Chanting for stress relief? - The science of chanting and body brain connection.
I recently found an audio file of a chanting session during my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India from 2016. Having grown up in a religion that warned against the potential demonic powers of chanting, I was much more than a bit skeptical and slightly uncomfortable at times. That being said, I didn't understand how it was possible, despite all my skepticism, that I could feel as profoundly peaceful as I did after each chanting practice.
(The teachers asked us to suspend trying to give meaning to the words we were chanting and instead feel the vibrations of our vocalizations, and if we did not like the way it felt and still felt uneasy, we were allowed to sit out those practices.)
Now that I have become more curious about the science of yoga, I see how we are sending signals of calm to our brain through our vagus nerve, which branches out to most of our major organs from the brainstem.
Below is an image of our vagus nerve and a quick overview on this very interesting bundle of nerves.
A bit more science...
The strength of the vagus nerve, which is known as vagal tone, is measured through heart rate variability, HRV.
HRV is the beat to beat difference in our heart rate.
Our heart rate should fluctuate in response to the breath.
Our heart rate increases when we inhale.
Our heart rate should decrease when we exhale.
We can tone our vagal nerve which helps to increase HRV.
Have you ever taken a deep breath in and out and noticed that your exhale did NOT calm your body? The more we tone the vagus, the more we increase our HRV and can more efficiently reduce heart rate when we exhale.
High vagal tone helps to create a healthy inflammatory response in the body, and increases your immune system's resiliency. Low vagal tone has been associated with epilepsy and rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory type diseases.
Below are a list of other activities that can tone the parasympathetic (rest/relaxation) branch of our vagus nerve.
Resonance breathing (about 6 breaths per minute)