What are the best ways to improve vagal tone?


The best ways to improve vagal tone as discussed in the involve specific breathing techniques and fostering interoceptive awareness:

  1. Conscious Breathing: describes how intentionally regulating your breath, particularly focusing on long exhales, can enhance vagal tone. During an inhale, the diaphragm moves down, making the heart slightly larger and slowing blood flow, signaling the heart to speed up. Conversely, exhales make the diaphragm move up, reducing space in the thoracic cavity, which signals the heart to slow down - this is known as respiratory sinus arrhythmia, a reflection of vagal tone. By consciously thinking about slowing your heart rate while you exhale and speeding it up as you inhale, you can strengthen these pathways and improve vagal tone 1.

  2. Writing Exercises: A study discussed by showed that writing exercises could help people cope with grief and positively impact their vagal tone. Participants who wrote about their deepest emotions and thoughts or wrote letters to a lost loved one experienced an increase in vagal tone 2.

  3. Sensing Heartbeats: Enhancing your interoceptive capacity, which involves becoming more aware of your internal state, such as your heartbeat, can improve vagal tone. suggests that meditating and directing your mind's attention to your heart rate can quickly strengthen the vagal connections between the body and brain, reflecting increased interoceptive awareness 3.

    Breathing and Heart Rate

    Andrew explains how inhaling speeds up the heart rate while exhaling slows it down through the vagus nerve. He also discusses how respiratory sinus arrhythmia can be trained to improve vagal tone, which can help control stress and alertness.

    Huberman Lab

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  4. Emotional Regulation: Recognizing that our emotions arise from an aggregate of information from the gut, heart, and breathing, influenced by the vagus nerve, can also impact vagal tone. Understanding the connection between physiological states and emotions and practicing emotional regulation can be another pathway to improving vagal tone 4 5.

Remember, before making changes to your health routines, consult with a healthcare professional to discuss the best strategies for your circumstances.