Navigating Your Body’s “Healing Superhighway”

Picture a community with an elaborate superhighway system.

One where:

  • Lightning-fast travel is constant.
  • There are exits every few miles to important neighborhoods and businesses that keep the whole community thriving.
  • A delicate balance keeps all the traffic moving smoothly.

Your body IS that community and this superhighway is your autonomic nervous system.

It connects the various pathways of your body. And it can transport signals from one end to the other at supersonic speeds.

For a recent episode of my Sound Health Podcast, I sat down with my colleague, Dr. Russell Miller, to discuss the serious risks to your health when your body’s superhighway hits a roadblock—plus the simple changes you can make to get it running smoothly again.

It’s especially valuable information to have right now, in the midst of a global health crisis that we’re all doing our best to protect ourselves against. So today, I thought I’d share some of these important insights with you.

 Let’s dive in…

It’s all about balance

Your body is constantly striving for a state called homeostasis. Homeostasis occurs when all of your bodily systems are in balance.

When you’re in a state of homeostasis, the electrochemical “traffic” between your brain, organs, and gut flows effortlessly—keeping you healthy.

Your autonomic nervous system—the body’s “superhighway”—plays a key role in this process.

The autonomic nervous system has two major parts: the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) systems. These two forces engage in a natural push-and-pull relationship to maintain homeostasis.

But as Dr. Miller explained during our conversation, chronic stress (triggered by an illness, poor lifestyle habits, or an external crisis like COVID-19) can upset this balance, kicking your “fight or flight” system—your body’s “panic button”—into overdrive.

When this happens, the counterbalance of your “rest and digest” system weakens. And one of the consequences of this imbalance is low vagal tone.

Understanding vagal tone

The lower your vagal tone, the weaker your vagus nerve. (As a reminder, the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body that starts at the bottom of your brain stem and ends at your abdomen, touching every major organ in between. It’s a critical part of your body’s “superhighway”—carrying signals between the brain and your vital organs.)

And the more your vagal tone declines, the harder it becomes to “bounce back” from stress or an illness. (I discuss vagal tone in depth here.)

The good news is, there are a number of safe, simple, natural ways to strengthen your vagal tone—and bring your body’s “superhighway” back into balance.

Seven simple ways to strengthen vagal tone

During our conversation, Dr. Miller listed some easy things you can do—starting today—to stimulate your vagus nerve, which naturally strengthens vagal tone. (Of course, Dr. Miller notes that you should always consult with your primary care physician before making any changes to your daily regimen.)

Here are his top seven tips:

  • Alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage (when these services are available again, of course).
  • Cold temperature has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve. Try splashing your face with cold water or taking a cool shower.
  • Manual vagal nerve stimulation using self-generated sound. This includes exercises like “brain humming,” singing, or chanting. (I offer a powerful in-depth course, leading you through each of these techniques. It’s called my Whole Body Sound Healing System. Click here to learn more.)
  • Mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness meditation
  • Laughter
  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Sleeping on your right side, which decreases pressure on your major blood vessels

Your diet makes a difference, too

Dr. Miller also recommends the following some specific dietary approaches that have been shown to increase vagal tone.

For instance, research shows giving your body a “break” from digesting food naturally stimulates the vagus nerve. Intermittent fasting is a simple way to achieve this effect. It involves eating all your meals during an 8-hour window each day, and fasting for the remaining 16 hours.  

But intermittent fasting is just one of the vagus-stimulating dietary approaches Dr. Miller shared during our conversation. In fact, my interview with Dr. Miller was jam-packed with useful information including the biggest health mistakes people are making, safer ways to manage chronic pain, why you need to stop Googling your symptoms, and how to get the most out of your doctor appointments.

Give it a listen here! We’re streaming on all major podcast platforms.

The bottom line today is that, like most things in life, your health also requires balance. And you have the power to achieve it. It’s as simple as making small, smart choices every day. Choices that gradually accumulate and equip you with a strong, stress-resilient vagal tone.

P.S. – Dr. Miller also recently weighed in in the COVID-19 crisis, check out this recent episode of the Sound Health podcast: “Your No B.S. Guide to COVID-19 — Dr. Russell Miller.”

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.