Late last year I wrote about how I viewed Mayan hammocks as a pain management option, in addition to being a great relaxation tool. I mentioned how the gentle rocking/swaying of the hammock could stimulate the vestibular system. Today I'd like to give you the details on why that system is important to everyone, from babies to the elderly.
When asked about the vestibular system, most people will often relate it with balance and inner ear issues. But the VS has more influence on our bodies than you think.
The VS affects all the sensory processes of the body, which makes it important to make sure it is in the best condition. More importantly, the VS is intricately involved with another very important system: the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is actually two cranial nerves, extremely long, which earned them the nickname "Wandering Nerves". Extending from your brain stem to the viscera (your internal organs), with branches to the heart, lungs, stomach, and ears, they gather incoming information from the body. This information helps the brain make sure the body is working efficiently. The vagus nerves also dispenses instructions to the body on how to work at peak performance.
This is valuable to know, because appropriate stimulation of the vagus nerve will help you slow your heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and bring about a relaxation response.
Which is where the vestibular system and the vagus complex connection comes into play. When you rock in a chair or swing in a hammock, you gently stimulate the vestibular system and therefore the vagus complex. This leads to mental and physical relaxation without much effort on your part.
The vagus complex is also responsible for your digestive system and its duties. If you are having a bit of trouble with constipation, gas, etc. it might be beneficial to try rocking, gentle bouncing on an exercise ball, or swinging in a hammock (are you noticing a theme here?) if more water and your regular exercise aren't doing the job. (Of course, check with your primary health care provider to make sure there's no major problems first!)
Don't have time for rocking or swinging? Since the lips and mouth are richly supplied with connections to the vagus nerves, try pinching your lips, chewing gum, or (gently!) biting your lips. Any of these will also help you avoid eating when you are stressed. Remember to breathe, drink a glass of water, and rock in your seat for additional tension relief.
Consider investing in a hammock or comfortable rocking chair for their considerable health benefits. In my opinion, the money I've spent on my hammocks (I have 2) has been the best investment I've ever spent on self care. Go ahead, invest in yourself, too!
Wishing you the best of health!