The activities and rituals you can implement into your day to day life that help you access the vagus nerve and support the gut-brain axis.
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In my previous article, The Link Between our Gut and Mental Health, we discussed the potent connection between the gut and the brain (aka the gut brain axis) and the profound impact the food you choose to consume has on this function.
We suggested four categories of food to focus on in an effort to create abundance in your diet as opposed to restriction.
In part 2, we’ll dive into activities and rituals you can implement into your day to day life that help you access the vagus nerve (an information super highway between the brain and the gut that makes up the main nerves of the nervous system), soothe the nervous system and in doing so, support the gut brain axis.
Whatever is happening in our gut and the state of the microbiome we house in our gut is a direct reflection of our mental health and vice versa. This is important to remind ourselves of as it encourages us to address all parts of the self when looking to enhance our state of health.
Often we are schooled to be hyper vigilant about one aspect of our health in order to obtain certain health goals Eg. Caloric restriction to lose weight. In this approach, we recognise that we are much bigger than one part, we are several moving parts that create the whole (you).
Yes, nutrition is an important factor to consider, but beyond that, we can do so much when we review other systems in our lives, such as sleep, movement, stressors, lifestyle choices (predominantly indoors or outdoors, cook or eat out etc).
We all have techniques we use to regulate our nervous systems in times of stress. Some of these techniques will be very deliberate, such as practicing yoga or regular meditation.
Others will be more out of default/habit and may not occur with full awareness, such as over-scrolling social media (guilty), chasing the blues away with one too many alcoholic beverages or even just surrounding yourself with people that are misaligned with you as a person. None of this stuff makes us bad or less-than, actually, the opposite.
As we are able to shine a light on the aspects of our lives that are not serving us, it gives us power to re-direct our energy and to cultivate healthy change. Any healthy change that we make for ourselves, directly ripples out in a positive way to those who are coming into contact with us, therefore the work you do on yourself is never selfish work.
When contemplating our relationship with movement and how it impacts our gut brain axis, consider the way you’re moving and how it impacts your heat rate as well as the rhythm of your breath.
Extended periods of time with a compromised breathing pattern (aka fast running and therefore puffing) indicates to the nervous system that you are in the sympathetic arm – a state of fight or flight, also considered a state of survival.
This is not to suggest that you never elevate your heart rate through exercise again, more to consider the knock-on effect of a practice that consistently creates this state without sealing it off with an intentional breath recovery, stillness and a conscious pause for integration.
The aim is to transition you away from the sympathetic arm of your nervous system into the parasympathetic arm which is the state of calm, rest and digest. How we get to that state is a personal journey and one that will be revealed through a process of trial and error.
For some, the transition will be easy and accessible. For others, it may be challenging.
Once you land in the parasympathetic nervous system, you are nurturing your vagus nerve and therefore enhancing the gut brain axis. When the gut-brain axis is being cared for, there is a positive and direct impact on our sleep cycles, hormones, mood, energy, cognitive function, digestion and the list goes on.
+ Listening to music
+ Intentional movement with factored recovery
+ Showers / baths
+ Connecting with a loved one
+ Painting // drawing
+ Fill in the blank _______
Next time you feel yourself moving toward feeling of anxiety, depression, overwhelm… Try on one of these suggested tools and notice any positive shifts on your nervous system.