get a tear response in your eyes.
Breathwork. Deep slow breaths from the belly will stimulate the vagus nerve. Sit or lay down and breathe in as much as you can. Hold it for a second or two and then release. Repeat this 5-10 times. You’ll feel euphoric and relaxed afterwards. The Wim Hoff breathing exercises go beyond this, but still bring on the same effects.
Laughter. Laughter releases loads of neurotransmitter which improves vagal tone.
Fish Oils. EPA and EHA lower heart rate which strengthens vagal tone.
Fasting. The vagus nerve is the head of the parasympathetic nervous system. Giving your digestive system a break through intermittent fasting or less snacks throughout the day will also improve vagal tone.
Yoga. The breathing and movement of yoga helps with digestion and has been shown to stimulate the vagal tone.
Singing. Singing works the muscles in the back of the throat which stimulates the vagus nerve.
Cold Showers. Cold showers are tough at first, but they can greatly improve vagal tone. As you adjust to the cold, the sympathetic nervous system lowers and the parasympathetic system gets stronger directly improving the vagus nerve. This is of course another favourite of Wim Hoff!
Massage. A massage stimulates the lymphatics and improves vagal tone.
Aromatherapy. Essential oils such as lavender and bergamot have shown to increase heart rate variability which improves vagal tone.